What to Do About Deep Loneliness Post-Divorce
Three tools to push through the pain and get on the other side.
Posted Jun 15, 2017
Melissa has been incredibly lonely since her husband moved out last December.
She called me after reading my newsletter talking about a retreat I was hosting. She told me she was thrilled to see an opportunity to meet other women in transition. Melissa was now in the middle of her divorce and realized that she was still feeling very lonely.
After her split, it seemed like her friends mysteriously fell away and she found it hard to meet new people. This is something I hear a lot from the divorced population. Even today, well into the 21st Century. As far as our culture has come with accepting divorce as a reality, the social stigma is still alive and well. Couples or married individuals don't necessarily want to hang out with single or divorced folks.
For Melissa, this was definitely unexpected fallout from her breakup and it added an extra layer of pain and loss to an already painful situation.
Being a take-charge kind of person, Melissa attempted to remedy the social situation. She joined a gym, a book club, and she even got a part-time job but none of these activities produced any lasting friendships. Everyone was either married (and didn't want to hang out with a single woman), much younger than she, or too busy. Another problem for Melissa is that she was longing for deep, meaningful relationships where she could talk about the pain of her marriage ending as well as the challenge of starting life over at the age of 48. Her friends and family were very supportive of her for a couple of months but since March, they've all but stopped returning her calls.
It is this sense of isolation and marginalization that propelled me to start running groups back in 2000 and to hold more regular retreats. I have found these outlets to be not only magical ways to help participants find a way out of the marginalization, but it can be a powerful springboard into the next chapter of their lives.
There are three important tools I've learned over the years that can help anyone get through divorce and come out of that isolation.
1. Grieve until your grief is over — Grief sucks. That's why most people want to be done with the emotional roller coaster far before the process is over. But the more you fight it, the more you actually prolong it. (And, by the way, getting into a new relationship will, at best, postpone your grief. You really can't escape it).
Be with your grief and it will actually pass quicker.
2. Don't stay stuck in the past longer than your grief needs you to — Although you must feel the sadness and perhaps even anger as part of your grief, there's a point at which you will want to look at the road ahead rather than continuing to look in the rear view mirror. You have a right to all of your feelings but if you see everything through a divorce lens for years afterward, you won't go on to enjoy life.
There is life—even fabulous life—beyond divorce.
3. Ask for help — This is one of the more important things you can
do to get past your pain and heartache.
Those who reach out for help always land on their feet whereas those who try to go it alone, end up suffering much more and don't do nearly as well. Over the years, I've watched many great people connect with other great people in my groups or workshops and go on to form close friendships. Some even find movie partners or travel companions.
Connecting with others in a similar place has brought these divorcees out of their isolation
and into mainstream life again. Spending a weekend with other women who were wanting to stay positive and take control of their destiny is the perfect remedy for people like Melissa.
Find a new community.
This last tool is particularly important.
When anyone goes through a difficult transition, we feel like this will be our reality forever. Yet, people get divorced every day and many, if not most, come out okay on the other side.
How well you do depends in part on your circumstances. There are definitely some scenarios that are tougher than others to reconcile, such as being left by your spouse for someone else (or worse, being left by your spouse for your best friend) versus splitting by mutual agreement.
But it also depends on how you handle yourself and the situation. Using these three tools will help you get on the other side of the pain faster and better.
In her TED talk, Brene Brown says, "In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen." This connection requires vulnerability at a time when you may be feeling most rejected, raw, and most in need of protection. Push through your fears (if you can) and reach out.
There are more groups today than ever before but, unfortunately, not all of them provide deep connection among members. Drop-in groups or informational divorce classes just don't offer the same intimacy as the closed groups (those where members commit and return each session) where people can share more vulnerably and honestly.
It is through this deep and vulnerable sharing that healing can occur. Staying at home and trying to ignore the sadness or grief will only postpone it. The pain will lay in wait until your defenses are down (often when you are tired or sick or stressed) and then, any and all unexpressed emotion will take over.
The good news is that, by dealing head-on with your emotions, this is preventable. Follow the tools of
1. Allowing the grief to be there
2. Moving on when the grief has been expressed
3. Finding a new community.
Those who, like Melissa, reach out from their pain to get through this tough time, look back and see how doing the opposite of what they were inclined to do (stay safe at home in front of the TV) brought the desired healing. It is available to anyone who wants it.
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