Divorce is a complex process that can lead to confusing and painful feelings. There are several factors that may contribute to the sadness that is coming up for you post-divorce, including how tied your identity is to your ex-partner and whether you've allowed yourself to fully grieve.
Grieving Your Old Life
Experiencing some or all of the stages of grief post-divorce is a totally normal reaction to this painful experience. The end of a relationship can bring up feelings of loss, loneliness, and heartache, even if you were fully on board with the divorce. When the reality hits and it's time for you to resume your life without your ex-partner, a part of you may feel really sad and miss aspects of what you had together, as well as the idea of having a partner in life. Grief can look like:
- Denial: "I'm not getting a divorce."
- Anger: "I'm beyond angry that this is happening to me."
- Bargaining: "If I did _______, I bet we'd still be together."
- Depression: "I'm sad and lonely and feel like I'll never get married again."
- Acceptance: "I've accepted that the divorce happened, that the marriage didn't work out, and I'm ready to move forward."
If you are having a hard time getting to the place of acceptance with your divorce, you may still carry unresolved feelings for your ex-partner. Even if you actively dislike them, you may still have a strong emotional reaction to triggers that bring memories of your ex-partner up. While processing the loss of a relationship can take years, if you are having a difficult time with acts of daily living and/or are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, it's important to reach out for support right away. This is a crucial time to prioritize your wellbeing. You deserve to heal and move forward so you can enjoy your life.
Missing Past Moments
It's hard not to be reminded of an ex-partner as you get back into your old routine post-divorce. This can be especially tricky for those who have been together for years and years, and who have centered their lives around each other. Certain places, smells, foods, and people can trigger sweet memories that you shared with each other. These memories may remind you of why you got married and what you loved about your partner. This can bring up profound feelings of loss and sadness.
Your Brain Is Reorganizing
What holds the most value to you and/or who you interact with most frequently tend to take up the most real estate in your brain. Most likely, memories, thoughts, and feelings connected to your ex-partner will come up pretty easily, even after the divorce has been finalized. Breaking a routine typically takes about a month, and if it includes people it can take even longer. Be patient with yourself and know that your brain will adjust to your new routine in time. If you find that you are having a hard time adjusting, you may have unresolved issues with your ex partner that are interfering with your processing.
Identity Linked to Partnership
As relationships develop, partners build a life together, entangling their friends, favorite places, and sometimes work. Certain restaurants, favorite spots, special walks, and events with mutual friends may become aspects of your typical routine, further connecting you and your partner to each other. You may have viewed yourself as a "we" for so long that you find it difficult to connect to the individual aspect of yourself and what that looks like without a partner. You may feel lost without a partner or realize that you liked the comfort of having a routine with someone, even if you weren't getting along. Re-defining your identity can look like:
- Creating your own routine filled with activities that suit you and your schedule
- Figuring out what you like and are interested in
- Shifting gears with your friendships and participating as an individual, not a couple
- Creating your own memories that aren't linked to another person
Am I Being Selfish for Wanting a Divorce?
Feeling selfish after a divorce is not uncommon, especially if there are kids involved. Selfishness is when someone has an excessive focus on their pleasure and disregards the feelings of others to get what they want. There's a huge difference between deciding to get a divorce because it's the healthiest decision for you versus trampling over those who care about you to get what you want. In terms of the kids' mental health, the best thing you and your ex partner can do for them is illustrate what a healthy, adult relationship looks like, and this can absolutely be done post-divorce.
How Do I Stop Feeling Guilty Over a Divorce?
Guilt is a complex emotion that comes from a place of feeling as if you've done something wrong or bad. Guilt often propels individuals to reconcile or take back what they've done to manage the situation. When it comes to divorce, releasing feelings of guilt can feel nearly impossible. Better understanding why you are feeling guilty can help you process this situation more fully so you can move towards healing.
Realize Nice Isn't a Reason to Stay
Even if your ex was on-paper perfect, if something did not feel right to you, or if the passion was gone, or if you became unhappy, or any other reason you thought this relationship wasn't the best choice for you, it's okay to give yourself permission to release your feelings of guilt. Nice is not a reason to stay in a marriage that doesn't feel right to you.
Support Your Ex-Partner and Children
Children can make a divorce feel even more painful and complicated. Think of it this way, it's important for your kids to see both parents happy, and in healthy relationships, and maybe that wasn't the case with your ex-partner. The best thing you both can do for your kids now is to support each other through healthy co-parenting and teach your children together about the importance of staying connected and loving in this new version of your family.
Trust in Your Decision Making
If your ex-partner didn't want a divorce, but you did, feelings of guilt can certainly emerge. It's important to remember that putting your needs first doesn't make you a bad person, and it certainly doesn't mean that the divorce was the wrong decision. Life is short and if your partner wasn't fulfilling your needs and/or you just felt like you weren't the best fit anymore, it's okay to allow yourself to be comfortable with your choice.
Process Your Doubts
If you weren't 100 percent sure you wanted a divorce, but you've already gone through with it, it's important to try to take a step back and look at the situation. Ask yourself what led you to move forward with the divorce initially? Know that having doubts is normal and when accompanied by the sadness of the divorce can increase these doubts even more so. Clarity will likely arise as your emotions are further processed.
Understand the Complexities of an Ex-Partner Passing
If your ex passed away after the divorce, you may be hit hard emotionally. You may wish that you hadn't gone through with the divorce, or feel as if it's your fault that they've passed away. Know that feeling a range of emotions is completely normal and it may take some time to process this type of complex loss. Keep in mind that others, even the most well-intentioned, may not understand why you may grieve this type of loss, so be sure to find supportive others to help you move through this difficult experience.
Unpacking the Guilt
Dig into why you are feeling guilty and really examine what your thoughts and emotions are around your guilt. Challenge the negative beliefs that come up for you and try to come up with healthier ones that are less emotionally charged. Take time to process your guilt by journaling, speaking with close friends and family, speaking with a counselor, or joining a support group. Guilt that goes unchecked can spiral out of control, so be sure to check in with yourself and reach out for help if you need additional support. Examples of challenging your negative beliefs can look like:
- "If we didn't get divorced, my ex would still be alive" versus "I had no control over my ex's passing and the divorce was a mutual choice that was right at the time."
- "I ruined my children's lives with this divorce" versus "I made the best decision for my family by putting everyone's wellness first and my children need a healthy adult example and this divorce will allow that to happen."
- "I'm a disgrace and have embarrassed myself" versus "I'm putting my needs first and am proud of the brave steps I've taken."
- "If I were a better partner, we'd still be together" versus "I tried my best at the time and am continuing to learn and grow as a person."
- "I didn't even like my ex and I feel stupid for being so upset" versus "I hold some memories close to my heart and will allow myself to process and grieve freely so I can move forward."
Why Does My Divorce Still Hurt?
Know that it is completely normal for a divorce to bring up feelings of pain and hurt even years afterwards. Remember that it takes time to adjust to a new way of life, as well as your new view of yourself without your partner, so be kind and patient with yourself as you process this experience.