Divorce – for all the devastation, grief, anger, shame, and financial loss that fold into its wake – can be a powerful catalyst for growth. It can even help you gain self-awareness when everything you recognize about your life has disappeared.
Rarely, if ever, do we grow when things are easy. We all know that. But we also all secretly hope there’s a loophole to that hard truth.
Ironically, more often than not it’s the unexpected events that give you the opportunity to increase self-awareness.
But why? How?
Self-awareness is as simple as it sounds and as challenging as it pretends not to be.
What? All I have to do is “be aware” of what I’m feeling? What I’m thinking? What my values and personality are? Why I think/feel/speak/behave/react the way I do?
Who doesn’t know those things about him/herself?
What makes self-awareness not as easy as it looks – and an ongoing practice, not a destination – is the fearless self-exploration it asks of you.
And it’s precisely when you don’t want to look at yourself that self-awareness holds up the mirror…and adds a magnifying glass.
When life doesn’t go as expected or something happens that throws you off course, you have no choice but to respond. Even not responding is responding.
Unexpected events force you into unfamiliar territory. They elicit thoughts and feelings that may surprise you.
They also force you to make decisions from a different thought process.
And, in the course of thinking and feeling new things, you discover new things, primarily about yourself.
Wow! I’ve never reacted that way before. I’m surprised by how emotional I am right now. I wonder why I was so quick to get angry.
I like the way that felt. I don’t like the way that felt. I feel calm and peaceful. My heart is racing and I feel irritable. I feel in control. I feel defensive.
On the topic of knowing yourself and others, Mary Tyler Moore once said:
Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well to realize you’re really strangers.
In the early aftermath of divorce, that little fortune cookie of wisdom may seem to have your ex written all over it.
However, if you are determined that your divorce won’t be in vain, you will recognize that “someone” as yourself.
And therein will be your first step toward gaining self-awareness post-divorce.
But what does it mean to actually “gain” self-awareness? Aren’t you either “aware” or “unaware”?
The reason we speak of self-awareness as a practice and not a destination is that it’s fluid. It’s not stagnant, all-or-nothing, or unchanging.
Emotional self-awareness, for example, may start with the recognition of feelings. You’re aware that you “feel” something – in your body, in your mind, in your spirit.
An infant will cry as a response to the feeling of hunger, but does not have the cognition to identify it.
A toddler may throw a tantrum in response to being denied a desired object. But, again, he does not have the awareness or communication skills to identify the thoughts and feelings fueling his fit. He just “feels” the absence of gratification.
You may think those limitations evolve out of a person with age.
But think again.
If you are starting your post-divorce life, you can surely point to conversations in which you swore your ex had no self-awareness whatsoever. No ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. No empathy. No accountability for the expression of anger. No ability to even go deeper in the explanation of anger.
Nada. Zilch. Just one or two layers deep, then “close the window to the soul.”
But now you’re on your own (at least for now). And at some point you will realize that others care less about what your ex said or did than about your response to it.
Actually, since we’re being honest and aware here…what others really care about is how you step up and take accountability.
After all, you were half of your marriage. You contributed to the dynamic and the establishment (and following) of rules – spoken and unspoken.
You expressed or didn’t express your thoughts and feelings.
You contributed to arguments, hurts, silent treatment, white lies, withheld affection, blame, and everything else that slowly erodes relationships.
You were only human, of course.
But so was your ex.
Perhaps you acted out your thoughts and feelings so you didn’t have to take responsibility for them or face them head-on.
Perhaps you stayed in your marriage longer than you should have, but only now understand why.
Perhaps you and your ex never or no longer shared core values essential to holding a marriage together. And suddenly your personal values are rising to the surface.
You “feel” them, “hear” them, “experience” them in unexpected moments of choice. But you had never given them a voice…or a name.
Now, however, you’re paying attention to those conscience-tugging moments. You’re giving them names and assigning weight to them.
And, in doing so, you notice that your perceptions of other people deepen and have greater acuity.
You communicate with more authenticity.
You are able to listen with your heart and ask deepening questions that draw honest self-evaluation out of others.
You begin taking responsibility for shaping the outcomes you want by shaping your own behavior.
This is both how you gain self-awareness and how you live with self-awareness.
Yes, that’s just another way of saying that self-awareness inspires itself as an ongoing practice. The more you act with self-awareness, the more you work to deepen it.
Accountability becomes the stronghold of your character.
Having the willingness to look with scrutiny at your own contributions to the failure of your marriage takes courage. Tons of courage. It’s so much easier to simply throw your ex under the why-we-got-divorced bus.
You can’t change what you don’t own. Simply put, if you don’t gain self-awareness as a result of your divorce, you will inevitably carry that limitation into all your relationships going forward.
Divorce certainly isn’t the path you set out to walk when you’re planning your walk down the aisle. But here you are.
The pearl that waits for you is the unforeseen ability to gain self-awareness.
And that self-awareness can open your life to greater peace and more authentic, intimate relationships.
You just have to be willing to get your hands dirty and do some shucking.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in increasing your self-awareness so you can become more you in every facet of your life.
You can learn more about gaining and benefitting from self-awareness in How To Be More Self-Aware.
Sometimes freedom is a scary thing. It comes with benefits, but it also comes with responsibilities that only you can fulfill. Divorce can be like that – liberating (especially if you wanted the divorce), but also surprisingly limiting. Learning how to live a happy life post-divorce involves balancing your newly acquired independence with the weight of extra responsibility and unforeseen emotions.
Happiness is a broad concept to funnel into a one-size-fits-all definition. Everyone wants it. Our Constitution has engraved the pursuit of it into the inalienable rights of our citizens. And everyone has an innate sense of what happiness is…and isn’t.
A study on happiness has shown that three things are the core elements of happiness: the quality of close relationships, a fulfilling job or hobby, and serving others.
When the closest relationship in your life has just gone “poof,” it’s natural to wonder how to live a happy life.
The very definition of who you are may still be entangled with your roles as a spouse and parent. But now you’re not a spouse. And your role as a parent will be, at the very least, “restructured.”
But finding joy in life after the great divide is possible. And, believe it or not, it can be richer than you ever thought possible.
Happiness is, in many ways, about balance. And so, after a divorce, you will have to achieve balance between what you draw into your life and what you allow to fall away.
Here are some tips for how to live a happy life post-divorce. Notice the balance between letting go and drawing in.
Remember why you got divorced.You may or may not have wanted your divorce. But here you are.
You didn’t marry with the expectation of ending up apart. You knew there would be difficult times and plenty of mundane daily-life stuff to put a gray tone on your wedding day bliss. But you said “I do” with the intention to see it all through.
And yet, life happens. Deep-seeded truths surface. Spouses’ humanness surfaces.
No matter what led to your parting – a shocking betrayal, an accumulation of countless “little things” – divorce is a reckoning of lessons yet to be learned.
Remember that as you go forward, and welcome the revelation of life’s lessons along the way.
Decide that anger will not guide your life.Anger is a natural emotion, so denying it is never the answer. (We can all point to people in our lives who insist, “I’m not angry,” while their faces redden and smoke escapes from their ears.)
But giving the steering wheel to anger as you try to navigate life after divorce will only lead to a crash course in “How To Ruin Your Life.”
Seek professional help, if necessary, to get to the truth – and gifts – of anger while learning how to defuse its control in your life.
Embrace your grief work as a bridge to a new and amazing life.Picture a perfectly rolled ball of yarn, unraveling effortlessly as a knitter stitches away.
Now picture that same ball of yarn after a catnipped kittycat gets hold of it.
Yeah, grief is kind of like that. Non-linear, unpredictable, tangled up, and knotted in places.
When you understand what grief is trying to achieve, there is less cause for fear. In many ways, however unpredictable, disorderly, and uncomfortable, it is your conduit to inner liberation, healing, and happiness.
Find “your people.”Remember that study about happiness? One of the three primay elements for how to live a happy life is having healthy close relationships.
Divorce giveth, divorce taketh away. And that applies to friendships (and even some family ties), too.
Learn to bless departing friends on their way as they live their own journeys and you live yours. Be grateful for time spent and lessons learned while you journeyed together.
And then move on to the exploration and welcoming of newfound friends and sources of support.
Rediscover the heart of you.It’s only natural that you lose some of your individuality and sacrifice many of your personal goals and joys in the immersion of marriage.
Now is the time to revisit what has been dormant.
Why did you let it go? Do you have unfinished business with favorite hobbies and talents? What have you always wanted to learn, try, create? What unique gifts can be re-explored for their contribution to your new life and relationships that await you?
Make your health, fitness, and well-being a top priority.Mangia bene, vive bene. The Italians (no surprise here) know the vitality that comes from food and connecting around it.
Eat well, live well. Grace yourself with the self-care reflected in healthful eating, exercise, and proper sleep.
Embark on a new “self-help” phase to enrich and empower your life.Call it what you will: self-help, talk-therapy, divorce coaching, O Network, TED Talks.
Self-enrichment isn’t a one-hour-a-week-in-a-therapist’s-office pursuit. It’s a mindset of accepting that you don’t, in fact, “know everything,” and welcoming wisdom and insight from trusted sources.
Sing it loud, sing it clear, “Let it go, let it go…!”Truly…let it go. Hold onto the good memories, the lessons, the gratitude, and, of course, your children.
But let the negative stuff go. No balloon can soar with all that baggage weighing it down.
Knowing how to live a happy life post-divorce starts with believing happiness exists post-divorce.
The next step is believing it exists – and is waiting – for you.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation to ask me your questions about how to live a happy life post-divorce.
Looking for more information about how to live a happy and healthy life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.
You probably didn’t set out to cheat. Few cheaters do. But somewhere along the line you got tired of holding up your end of the deal, or you simply let your guard down. And now you’re married and cheating.
Perhaps you’re half-delirious from the euphoria of newness. Perhaps you’re racked with guilt but in over your head.
Wherever you are, one thing’s for sure: you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube. It may be too late to change what you’ve already done. But it’s not too late to decide what you’re going to do going forward.
Here are 7 things to consider if you’re married and cheating:
Carrying on two relationships is exhausting.Relationships are work. No surprise there.
Love and commitment involve sacrifice. And their endurance is predicated on devotion to the highest good of one’s partner and the relationship.
Not always easy, especially when the duties of life become mundane and you’re convinced there are no more corners to examine in your marriage.
But the lure to infidelity is, at least in part, a forgetting of that.
New relationships are exciting, energizing, magical. The new relationship energy (NRE) that heralds in longing for a sustained relationship is invigorating for a reason. It allows you to see all the good in a prospect while overlooking the negative.
This kind of energy, however, isn’t sustainable. In fact, it’s exhausting in its own right.
If you’re married and cheating, you may have the juxtaposition of “comfortable” and “exciting.” But you will also have the constant work of trying to keep two relationships in play and separate.
Keeping your stories straight. Covering your lies. Trying to be two places at once. Dealing with inevitable discontent and arguments. Holding down a job. Being a parent. Having no time to yourself.
You will inevitably reach a breaking point – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial. And no amount of NRE will be enough to prevent it.
Having an affair is isolating.If you’re married and cheating, your entire life is about secrecy. You’ve built a bubble of fantasy around yourself and your affair partner. And no one else is allowed in.
That’s the nature of the beast and the price of all that “freedom” you believe you’re experiencing with someone new. You are anything but free.
You can’t be in the open with “the other person.” Sometimes you can’t be fully in the open with your own spouse, as you might be spotted by someone who has seen you with your affair partner.
You’re alone with your thoughts, alone with your guilt, alone with your reality. You can’t tell your spouse about this other person, and your affair partner certainly doesn’t want to hear about your spouse.
The irony? You may have opened yourself to cheating because you felt lonely in your marriage. But the secrecy of infidelity is far more isolating and lonely.
You’re not as good at hiding as you think you are.You may think you can pull it off. Get through this one-night tryst, then figure things out as you go.
But no one can be two places at once or fulfill two relationships at once.
Covering your lies also means you will have to be evasive and/or passive-aggressive. Your spouse will eventually pick up on the signs of your cheating, if not by full discovery, then by the accumulation of “a thousand little things.”
Your children will suffer…possibly forever.Who does infidelity affect? may sound like a rhetorical question. However, while the initial impulse is to focus on the betrayed spouse, there are other victims who suffer greatly from infidelity. Children pick up on everything. They don’t have the cognitive or communicative skills to communicate complex, adult issues. But they sense everything at a deep level and build neural connections that define their perception of the world as they mature.
The anchor in a child’s life is the nuclear family. And any disruption in the family, even if the family remains intact, can lead to immediate and long-term consequences for the child.
Anger, aggression, outbursts, academic decline, depression, trust issues, confusion over the meaning of family, even self-blame and difficulty in future relationships. Your children will be a stark reflection of the consequences of your cheating.
The chances of you and your affair partner ending up together are very low.Some statistics say only about 25% of cheaters leave their spouses for affair partners. If both affair partners are married, that number is even lower.
Even if you do end up divorcing as the result of your affair, the likelihood that you will end up marrying your affair partner is only about 3-5%.
Not only are second marriages up against discouraging odds of survival, but those that start as affairs have even more odds stacked against them.
First of all, you will no longer be tucked away in your “fantasy bubble.” You will be out in the open, exposed to the world around you, with all its temptations, vulnerabilities, and judgments.
Yes, you will be back into the “work” of relationship and the mundaneness of “real life.” The success of your marriage, just like that of your first marriage, will be dependent on what you give, not just on what you get.
And the two of you will always know that your relationship started as an affair. The trust that is the cornerstone of commitment will come at a higher price this time around…assuming you are able to achieve it.
You may cause lasting damage to your self-esteem and self-worth.Concern for a person recovering from infidelity is usually reserved for the betrayed spouse.
But what about how cheating affects the cheater?
Your marriage may survive. It may not. Your spouse may even move on from the affair (probably with a lot of help).
But you will have to live with the knowledge that you violated your own values and your own integrity.
Even if your marriage survives and you learn from your mistakes, you may always feel the denigrating reminder of not living up to who you claim to be.
If you divorce because of your infidelity, you could be held accountable for money spent on your affair.No-fault divorce may be the norm in the US. But that doesn’t mean your cheating can’t affect you at divorce time if your marriage doesn’t survive.
In Texas, for example, the judge in your divorce case can choose to lower your alimony (if otherwise warranted) or mandate the return of money spent on the affair.
The consequences of infidelity are pervasive. Even a singular departure from conscience can drop like a stone in still water, creating ripples through generations of lives.
If you’re married and cheating, the time to consider the repercussions of your choice is now.
Where will your next choice lead you?
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to get over resentment after an affair. 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.