Divorce. Even the word sounds harsh and painful. For most people who experience it, the life-jolting crisis brings with it a wake of loneliness, guilt, anger, rejection and a sense of failure.
Though there is life after divorce, people must go through eight steps to create happy and fulfilling lives as single people, says Dr. Ken Hennefer, a Salt Lake psychotherapist affiliated with Counseling and Education Associates. Recognizing these steps, which essentially deal with the separation and loss that accompanies divorce, can enable a person to accelerate his or her progress toward healing and a new beginning.Passing through the "poor me" stage. Before you can move on, you must get through the stage of feeling sorry for yourself and perhaps the feeling the other person is the "bad guy," observes Hennefer. In this early stage of separation, you likely feel like a "reject" and self-pity can keep you emotionally trapped like a "wagon wheel that gets more and more deeply mired in a rut."
Going back and letting go. Moving out or securing a legal document does not bring down the curtain on the relationship. Settling matters of visitation, property division or involvement in other "legal or economic wranglings" keep the relationship going, setting each party up for the fantasy that the relationship isn't over.
But, though necessary contracts bring the couple back together, there is no magic. The same problems that contributed to the demise of the relationship are still there. However, to go through the step of "letting go," a person must literally go back into the relationship a number of times to see the other person through realistic eyes and to reconfirm that the marriage relationship as such has ended.
Getting in touch with yourself. As emotions die down, you can begin to look more objectively at yourself and the situation, says Hennefer. It's possible now to begin accepting the reality of living alone and to separate "living alone" from "living lonely."
Getting through this step necessitates looking inward and determining where the feelings of resentment, self-doubt and guilt come from and what triggers them. As you look inward, you can work through your feelings of being a worthless and abandoned person, switching instead to the position that you are a worthwhile person who has choices and capabilities.
Sorting out friends. It usually comes as a shock that some of your friends will not stand by you, points out Hennefer. Some will side with the other person and others, in this "couple-oriented" society, will find it uncomfortable or threatening to deal with you. Consider these latter rejections as saying only that the persons involved are incapable of accepting you as a single-again person.
Passing through this step means recognizing the need for new relationship patterns, advises Hennefer. Reach out to new people and to old friends who support you but avoid pursuing relationships with people who feel uncomfortable around you.
Managing holiday setbacks. Since our culture emphasizes "twos" or families, holidays are very difficult to deal with as "half a couple," says Hennefer. The most difficult holidays for many are Christmas, Thanksgiving and Mother's Day.
Have your cry, but then go on, advises Hennefer. Try to use holidays for celebrating the good feelings for which they were designed.
Recognizing ambivalence toward the opposite sex. Most new singles want closeness with the opposite sex, but as soon as they get it something inside may say, "Watch out!" Closeness somehow becomes equated with being hurt again.
When you communicate mixed signals to others, explains Hennefer, they may pull away. You may then interpret their actions as rejection and feel hurt again.
The key to working through this step is first to recognize your "approach-avoidance" pattern and second to communicate openly your mixed feelings to the other person.
Creating opportunities for personal growth. You'll know you've arrived at this step when you start investing in new activities. This is a time when people start to take classes, to paint baseboards and to rearrange furniture, says Hennefer.
Reaching the beginning. At this point, you come to terms with the past and you are free to pursue a new life with a secure, single-person identity. You can reach a new union experience with others and may even find it possible to come to terms with your ex-spouse, accepting that person as a person of value who is very different from yourself.
Dr. Hennefer teaches a class for singles which, beginning September 13, will be held each Tuesday at Cottonwood High School from 7-9.