Relationship expert Jan Day explains how to rebuild your confidence and learn to love again
Whether you wanted a divorce or had it imposed on you, the act of splitting up with a long-term partner usually brings with it a vast array of emotions. Above all, there is the loss of someone you have been close to you. Even if the time spent together leading up to the divorce was ugly, you have been deeply bonded with your partner and the change in that situation can open the door to all the un-grieved losses of the past. So don’t be surprised if you are feeling a lot more than you expected to.
Let emotions flow
The first step, then, is to deal with loss and grief. There can be many different and changing emotions in response to loss. Don’t judge yourself. This is a time for being gentle and kind and giving yourself the space to embrace whatever you are feeling. It can be helpful to write down your emotions and thoughts in a journal as a way to welcome and explore that level. It’s important to let feelings flow freely without judging or blaming yourself, even if they don’t seem to make sense or are chaotic. Give yourself time at this stage for mourning the loss of a dream and a relationship. For some people, having a counsellor or therapist can be useful.
In order to support your wellbeing, it is a good idea to create conscious ways to really let go of your ex and put in some healthy boundaries. After separation, make sure that you don’t inadvertently keep the threads of connection going. Examples of this would be storing their things, letting them stay in your home, seeing them regularly (unless you need to for childcare), keeping up with what they are doing on social media or finding other ways to try to maintain communication (often sub-consciously). Make it clear that you don’t want to be in contact for however long it takes to let go fully, which is likely to be at least six to 12 months.
To aid this process, try putting together a letter to your ex. You aren’t going to post it or give it to them but write it as if you are. Talk about everything that you loved in your relationship, then everything that hurt or didn’t work for you, and finally tell them what you hope for in your own future and something positive that you wish for them (this could be something similar to what you wish for yourself, for example, a wonderful, mutually loving relationship with a new partner).
You may also need to do some work with forgiveness practices. Although it is natural to be angry for some time, if you are walking around holding a lot of resentment towards someone, you aren’t really available for anyone else. A bond of hate and anger is just as strong as a bond of love. So find a way to work with forgiveness practices for your own sake, not for the sake of your ex. This takes time, so don’t be hard on yourself. Your intention to forgive them will lead you in that direction.
Lean on friends
Building a good network of friends will support you through this time so reach out to old pals and welcome new ones. This is a time to re-build your sense of self, so do things that you enjoy doing and connect with people you relish being with. Make sure that you plan some fun events or social gatherings, preferably not things you would normally have done with your ex. Opening up to new or old interests can be both nourishing and stimulating. They can also help you meet new friends and potential new partners. Most of all it is important to create a life for yourself where you are happy with or without a partner. This sense of being at ease with yourself is going to make it much easier to attract a new and healthy relationship.
Looking after yourself physically is as important as looking after yourself emotionally. Make sure you are giving yourself love in as many ways as possible. Many years ago after I separated from my husband, a close friend of mine gave me some invaluable advice. She told me that she’d taken to cooking herself really nice, healthy food as an act of self-love. She made sure that her fridge and larder were stocked with ingredients that she enjoyed cooking and eating and when she got home from work she could tune in to what she wanted to enjoy and everything was there. I tried it and it worked really well for me. In fact, to this day, preparing food is associated with loving myself.
Likewise, treating your body well with exercise will help build your sense of self-love and boost your mood. See if you can find ways to exercise that you enjoy such as Pilates, running or yoga.
These are all ways of coming back to yourself, building your self-esteem and making yourself emotionally available for your new life, whether that is with someone new or not.
Finding love again
It’s really natural to want to find a new partner. But go slowly. Don’t panic and don’t feel that you have to be with the first person you meet.
Create self-confidence by going to some fun events where you can meet other single people. You probably aren’t in the habit of even noticing who is attracted to you if you’ve been married for a long while, but now’s the time to start paying attention. Whether you are out dancing at a party or doing your shopping in the supermarket, be aware of who is around you. If you see someone who seems to be interested in you, smile or make eye contact. It gives them a signal that if they ask, you’ll be friendly.
Come to understand if you are ready to meet someone. If you are walking around angry with all men, for example, you are unlikely to attract a new partner. The same is true if you’ve lost belief in men. Try noticing what you do trust in the men you meet. It’s a great way to build that muscle.
When you go on a date, remember to be curious. You’re trying to find out who they are and if you could enjoy going deeper together. Let yourself be open to people you wouldn’t normally consider in that way. Often we restrict our choices by filtering out many men who would be wonderful partners. As long as they are honest, loving, willing and don’t leave you feeling bad about yourself, give them a chance. They don’t have to be perfect and neither do you. Before you go on a date, write a list of all the things that are wonderful about you. When you are on a date, focus on seeing what is wonderful about them.
Finally, try to understand the idea that ‘moving on’ can be desirable in all sorts of different ways. There are new friends to meet, new interests to pursue and new places within yourself to discover. Divorce, it has to be said, can be a gateway to more…
Meeting someone new
1. Make sure you are emotionally available and check whether you feel angry or distrustful of men. You may need some support, such as therapy sessions, around this.
2. Take part in some self development workshops in order to find out more about yourself.
3. On a large piece of paper make a list in different colours about the qualities you’d like to find in a new partner, plus what you have to offer in this way. Stick it on your bedroom wall.
4. Explore singles’ events and have fun with them.
5. Keep on going. Remember he doesn’t have to be Mr Perfect. He can be Mr Honest and Kind. Open your mind around who he is.
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