Healing After Divorce

Feeling like a failure, a woman hides her face in her hands.

You really haven’t lost your identity along with everything else even though it feels like it now.

The losses you suffer when you divorce can seem never ending. Each realization of loss sends you deeper and deeper into grief. At times it can feel as if you’re drowning in the sadness (or maybe it’s just your tears).

Yet permeating through all of the losses is one that you just can’t shake. That’s the loss of you – or at least your identity as a spouse.

Unfortunately, your old identity is readily replaced with a new one, a painful one, an awful one. You now believe that you’re a failure. Feeling like a failure after divorce is fairly normal because it has its roots in lessons you learned from a very young age.

When you first started school you were taught to view tasks, tests and homework as things you either passed or failed. To pass, you just had to do things well enough compared to the rest of your class. To fail, you either had to ignore the assignment or display a complete lack of effort and/or understanding.

When you overlay this training on a failed marriage, it’s way too easy to reach the conclusion that you must be a failure because you’re divorced. And that’s where feeling like a failure and the accompanying shame come in.

You look around you and you see all these people who are making marriage work. But you weren’t able to do it. You assume that everyone around you can sense your failure and are judging you to be less than they are. But the truth is that you’re imagining most of it. (Sure, there may be some really cruel people in your life who are calling you a failure, but they’re WRONG.)

Although it can seem almost impossible to extract yourself from feeling like a failure, it’s not impossible.

You can move past the misery of feeling like a failure by changing your perspective.

Changing your perspective can only be done by changing your beliefs about failure in life. And changing your beliefs requires you to open yourself up to other thoughts.

If you’re genuinely willing to stop feeling like a failure because you’re divorced, here are some new facts and ideas to help you shift your perspective.

  1. It takes two. It takes two people choosing to make marriage work on a daily basis for a marriage to make it. It also takes two people for a marriage to not make it. So you’re not alone in having responsibility for the failure of your marriage. (NOTE: Taking responsibility for your part in the failure of the marriage is completely different from being a failure.)

  2. A marriage exists between two people. A marriage is a connection between two people. It is not either of them; it’s outside. When a marriage ends in divorce, it’s the relationship between the couple that’s a failure not either of the spouses.

  3. You have always been more than a spouse. Your role as a spouse was just a small part of who you are as a person. As a person you have all kinds of roles you fill every day already that you can choose at any moment to define your identity: father, mother, daughter, son, employee, manager, volunteer, driver, etc. You can also choose a new identity for yourself now that you’re no longer a spouse especially if you remember that “you are powerful beyond measure” and you’re so much greater than a failure.

  4. There are no grades for how you live your life. You’ve always done your best with the resources, ability and understanding you’ve had each and every moment of your life. There’s no way you or anyone else can change the fact that as a human you’re predetermined to do your best. That doesn’t mean that as you learn and experience more that you would have done things differently if you were to face the same situations today. It just means that you’re being perfectly you all the time. And there’s no way that you can be a failure.

  5. You become what you think about. You can absolutely make sure you’re miserable by focusing on how miserable you are or should be. You can absolutely make sure that you become a failure if all you focus on is feeling like a failure.

    BUT you’ve heard stories of how people facing horrible situations (worse than divorce) have been happy and become inspirations despite their circumstances. The fact is that millions of people get divorced every year and yet somehow with all these failed marriages these same people are going on to live fulfilling lives post-divorce. You can too. All you have to do is start focusing on how you can and then do what you can to make your life better. (HINT: you can start by deciding to move past feeling like a failure.)

Shifting your belief away from feeling like a failure because you’re divorced is a necessary part of divorce recovery, but that won’t (necessarily) make it easy to do. Recognize that your divorce will still mess with you every now and again and then come back to these facts to remind yourself that a failed marriage has the ability to make you wiser, but never has had the ability to make you a failure.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and personal life coach helping people just like you who want to survive and thrive after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you're ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

Looking for more support as you navigate life after divorce? Read more great advice in Healing After Divorce.

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