Watching your marriage come to an end, even if you knew it had to happen, can be a surreal experience. Divorce, like marriage, is so much more than a piece of paper. It flashes a summary of vanquished hopes and dreams before your eyes. And the inevitable grief for what should have been can leave you wondering if getting back to happy is even possible.
Happiness as a state of being is something easily taken for granted. We speak of it casually and often with entitled expectation.
Americans are, after all, guaranteed at least the right to pursue it. Constitutionally speaking, anyway.
But happiness as a general state of subjective well-being isn’t necessarily a direct derivative of life circumstances.
Sure, experiences like divorce, death, poverty, and loss can stir up negative emotions — sadness, anger, regret, fear.
And yet, even the negativity can’t sustain itself for those who cognitively perceive their lives in a context of happiness.
In this regard, happiness is bigger than just a basic emotion. It’s grounded in detectable brain activity and can be cultivated through life choices.
Divorce, then, doesn’t have to mark the end of your happiness. Depending on how you choose to perceive the experiences (and lessons) of marriage and divorce, you may see more beginning than ending.
Getting back to happy after divorce won’t happen overnight. Grief, after all, is a healthy response to the loss of relationships and expectations that matter.
But you do have more control over the process than simply waiting for a wave of bliss to come rolling in.
Here are 13 steps for getting back to happy after divorce:
And making it a priority will help you with all the following steps.
Do a fearless inventory of your marriage and your specific contribution to both its successes and failures.Regardless of what was the final straw in your marriage, you played a role in the dynamic that “didn’t work.”
Get real. Be honest. Own your side of the street.
Only then will you be able to move forward with confidence that you can, in fact, experience lasting love in the future.
And only then can you experience the lightness of self-forgiveness…and work to forgive your ex.
Seek out a therapist and/or life coach who will travel this journey with you.Getting back to happy after the disruption of divorce is a process. A long one. And you’re not expected to ”just know” how to accomplish that.
How wonderful that there are people who have devoted their lives to helping others find their way through the messiness of life!
Give yourself this gift of support and guidance. You’ll find your way back to happy a lot more quickly.
Build your support system with prudence and care…but start building it right away.You need and deserve to surround yourself with people who are willing to go into the trenches with you and who lift you up with understanding and support.
Some of these new comrades will become friends for life. Choose them wisely.
Become the most awesome parent you can become.If you have children, they are going to need a lot of help to adapt to their new lives. Use this time to focus on them and your relationship with them.
Create new traditions and rituals. Be emotionally present. Listen to them and hear their needs and wants.
They, too, need help getting back to happy.
(And if you need some extra inspiration for your new coparenting role, you’ll find plenty in these coparenting blogs.)
Take really good care of yourself.Instead of falling into the trap of self-medicating and wallowing in self-destructive habits, love on yourself as you would your best friend.
Prepare healthful meals, exercise, stick to a sleep schedule. (I know, divorce can make it difficult to do these things. Read this if you need help with getting better sleep. And this if you are struggling to eat enough.)
And remember that self-care starts with the messages you tell yourself.
Take up an old hobby and learn a new one.It’s inevitable in marriage that some of what used to define you and your passions gets buried by the needs of the whole.
Well, it’s time to go excavating.
Get creative, practice a favorite instrument, take a risk and join a group like Toastmasters.
It’s time to stimulate and nurture your mind with positivity and growth.
Expect to lose some friends and choose to bless them as they depart from your life.Divorce severs more relationships than just your marriage. It’s to be expected. And it’s OK.
There will always be people who served your life (as you did theirs) while you were married, but who can’t relate the same now.
Be grateful for the time you spent together and wish them well, even if only in your heart, as they go on their way.
You are in a season of change. Some things will fall away in anticipation of what awaits you.
Saturate your mindset with gratitude.Gratitude changes everything for the better. It’s also a beautiful, expansive way to be assured that everything is going to be OK.
Make service to others an ongoing part of your life.There really is no joy that compares to that of helping another life – as long as you’re not depleting yourself to do so.
The beauty of helping others is that you can do so in little ways to you that make a big difference to those receiving it.
While you are busy blessing the lives of others, your own life will teem with happiness. Goodwill feeds on itself that way.
Take pleasure in little things.You will most likely experience a major lifestyle shift after your divorce.
Instead of pining for past grandeurs and conveniences, create your own shift by tuning into all the small joys you may have missed until now.
Frame your kids’ artwork, savor a Friday night dinner on TV trays, make up your own lyrics to your kids’ favorite song.
You’ll be amazed at how “possible” everything seems when you pay attention to the perfection in small things.
Forgive.Nothing relieves emotional weight like forgiveness. Nothing.
Forgiveness isn’t about living in denial or being a pushover.
It’s about ripping up the contract that says you have to carry the heavy burden of a grudge for the rest of your life. Forgiveness is all about you taking care of you.
Laugh.In the eye of the big, bad storm there is stillness and peace. And the shortest distance to it is through laughter.
Laughter is like natural helium. It lifts you, lightens you, brightens you.
And it’s wonderfully contagious!
You may have noticed by now that finding your way back to happy after divorce isn’t complicated.
It may not always feel easy, but it’s not complicated.
What it asks of you is you — the authentic, intuitive, self-aware person whose happiness just needs a little dusting off.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation to ask your questions about getting back to happy after divorce.