- Being resilient after a major loss such as divorce requires a great deal of patience and strength.
- The time it takes to emotionally recover from a divorce depends on a variety of factors, but employing certain tools may help.
- Tools for overcoming divorce grief include reading, having a strong support network, keeping a journal, and seeking professional help.
Time is supposed to heal all of our wounds and, in many instances, it does. But when you’ve been hurt in a relationship in a big way, through a betrayal or unexpected or sudden loss, it will take more time to get on the other side.
Knowing this will help you to set your expectations of how (and how long) your grief recovery will go. Many people going through divorce fear that they are “going crazy” because they are feeling intense emotions that they have never felt to that degree before. They fear that they will be in this deep grief forever.
When we are in a bad way, time passes slower so it seems like the downturns last much longer than they actually do, but eventually, you will begin to see the world in color again. Being resilient after a major loss such as divorce requires a great deal of patience and strength.
Mother Teresa has a wonderful quote, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle … I just wish He didn’t trust me so much" (feel free to replace God with the word of your choice and He with the pronoun of your choice).
Couples get divorced every day and I’ve seen countless people go on to heal. Believe it or not, in many situations, these once grief-stricken people actually have a much better life—even when they would never have chosen to end things with their ex.
How Long Does It Take to Get Over Your Ex?
Recently, a woman called me to tell me that she was three years post-divorce, but she felt like she was stuck in her recovery. Not a day went by when she didn’t think about her husband—how much she missed him, how sad she was that he left her, and how lost she was in the world. Despite all this time passing, she said she felt stuck in her grief.
It’s normal and healthy to see the world through the lens of your divorce or to relive moments from your marriage. It’s an unavoidable part of the grief process. You can’t make the process go away. You need time to grieve. But if too much time passes and you’re not getting better, the very same thoughts and feelings will be deemed unhealthy. There’s no exact date, but you can just feel the "stuckness" when you reach that point.
How long your emotional recovery takes depends on factors such as whether you saw the split coming, whether it was your choice, whether you were left for another person, whether you have kids, whether you are self-supporting, whether you’re getting adequate help, and whether you have the right resources and information around you.
The recovery timeline also depends on whether you had an underlying condition of depression or anxiety; whether you had high self-esteem or low; and whether you’ve had previous life blows before. (These events tend to toughen people up but they also serve as a reference point: If I got through ______, I can get through this.)
The folks who tend to get stuck fit a certain profile. Put a checkmark next to any of these coping mechanisms that you can relate to:
__ You tend to not want to feel any negative emotions.
__ You don’t want to talk about your problems with others.
__ You feel you can and should get through things on your own.
__ You feel deep shame about your situation.
__ You isolate.
__ You tend to lose hope that life can or will be better for you.
For most people, these characteristics are habits or choices that can be changed with awareness and effort. If there are addiction or mental health issues, it can be more challenging.
There is a way out, but it entails taking different actions than you might take normally, and if you’re like most people, you’ll need some help to get there.
7 Tools for Getting on the Other Side of Divorce Grief
Those who get on the other side more easily and quickly take advantage of a combination of at least three of the following seven tools:
- They read books to help them sort out their experience and their feelings/reactions to the experience.
- They have a strong support network that will go the distance with them. Often friends and family are available for a couple of months but then you may feel like you’re a downer all the time, that you’re burdening them, or they stop taking your calls.
- They journal.
- They seek professional help.
- They join a support group or take a divorce recovery class/workshop.
- They allow themselves to be where they are and they don’t try to rush through the grief process or pretend to be further along than they are.
- They want to feel better. This one may seem obvious but it's crucial to getting better.
This week, one of my group members (I'll call her Molly) announced that, after two-and-a-half years, she feels she’s finally getting past the divorce being her entire story. It was when she realized she had a “normal” weekend that she became aware that she was in the new chapter of her life—not waiting and wishing for it any longer.
Because she’s been dealing with a narcissistic ex, she has had to work hard on finding ways to minimize the impact of his cruel and often unpredictable treatment. She knows she will never get it right 100 percent of the time, but what’s so good is that she knows that it’s not about her—and the best part of her healing is that she now knows it never was about her. She’s free to move on.
Not only was Molly in one of my groups, she was in individual therapy, read lots of books on the subject, and was a big journal writer: Journaling actually moves the pain from your primitive brain to your higher brain. She definitely wanted to feel better right from the start but she couldn't imagine how she'd ever get there.
Joseph, on the other hand, assumed that time would heal his wounds quickly and he was too proud to reach out for help after his husband of 17 years left. He didn't speak to anyone, didn't read anything (except maybe tidbits online once in a while), and he felt like such a loser that he didn't think he deserved to feel better. As a result, he became stuck in his grief. After five years, he finally had had enough and began putting the seven tools in place. Within six months, he was on his way to a full recovery.
When you're in deep grief, there's no quick, easy way out but there is always recovery if you work for it. Time will take care of the rest.
Feel free to email me for a list of books and resources on how to get through your divorce better and faster.
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