When you can truly hear what your pain is trying to tell you, you’ll be able to heal.
Books are written about it. Counselors specialize in it. And yet, there is no magic formula for healing a broken heart after divorce. Just as two people come together to write a unique story as a couple, so each must write a story of healing after divorce.
Perhaps the most unfair, difficult-to-accept reality of healing a broken heart after divorce is that there is going to be pain. Pain beyond what the divorce itself caused. Pain proportional to the love you once gave, the joy you once felt, the investment you once made.
The famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran wrote of joy and sorrow as equal influences on the heart:
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
And so it is with healing a broken heart after divorce. The more your marriage meant to you, the greater your sorrow (and pain) will be after it ends. Because it mattered, so too will your path to renewal.
Grieving the loss of your marriage, let alone actually healing and moving forward, can be an emotional rollercoaster.
As if the process isn’t painful enough, divorce is unique in the way it can carry shame, embarrassment, and isolation in its wake. If your supposed support system is urging you to “move on” with your life, you may try to bypass your grief.
The danger in trying to avoid your feelings is that they will always be there until you deal with them. They are as much a part of your experience as your marriage was. And denying them their rightful attention can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, and/or physical illness. It can also keep you stuck in unhealthy behaviors and relationships.
The first step toward healing a broken heart after divorce, therefore, is accepting that you will have to go through some pain. That means accepting your current reality as just that — a reality. Only then can you address it and change it.
Fighting or resisting your current situation will only keep you stuck in a cycle of pain. Denying your feelings, telling yourself you shouldn’t have them, distracting from experiencing them — all serve to perpetuate the inevitable.
As you go through the stages of grief, you may be surprised by the emotions that come up. You may also be frustrated that ones you thought you had worked through come back up again without warning.
There is an important distinction in dealing with pain, however. It’s natural to be triggered by memories and things that remind you of your marriage. Favorite restaurants, songs, rituals — your mind could go on forever finding reasons to delve back into misery.
Sitting with your emotions is not an excuse to stay stuck by turning your pain into a mental habit. “Every time I hear our song…every time I see a couple holding hands…every time I remember what s/he did to me….”
It’s also, however, not an excuse to disparage your emotions or act as if they are unwarranted. After all, feelings are. Literally, feelings are. They aren’t right or wrong. They are part of your reality and need to be acknowledged for the messages they contain.
Sitting with your emotions is a discipline. It is a commitment to your own healing that says, “I will be a safe place for this pain to tell its story…and then move on.”
Healing a broken heart after divorce is about allowing your pain to move through you. And that requires acceptance and compassion on your part.
Instead of rejecting your anger or your capacity or right to feel it, meditate on it. Journal about it. Ask it to tell you its story. And dare to ask it its story from your ex’s viewpoint.
Whatever painful thoughts and emotions come up, give them your full, undistracted attention. Remember that they have a story to tell, and they want to be heard before they move on. Trust that they are present as necessary agents of your healing. And if you allow them their say, they will eventually go on their way.
Your goal is to find healthy ways to comfort yourself and cope when the pain presents itself.
How you talk to yourself is critical to restoring your self-confidence and strength. And where you choose to place yourself to experience joy and renewal — in nature, with friends, in creativity — is just as critical.
Next, take responsibility for your role in the loss of your marriage. It’s easy to dump all the blame on a spouse who cheated or betrayed the marriage through some other egregious act. But it takes a self-aware person to examine his/her contribution, in all its nuances, and accept responsibility for its effect on the marriage – even if your only contribution was marrying your ex in the first place.
It’s also easy to take credit for “all the little things” you did to show love to your spouse and marriage. It’s very difficult, even humiliating, however, to acknowledge “all the little ways” you withheld love or neglected your spouse and marriage.
But that acknowledgment is an essential key to your healing and growth. In addition to helping you deal with the painful reality of your divorce, it will inspire your personal development into a more evolved person. And that means you will be better prepared for a healthy, deeply intimate relationship in the future.
Perhaps the most liberating — and difficult — step toward healing a broken heart after divorce is forgiveness. And no one is more difficult to forgive than oneself.
You may have a laundry list of offenses for which (you believe) your ex needs to be forgiven. But your willingness and ability to forgive yourself will be the most powerful expression of permission to move on with your life.
Another essential component of healing a broken heart after divorce is gratitude. The mere word may sound counter-intuitive when hurt and resentment are in overdrive. But gratitude, like forgiveness, is incredibly liberating.
Remember that you and your spouse once fell in love. You recognized qualities in one another that were enrichments to your individual and collective lives. And you may have children who will forever reflect back to you the best (and worst) of who you are and were. You have much to be grateful for, and that doesn’t evaporate with a divorce decree.
Finally, plant seeds for your future, both in your mind and in your daily life. Envision. Dream. Learn. Grow. Evolve. Rise.
And, just as you make space for the pain of divorce to tell you its story, make space for hope to write a new one.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people just like you with healing a broken heart after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more information about getting over the end of your marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Healing After Divorce.
You must be able to separate realistic from unrealistic expectations in marriage – if you want your marriage to last.
In 2005, the National Fatherhood Initiative published a report on a national survey they conducted on Marriage In America. One of their findings was that 45% of divorced respondents said that unrealistic expectations in marriage by them and/or their spouse was a major contributor to the end of their marriage. That’s nearly half of all divorces being caused in major part because of unrealistic expectations.
If you’re in an unhappy marriage and want to explore ways to improve your relationship, looking for and addressing unrealistic expectations might be a great place to start.
Where do expectations come from?
We all have expectations. We expect the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. We expect that our heart will pump without our conscious thought. We expect that we will outlive our children. And when we marry, we expect that we will be married for the rest of our lives.
Each of these expectations is based on our personal experience, understanding and/or hopes. They emerge from our beliefs about how the world works.
Beliefs and expectations can be rational or irrational. They can be based on facts. They can be based on decisions. They can be based on societal norms. They can also be based on misunderstandings.
The challenge is that we each tend to believe our beliefs and expectations are completely rational. Yet, the truth is that we all have irrational beliefs and expectations. They can just be really difficult to identify – especially when it comes to the expectations and beliefs we have about our spouses and marriages.
Examples of unrealistic expectations in marriage
We begin accumulating unhelpful beliefs and expectations about love and marriage from the moment we hear our first fairy tale. And society continues to pile them on through movies, books, quotes and, of course, societal norms.
Below are some of the most common unrealistic beliefs and expectations in marriage:
- Your spouse should complete you.
- Getting married is the hard part. Once you’re married, you’ll live happily ever after.
- Your spouse’s job is to make you a better or more evolved person.
- Your spouse will never change.
- You’ll be able to make your spouse change in the ways you want him/her to.
- Sex will always be fabulous because you love each other.
- Your spouse will give you whatever you want simply because s/he loves you.
- Your spouse’s life should revolve around you.
- Your spouse will be the only friend you need.
- Because you love each other, you’ll always be able to resolve all disputes.
- You should never go to bed angry.
- You should spend all your free time together – just like you did when you fell in love.
How unrealistic expectations can lead to divorce
When your expectations about who your spouse should be and how your marriage should be are unmet, of course you’ll feel disappointed. And your disappointment is signaling that something needs to change.
When expectations are realistic, it’s a fairly straightforward matter to talk with your spouse about how to address things in a way that you both can feel satisfied with.
The real challenge comes when we have unrealistic expectations in marriage that go unmet. That’s because unrealistic expectations can’t be met – no matter how much you demand or wish they are.
When we have unrealistic expectations in marriage (or anyplace else), we set ourselves up for more than just disappointment. Because it’s unlikely that our spouse will ever be able to meet them, our disappointment can fester and transform into other more defeating emotions and choices.
Persistent disappointment can lead to stress, frustration, anxiety, sadness, despair, anger, and eventually a decision to give up on the marriage. The choice to end things after persistent disappointment is often seen as the only answer because our unrealistic expectations can make it seem as if we fell for the wrong person.
The opportunity in unmet expectations
However, if you have unmet expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean your expectations are unrealistic or unable to be met.
Begin exploring your expectations on your own. Look at the list above and see if you’re your expectations are similar to any of them. If they are, chances are you’re harboring some unrealistic expectations about yourself, your spouse or your relationship. And you have the opportunity to set more realistic expectations.
If, on the other hand, your unmet expectations don’t seem similar to those listed above, talk with your spouse about your expectations and hers/his. By doing so, you open the door to begin working together to resolve the issues.
We all have expectations about how things should be in our life – including our marriages. Sometimes our expectations are met and sometimes they’re not. And we feel disappointed when they’re not met regardless of whether our expectations are realistic or not.
Since unrealistic expectations in marriage are involved in nearly half of all divorces, if you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage, it’s time to evaluate your expectations and invite your spouse to do the same. It’s only by getting realistic about what you expect from each other that you’ll be able to address the disappointments before they fester.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach who helps people, just like you, who are struggling with unmet expectations in marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And if you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.
Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
Life won’t necessarily be easy, but it can be better.
There was a time when even Aristotle believed that Earth was the center of the solar system. According to this geocentric model, the bright planetary bodies all revolved around us earthlings. The narcissist has a similar take on his or her position in the universe. And anyone who is or has been married to one knows this firsthand. Those who couldn’t last “‘til death do us part” know that even life after divorce from a narcissist is no picnic.
Narcissists, quite frankly, are exhausting. You can never give enough, be enough, do enough, flatter enough to satisfy their inflated sense of self. They need the world to revolve around them, to see them as the biggest, brightest star, and to praise them accordingly.
It’s understandable, therefore, how narcissism can be problematic in a relationship dynamic that needs equality, collaboration, and empathy in order to thrive. If any one entity in a marriage has the right to be a narcissist, it’s the marriage itself, not the individuals.
If you are trying to navigate life after divorce from a narcissist, you already know how defeating marriage to one can be. If you are in the throes of separation or divorce, you may be getting a rude awakening to the manipulation skillset of your ex-to-be. You may even wonder if he or she will manage to prevent the divorce altogether.
Before jumping ahead to the realities of life after divorce from a narcissist, it’s worth summarizing the tell-tale traits of this self-absorbed personality.
- Narcissists expect attention and praise…all the time. They are, after all, entitled to it. And when they don’t get it, they can quickly become hostile or aggressive.
- Narcissists lack empathy. The only feelings that matter are their own. Don’t expect them to walk a mile in your shoes anytime soon.
- Narcissists lack accountability. They take all the credit for what goes right and dish out blame for what goes wrong. Every failure, mishap, or disagreement is always someone else’s fault.
- Narcissists demand perfection. They believe they are perfect, and they expect everyone else to be…but on their terms, of course.
- Narcissists are bullies. And we all know that, under that bully exterior is a molten inferiority complex. They belittle and intimidate as a defense mechanism — anything to keep others away from the truth of who they are.
- Narcissists don’t listen and don’t care. There is one opinion and one way: theirs. They don’t have time to be bothered with others’ senseless drivel, so they will just cut them off and take the stage.
- Narcissists are incapable of emotional intimacy. Don’t expect vulnerability, empathy, compassion, compromise, or any other unifying, relationship-building qualities.
With a list like this, you may wonder how a person could be so gullible as to marry a narcissist. But narcissists can be extremely charming, painting a big, dreamy picture of all the possibilities for life with them. The danger comes when a significant other takes a stand…or expresses a different opinion or need…or stops the flow of flattery.
Life after divorce from a narcissist isn’t necessarily different than it is before divorce — at least with regard to the narcissist. The what, where, and when may change, but the how is still the same. The narcissist isn’t going to see the error of his or her ways, let alone care about its consequences.
What does it mean to have the opportunity to change is your life if you are no longer married to someone who is supremely self-absorbed?
You may be surprised to discover that reclaiming your life after divorce from a narcissist is a hard-won achievement.
Here are some of the realities that may define your life after divorce from a narcissist.
- You may still be confused and paralyzed.
Narcissists are masters at using criticism, mood swings, gaslighting, and double standards to extort their energy needs. And they know how to hide behind a charming public image to make you look like the crazy one.
- You may still doubt yourself.
It’s only natural that you will continue to question your own reality, judgment, and ability to recognize the enemy again.
Narcissists work insidiously. They chip away at your confidence, convictions, and self-esteem one insult, denial, and lie at a time. Don’t be surprised if you don’t trust yourself to “do life” on your own yet.
- Your ex isn’t going to change.
Just because you are no longer married doesn’t mean that life after divorce from a narcissist is going to be total freedom.
Narcissists never stop hungering for power, control, and self-gratification. So don’t be surprised if your ex tries to keep you down by making threats, sending abusive emails, or spreading lies about you.
- Your ex isn’t going to disappear from your life.
Especially if you have children together, you and your narcissistic ex will still be in one another’s lives. It will be incumbent upon you to have very clear boundaries, document everything, and have a reliable support system in place.
A narcissist isn’t above tactics like ignoring court orders or filing false charges. Remember, he or she is an energy vampire, and your divorce has taken away an immediate blood supply. Creating chaos for your (and even your kids’) life is just another way of keeping the energy of self-absorption alive.
- It may take a while for you to stand up for yourself.
Until now, you couldn’t say ‘no’ or share your feelings without negative consequences. There’s nothing like being ignored, mocked, or yelled at to shut a person down.
You may be surprised by your internal response when you feel the need to stand up to someone or something. The difference is that now you at least have the opportunity to take the risk.
When you start experiencing the freedom of self-expression, you will step into your own advocacy without apology or fear.
- Unless others live it, they probably won’t understand it.
Psychological and emotional abuse can be challenging for people to understand. No one who has lived it would ever ask, “Why didn’t you just leave?” Those who have lived in a psychological war zone know just how convoluted and debilitating the experience is. They may not be able to put defining words to it, but they get it.
Unfortunately, those you most want and need to understand may not be able to. They may see only the slow accumulation of damage to your spirit and life. But they still may not understand it, empathize with it, or know how to talk about it with you.
This is why gifting yourself with a professional who can offer both clarity and support can accelerate your healing. (And that’s certainly something your narcissist ex would never do!)
The realities of life after divorce from a narcissist can be as draining as the realities of marriage to a narcissist. Divorce, after all, doesn’t catapult you into exuberant freedom and readiness for a healthy relationship.
But, despite the unlikelihood that your narcissist ex will ever change, you now have the green light to go forward with your life. You can examine your life and choices with the fearlessness unknown to a defensive, falsely perfect narcissist. And you can make new choices that will create new relationships…and a new life.
Finally, you can look back and embrace the person you once were with the empathy and safety you never had until now.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. If you’d like additional support in thriving in life after divorce from a narcissist, you can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice or you can schedule a 30-minute private consultation with me.