In response to my video, The Three Things I Hated to Hear During Divorce, one reader shared her pet-peeve phrase about adjusting to life after a break up – “It’s your new normal.”
And even though that phrase didn’t make my hair stand on end, I could understand her ire. After all, nothing about life after the apocalypse of an unwanted divorce feels normal. And the last thing you want to do is to accept it as such.
New: not existing before; unfamiliar
Normal: typical, expected
Which makes a “new normal” a bit of an oxymoron.
Because of the particularly large blast radius of divorce, there is little left untouched. Not only are you dealing with the end of a relationship with your spouse, you are also navigating major changes with your children, your family, your friends and even the dry cleaner. Your living arrangements have been altered and you may even find yourself without a home to call your own. Items which once were sentimental or at least innocuous have become landmines of emotion, ready to detonate at a moment’s notice. Your emotions feel more out of control than they did during your teenage years; you never know when you’re going to be struck down by tears or irradiated with red-hot rage. This, alongside the sleep difficulties, means that tasks that once seemed simple now feel overwhelming and impossible.
On the surface, things may look normal. You manage to maintain your appearance, only the changes in your weight and the dark circles residing under your eyes belying the hidden pain. You go through the motions of life, taking the kids to school, clocking in at the office, even managing to fill your grocery cart with appropriate food items. Yet even though much of it is the same, it feels as though it has been rotated 90° from normal, like some dystopian world that only bears passing resemblance to our own. It’s an alien world and one which you received no training in how to navigate.
As you stumble through, your brain releases a steady drumbeat of protest –
“This isn’t fair.”
“This shouldn’t be happening.”
“This isn’t what I planned.”
“How could they do this to me/us?”
“Will I ever be okay again?”
And perhaps the scariest one of all…
“Is this it? Is THIS my new normal?”
Some of the post-divorce changes may indeed be permanent. Your relationship with your ex-spouse will never return to the way it was. Likewise with your in-laws and with certain friends or friend groups. Your parenting role will be different and you will have to help your children negotiate life with divorced parents. Your financial well-being may be diminished for a time or even forever. And no matter what the future holds, this experience will always be a major chapter in your life story.
Yet these changes, even the difficult ones, will no longer be so foreign, so unfamiliar. Much like how you learn to navigate a darkened space once you’ve spent time in a home, you will no longer see this life as strange and foreboding. It just is.
The new has become the normal.
But that’s not the whole story.
You’ve adapted, become accustomed. You’ve accepted those things you cannot alter.
Now it’s time to modify what you can in order to create what you want.
Consider that darkened room. At first, it was a new space and all you could do was stumble through until you finally became adept at navigating through the furniture. There are some things about that room that are fixed, unchangeable. But within those walls, you have endless freedom to shape a space you love.
And at first, that will feel strange. You will stumble. Maybe even trip and fall. And then, over time, that will become your new normal. And a better one that you found yourself before.
New normal doesn’t mean that change cannot occur. It is not a place of settling or giving up. And it’s now a place you have to stay forever. New normal is a baseline, a platform where you can acclimate and adjust.
So, yes. Maybe this is your new normal. And maybe that’s okay.
Take some time and get used to the space.
And then think about how you can make it better.
The concept of a “new normal” can have a dark side. Learn more about that here.