Romantic relationships can be a big part of our identity. Especially if they last 10, 20, 30 years – sometimes it’s half of our lives or more. We get so used to being a partner, husband, wife and it’s a shock to our system to suddenly have to see ourselves outside of that role.
Divorce or breakdown of a long relationship is a big trauma, there’s no doubt about it. From realising that it’s over, to actually going through it, and then rebuilding your life afterwards – it’s a huge stress and one of the biggest life changes for most people. And one nobody desires for.
What makes it even harder for many is going back to being single after such a long time of viewing themselves as part of a couple.
Being single again is hard, but not being in a couple any more is even harder.
I know this sounds like the same thing – but there is a significant difference.
The Dread Of Life After Divorce
I recently asked a woman who is in a really bad and dysfunctional marriage – and very well aware of it, as well as in a fairly good position to leave (financially independent, grown up kids): “Why don’t you finally leave him? What’s keeping you there?”. She said to me: “If I left him, I wouldn’t have a husband any more.”
This answer explains the above premise: once you get out of a relationship, you not only lose a partner, you also lose your role as a partner. If you’ve been in a couple for a long time – a big part of your personality is tied into this “spouse person”. Surely you still have your individual identity, but it’s been dimmed by all the changes and adjustments you had to make to create your couple one. And it’s no wonder that you feel unsure of who you are – once you’re not somebody’s spouse any more.
The Social Stigma
Divorcing is not so frowned upon any more as it used to be only a few decades ago, but it’s still seen as a life failure. Not only you as a divorcee feel like you’ve failed – but others often amplify this by pitying, judging and criticising you for not trying harder to save your marriage.
If you’re the one who initiated divorce you might also get resented and ostracised by family and friends who blame you for the break up. Even though we can never know what really goes on between two people, and in most relationship breakdowns both sides carry a part of the responsibility – still, most people will take sides and won’t bother getting the whole story.
But it’s what it is: you’ll never be able to please everyone no matter what you do with your life, so don’t let others’ opinions make or break your happiness – you’ll just have to deal with this as best as you can. Most people who truly care for you will make an effort to understand and support you.
The Great Breakup Identity Crisis
But no matter who gets to keep which friends and relatives in their camp, this is just another layer that adds to the complexity of redefining yourself as a newly single person. You’re used to thinking as “we” and making all important moves in your life in cooperation. For such a long time your life was tied to this person on day to day basis. They were a part of your every major life decision, and many minor ones too.
Part of your self-worth was wrapped into the partner role too. Your marriage was your life achievement, you invested so much in it and now it’s all gone. You felt stronger and more secure when you were in a couple. But now it’s just you again – and you’re the only one fully responsible for everything you do.
Getting On With Your Life
I know this can be very overwhelming. But you ARE single now, that’s the reality – and you must look ahead. If you want to be in a couple again – I’m sure you’ll find someone new – but don’t spend your in-between time waiting for them.
Your new life is a new opportunity. New playground for your true self to shine. You can start indulging yourself more, now that you don’t have to think about what your partner thinks about it. You can go back to your long forgotten hobbies or interests, and discover some new ones. You can strengthen bonds with your friends, travel to places your spouse would never want to go, go to courses they thought were not for you.
And you know what, it doesn’t have to be about doing things they disapproved at all – just go and discover yourself again, and do things you love. It will help you rebuild your confidence and your self-worth, and you might even find it’s actually a lot of fun being on your own – having more freedom, more flexibility, more choice.
If you have young kids – this will still be a challenge, but it can be done. The good thing is, they’ll now probably spend some time with your ex too – and that can be your me-time.
I am not here to convince you your break up was a good thing and you should immediately feel good about it. Not at all. Of course you have to take time to feel the grief, the anger, the disappointment, the fear. You have to feel all these emotions, and live through them to have a healthy recovery.
But I just wanted to remind you that, even though it maybe hard to see it now, once you’re on the other side… there is a brand new life awaiting for you, and a brand new chance for you to be happy again.