Once your divorce settlement is final, you know where everything of value that you acquired during your marriage has gone. But what about the intangibles, like the love and emotional bonds you shared with another person? Where do they go?
The truth is, it is often much easier to part with material things than the emotional ties you have to your ex-spouse. No one likes to experience pain, so it is natural to avoid it by holding on to what was. And while this may feel comforting at first, it is holding you back from exploring the possibilities your new life holds for you.
Last week, a client of mine expressed he was struggling to emotionally detach from his ex-wife. After 11 years of marriage, she was his rock, during the good times and the bad. When I asked him what it is, he missed the most, since their relationship was incredibly toxic, he replied “not having texts or responses from her was unbearable.”
Now, their divorce was about to be finalized, he wanted to once and for all emotionally divorce from her. Divorce is very similar to a death and grieving for one’s loss is vital in coping with the pain and moving forward. To do this, going through a few of the stages such as grief, anger, denial shock and bargaining was going to be necessary. This is not only a difficult process but also one that takes time, just as took time to form your bond with this person.
The good news is that with some time and effort, you can learn to let go. Here are a few tips to help you detach emotionally from your ex:
Accept the fact you cannot be friends (at least for now). I tell my clients who struggle with detaching, understand that being friends right now is not going to work. Once both parties have moved on and no longer harbor romantic feelings for one another, then a friendship would be possible. Even if you have moved on, accept that your former partner may not have. Give them time to get to that point on their own and once they do a friendship may work very well. Don’t fool yourself in the beginning since this most likely will lead to disappointment and more heartbreak.
Focus your attention on new activities. This is the time when taking up a new hobby or joining a group will be incredibly beneficial to your healing. At first, this may be painful not having your ex to share this with, but I promise in time it will get easier. This is an important step in creating a new life for yourself, without your ex.
Avoid things that remind you of your ex! Here is when you want to remove many of the items in your home that either belonged to your spouse or remind you of them. Whether it’s that piece of art or the lamp in your bedroom, get rid of it. The same holds true for old voicemails and the pics on your phone (and if you want to save the pics, upload to your cloud then remove them on your phone). It’s tempting to reminisce over pictures and listen to old recordings, however, this only keeps you stuck and attached.
Break the pattern of reliance on each other. In every marriage, there are certain roles each spouse takes on — he may have maintained the landscaping and lawn or fixed things around the house; she may have done all the scheduling for the children, paid the bills, maintained the house, etc. It is natural to have relied on your ex for certain things, but now that you are going through a divorce, it is time to break this pattern of reliance on each other.
Start by reminding yourself that you are no longer a couple. Don’t act as her husband. Don’t rely on your ex for anything outside your divorce decree; you need to look elsewhere for help and support so you can truly end your emotional attachment.
Give yourself time to grieve the end of the marriage. Trying to bury or hide your emotions will only delay the inevitable. I know many people may not agree, but I think doing what you need to do but try to set yourself a time limit. Wallowing for too long can be counterproductive and prolong your healing. I worked with a client on and off for over 3 years, he could not move past the grieving phase. Unfortunately, three years had passed, and the anger and sadness would not seem to fade. Not only did this affect his career, but his health and social life had also been affected. Therefore, I believe grieving is very important, however, not to allow it to continue for extended periods. Otherwise, your grief is robbing you of “living” a happy and fulfilled life.
Divorce causes a whirlwind of emotions. Someone you’ve come to emotionally rely upon is now gone and the void this leaves can take time to heal. As you begin to detach from your old life, you will find that any lingering feelings of emptiness, jealousy, resentment, or other negative emotions no longer hold any power over you — and that you are finally free to move confidently into what your new life has in store.