Life After Divorce: Avoiding a Huge Mistake

By YourTango Guest Contributor Jerald Young, PhD, Divorce Coach

divorce and afterwards

Making a good adjustment to life after divorce sounds simple: (1) Create and use a good support network to help you release the emotional impact of your divorce, (2) redefine yourself with a new life purpose, (3) set and start pursuing new goals for your health, wealth, love, and self-expression, and, if you have kids, (4) minimize the effect of divorce on your children.

However, it almost never works as is evidenced by the fact that the typical divorce recovery time is 3 to 6 years. The culprit is the huge ball of emotional reactions triggered by your divorce that resides in your gut and mucks up your life decisions as we try to adjust to life as a single person after years of marriage.

We Need Help to Neutralize the Pain.

The issues that prevent a rapid adjustment to life after divorce are emotion-based and, as such, cannot be solved logically. All we can do is dissolve the disruptive energy they cause. For example, you got divorced and it’s painful. You cannot “solve” the problem of divorce because, regardless of what you do, you are still divorced. The pain is the problem. It is emotion-based. Providing reasons why you shouldn’t feel that way only makes matters worse. However, we can “dissolve” away the pain by disclosing and discussing it with a trusted person.  I call this person a “Transition Partner” or “TP.”

If you hold the emotional reactions in, they fester and grow. If you disclose them to a well-meaning, but unhelpful, friend, they gather energy and grow even more. Your charge:You must find a person who can be truly helpful in reducing the damaging impact of your emotional reactions to your divorce and subsequent life after divorce. But who?

Kate’s Story:

When I first met my sister-in-law she had been divorced for five years. The divorce was messy and publically humiliating and she was still angry and resentful toward her ex. “Bill bashing” was a favorite sport. Twenty-five years later Kate’s professional life had blossomed but her personal life was much the same. She had achieved national recognition for her work in school systems. However, she was still angry, bitter, and resentful toward her ex. All efforts to start new relationships had fizzled, and the topic of relationships was considered “off limits.” 

Then, at 53, she died from cancer, a professional success but an emotional cripple. Her effort to adjust to life after divorce had not worked. But why?

The Most Common Mistake: Picking the Wrong Transition Partner

Kate made the common, but disastrous, mistake of picking the wrong Transition Partner. She paid for it dearly. By default, her best friend, Jill, became her de facto TP. After all, what are friends for, right? Jill joined in on the “Bill bashing” which helped Kate relive, rather relieve, the pain. This prevented Jill from providing a reliable sounding board for Kate to be heard, understood, and allowed to move past her anger and resentment.  The result was a 30-year life sentence of victimhood and loneliness.

So, who should Kate have chosen?

Beware of the good friend who wants to please. They may not have the courage to help. Kate’s life would have been vastly different had she chosen a Transition Partner who had these five critical qualifications. A good TP will:

Have NO PERSONAL AGENDA. Their only concern is your happiness regardless of what form the arrangement may ultimately take.

Be able to tell you the TRUTH, even when it is not what you want to hear.

Be DIVORCED before, so they can truly understand what you are dealing with.

Be AVAILABLE to talk with you regularly, frequently, and in depth. And,

Be willing to WITHHOLD JUDGMENT and ADVICE.

If you select a TP that meets these requirements and if you give him/her permission to do their job, then the odds of dramatically speeding up your recovery skyrocket.

Ironically, this rules out the obvious choices: most friends, family members, and lovers past and present. All these people almost always have a preferred solution they want us to accept.

Take Aways: So what would Kate tell us now if she could?

Everyone recovering from divorce needs a Transition Partner. The one decision you have the most confidence in, picking your TP, is usually a bad one. A good friend may be a bad TP. Make your selection a conscious choice. Select someone who has the five criteria above. Let them know what you need. Give them permission to be helpful. Pick Carefully. Pick wisely. Adjustment becomes almost routine. Pick poorly and the consequences are measured in the number of years lost.

Have you seen others make this same mistake — relying or confiding in the wrong people after a divorce or a breakup?

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