The divorce papers were signed. You’ve told your family, friends, and boss. You even helped your ex decorate your kids’ new rooms at his apartment. But though you know in your head that it’s over, it doesn’t seem like your heart has gotten the message.
Moving through any loss - and divorce is a big one - takes time. If your separation was relatively recent, give yourself some grace and understanding. But if you’re feeling emotionally stuck, it might be that you haven’t yet found the closure you need.
Here are 5 ways to help move yourself forward after divorce:
1. Let yourself grieve.
You’ve heard of the five stages of grief: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. They come from Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ landmark book On Death and Dying. Well, you can expect to touch upon these emotions – and a few others – with divorce. Because divorce is like a death in many ways.
And depending on whether the divorce was your decision or not, you might have a whole range of other emotions besides grief. You could feel shock, relief, or intense guilt. Or you might feel like you’re on a rollercoaster of emotions – relieved and happy one minute, doubting and guilt-ridden the next. If you’re wondering if what you’re feeling is typical, we talk a lot more about emotion and divorce here.
Grieving is healthy. It’s the giant scab that lets the wound underneath it heal. But if it feels like your emotions are beyond what you can handle – or if close friends or family start to express concern – it might be time to seek help. Here’s a great post on the importance of seeking out a professional to help get you through this time in your life.
2. Accept that it’s really over.
It’s the fifth stage in the grief process, but we called it out for a reason. How can you possibly find closure and move on if you’re not truly convinced that your relationship is over?
Acceptance isn’t the same as consent. You could have gone through your separation and divorce process kicking and screaming, but at some point, it’s critical that you accept that it’s happened.
A lot of parents struggle with acceptance because of the guilt they feel about their kids. If this is how you’re feeling, ask yourself If you did everything possible to save your marriage. If you tried your hardest, if you fought to save it, then you did what you could do. The most important thing to do now is live your life in a way that you can be a healthy co-parent for your children. They truly do need that far more than they need you feeling guilty that your marriage ended.
3. Know you may never get an apology.
If only your spouse would own up to his or her wrongdoing, you could move on, right? That might be ideal, but if you keep waiting for an apology to find closure, you could be waiting an awfully long time.
I had a client who refused to finalize her divorce settlement agreement unless her husband agreed to admit that he was wrong. It never happened. Finally, she signed her name at the bottom and wrote the words “divorce because of his adultery” next to it. Maybe that made her feel better, but it still wasn’t an apology.
What you're doing when you look for that kind of closure is investing your ex with the right to decide your own happiness. You're basically saying, "If they admit they were wrong, I can move on, but otherwise, I'm stuck here." Friend, why are you giving someone else that kind of power over you?
You might not get the apology you deserve. You may never hear the explanation you’re looking for. Moving on is about what’s best for you and finding a life that fulfills you - not about what your ex says or does.
4. Decide with 100% conviction that you want to move past it.
That might sound obvious, but a lot of people get stuck because they haven’t fully made up their minds that they want to move on. If you’re truly ready to move past your divorce - or at least to clear space to let you do that - it’s time to act like a person who is moving on. What would that version of you do? How would that person act?
For starters, remove the items from your space that keep you stuck. That might be as big as moving out of the home you shared. If you’re keeping it, at least replace your bed linens and revamp your space in a way that feels you (“I’ve always wanted more yellow in the kitchen!”). Box up the photos, old cards, and anything else that reminds you of your old life.
Put away all your divorce stuff - the notes, photos, all the things you looked at or showed your lawyer to help make your best case. Better yet, if you’re sure you’ll never need them again (ask your attorney if you’re not sure), hire a shredding company to pick them up. You don’t need them anymore! It’s amazing how much physical stuff ties us down emotionally.
5. Forgive. For real.
Forgive yourself for whatever you did or said that might be different than you’d do or say now. You’re human. None of us are perfect partners. Every single one of us gets it wrong sometimes. Maybe you were too opinionated. Or yelled too much. Or didn’t have sex “enough.” If you’re still beating yourself up for your failings in your relationship, it’s time to quit. This can be the hardest one to do but you deserve your own forgiveness.
Forgive your ex - even if you don’t get that apology.Forgive them for the mistakes they made during your marriage and the ones they might keep making after it.If you’re worried that by doing this, you’ll be letting them off the hook, know that anger may be what’s keeping you stuck.After all, you’re not forgiving them for them. You’re doing it for you.You don’t have to tell them of your forgiveness, but you do need to muster up real emotion about it.Forgiveness knows when you’re faking!