Your divorce will probably be one of the most intense emotional experiences you’ll ever face. It sure was for me. I had all these powerful emotions hit me one after another, often in a confusing and frightening way.
The world of divorce can feel like a tornado has come through your life and wiped away all that was familiar and safe. I thought of it as being tied up, blind-folded and stuffed into the front seat of a runaway roller coaster. I never knew when I was going to be slammed to the left or right by a sharp turn and I dreaded any slow upward movement because I knew that at some point I would drop down into depths I couldn’t imagine or be thrown into a loop-de-loop or even be caught up in a corkscrew.
I’ll be honest with you. There were times back then when I thought I might be going insane.
What I’ve found out since my divorce in 2002 is that the emotions of divorce are intense and change rapidly for most people. These emotions often include denial, fear, hope, anger, loss, guilt, confusion, rejection and loneliness.
I think the loneliness was the hardest for me and that’s why I’ve developed some very specific strategies for how to deal with loneliness of divorce. Below are the top two strategies that work best with my clients and I’m hoping you’ll find them helpful too.
My 3 Strategies For How To Deal With Loneliness During The Divorce Process
First, I know this is going to sound simple, but sometimes the best solutions are really simple. It’s easy to think that your grief and loneliness are so profound that they must need a complex answer to help soothe them. But the truth is, simple is often best because you can apply these solutions again and again and again.
And believe me, it can be a saving grace to know that progress is being made, even if it feels like the loneliness is still there. If you can remember to apply these techniques every time you struggle, it will be much easier to not feel disappointed that you’re not fully over your ex. Because getting over the past takes time. That’s just the reality of grief and loss. So let’s begin…
Solution #1: Hugs
One of the easiest things to do to help yourself when you’re feeling sad and lonely is to give yourself a hug. And yes, I do mean wrapping your arms around your chest, placing your hands just below your shoulder joints and squeezing. Hold this hug for a bit and after a while you’ll notice that you’re taking deeper breaths. Continue until you sigh and you can start to feel the tension, loneliness and pain leaving your body and being replaced by a sense of feeling supported and loved.
There’s something especially comforting about hugs. I used to think that the only good kinds of hugs were from others, either human or animal, but I’ve found that hugging body pillows and especially hugging myself can have fabulously calming and comforting results too.
Solution #2: Talking it out to find perspective
One of the most powerful techniques for how to heal from a divorce or breakup is to talk about what’s going on inside of you. And I don’t mean that you have to hire a therapist or coach (although they do serve their place), here I’m speaking about the power of talking to a trusted friend or loved one who is open to hearing you share. By talking about your feelings, you can release their hold on you. Memories are incredibly powerful and by keeping your thoughts locked away, you don’t get a chance to have a cathartic release which is meaningful in gaining perspective.
Let’s face it, sometimes, the feelings inside are not 100% real. Sure you feel lonely. Sure you miss your ex. And yes, you will mourn the future you’ll never have together. But if those memories or thoughts are locked inside, the only dose of reality on them is colored by your feelings. This can cause memories to be skewed or altered to fill some longing you have about your ex or the time you spent together.
When you share your feelings with someone you trust, you have the opportunity to hear back another person’s perspective on the event. Over time, you may find, as I did, that my memories were not always accurate. Often in moments of deep loneliness, I would forget mean things he said or ways he negated my feelings or ignored my needs. My loneliness told me to be sad that he was gone, but when I shared with my friend and she recalled her experience of my ex I could start to see a more realistic accounting of my him and our story. In fact, he wasn’t the dreamboat I recalled.
My feelings of loneliness, of being abandoned, my fear that I would never find love again or that I was doomed to die alone, husbandless and lonely, had a direct effect on the stories I recalled in my mind when I was sad.
Talking with someone you trust (especially someone who was in your life when you were married) can be an exceptionally good way to hold a realistic mirror up and look back on the truth. Not the filtered truth, the WHOLE truth. And that can help you in moments when you’re feeling the most lost and lonely to keep it in perspective. Because you’re not really missing him, you’re missing the fairy tale version of him and that’s important to remember.
Solution #3: Acceptance
The only way to get through the loneliness is to accept that it’s a natural part of the healing process of divorce. Your life is changing in a pretty dramatic way and it’s OK to feel lonely when the spouse you shared your life with isn’t a daily part of it any more.
Acceptance means believing in your heart, mind and soul that the end is here. You can’t go back, you can only move forward. Part of that journey ahead means addressing your feelings, they are on this path with you. You can’t ignore your emotions, they have a funny way of making themselves known even if you don’t want to acknowledge them.
So here, in the world of accepting the truth about what happened means letting your emotions come up and greeting them when they arrive. If you’re sad, feel it. If you’re mad, let that in too. If you’re jealous or worried those too have a place in the healing process. And if you want to learn how to get past feeling lonely, you have to first feel your loneliness and then you can begin to interpret what it really means.
Acceptance is one of those things that can usually be helped by solution #2. In addition to talking with people who love you (like your friends and adult family members) it can also be quite wise to talk with people who are also dealing with divorce like those in a divorce support group, people who have successfully healed from divorce themselves and as you need it, a professional like a divorce therapist, a clergy member or a divorce coach. Each person on this list can help you gain both perspective and wisdom about what your future healing process holds
Here I’m being very specific about the people who are typically great at helping because I have seen firsthand the mistakes people make when they try to rely on people for counsel who are not vested in your healing.
Strategies That Are NOT Effective For Dealing With Loneliness
Unfortunately, many people think that the way to deal with their loneliness is to seek another relationship. This can have tragic results. When you enter into another relationship before allowing yourself to heal completely and become a whole person again, you run the risk of getting into a relationship with someone who is just like your ex or someone who is the exact opposite. Usually, this doesn’t work out so well and I can tell you from personal experience that breaking up with a new boyfriend before you’ve healed from your divorce can feel especially devastating. (I felt like a double loser when it happened to me.)
Even worse, people sometimes deal with the loneliness of their divorce by talking with their kids about it. They’ll tell the kids their fears under the guise of being honest, but the truth is they just need someone to talk to and the kids are an easy audience. Kids aren’t cut out to be an adult friend to either one of their parents during divorce and the long-term effects on both the kids and the parent-child relationship are just too costly. Believe me, it’s worth finding someone else to talk with.
Loneliness is a normal part of divorce recovery. If you’re ready to stop fighting this and embrace it as part of the natural progression everyone must go through, I have your assignment to help get through your loneliness quickly.
Your Assignment For How To Deal With Loneliness:
Give yourself a hug right now. I’m serious. Go ahead and try it right now. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good it feels. Be sure and continue hugging yourself until you sigh – that’s how you’ll know you’re allowing yourself to relax and be comforted. (It’s OK if you start to cry on your way to sighing.)
Are you relying on the right person or people to talk to? Think about who you have been relying on to support you through your loneliness as well as the other emotional upheavals you’re experiencing? Are these people serving your needs? Are they helping? Hurting? Asking the right questions? Making you feel overall better or worse after you talk to them? Based on the suggestions above, can you say that you’re relying on the appropriate people to support you? Do you need to look for another way to get the support you need?
And I want you to know you don't have to continue going through this alone. I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor, and I know what you're going through because I've been through it too. I specialize in helping people heal from divorce and breakups and get on with their lives. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.