How Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness

WHOLE-thekiss

Today, over four years after my divorce was finalized, I was still struck by a pang of sadness as I was dropping my kids bags off at my ex-wife’s house, the old house, our old house. I wondered, “How long will it take before I feel nothing?” But I immediately knew the answer. I will always feel a loss when dropping my kids bags off at my old house. The rest, what I do with those feelings, is up to me.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process.

I can sink, as I did in the early years, or I can rise and draw power from the emotional impact and love the sadness indicates. Even sadness is energy. If we let it sink us we can spend days or weeks in a fog of sadness and self pity. And I have to admit, I spent some time there after my divorce. And it’s never quite so difficult as the time you are dropping the kids back at school when you know you won’t see them again for nearly a week. What? That was not in any of my marriage advice books, I didn’t know this was a potential outcome.

Getting over the loss of my kids is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in divorce. I thrive on their presence. I cajole, support, nurture, and laugh with them a lot. When they are gone, I don’t have near as much opportunity for that connective joy. And of course, with teen aged children, the off-time communication is less critical to them. It’s still massively important to me, but they are more preoccupied with school, sports, and going steady.

For me, the time I have spent, not getting back into a relationship has been invaluable. I believe my inner resolve has been strenghtened. I know my innate joy and passion has returned, and it’s not dependant on anyone else. In fact, that’s the rub. You can’t count on any one else to do the work after your divorce. Sympathy from friends and counselors is fine and helpful, but the “work” is completely up to you.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process. You might be trading in the old failed relationship for a “next” relationship that is built on the same unstable foundation. I think that’s a mistake.

I tried dating again, I jumped on match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid almost immediately after I was asked to leave the house. It was a miserable experience. There were a few cute women, but nobody that caught my attention expressed any interest in me. Bummer. But I know now, that I was in no condition to date. For me it was about sex, touch, cuddling, nurturing. And those things, in the real world, come with a lot more entanglement than we might imagine.

I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me.

I know now, having had two serious relationships since divorce, that there is no such thing as casual sex FOR ME. Friends with benefits sounds like an interesting concept, but in practice, I always get attached. From that “cheating site” the advice for a hookup-type relationship is to make it 100% about the sex. Don’t date. Don’t go out. Just do it and move on with the rest of your life. Um, that’s not what I’m after.

So here at four years and counting, I’ve had two relationships that lasted 3 months and 4 months respectively. And while neither ended up being the “next” relationship for me, they both taught me valuable lessons.

FIRST RELATIONSHIP

I had read The 5 Languages of Love during my divorce, but it was a bit too late to figure out how to bridge the gap between us with some philosophy. But the information was vital to my recovery from the divorce. What I learned in my first serious dating experience was how it felt to be in relationship with someone who spoke the same love language: touch. She changed my life. I won’t ever settle for anything less than “touch.” Because it is possible to be in relationship with someone who has a different primary love languages, but it’s always a compromise. My first relationship showed me what was possible and it blew the mystery off what had gone wrong in my marriage.

SECOND RELATIONSHIP

This woman taught me that no matter how much you want it, when the other person is not ready, or is unwilling to build up a committed relationship, it’s not going to work. There was no amount of flexibility or compromise I could provide to keep my second girlfriend from breaking up with me every other week. She would tell me she didn’t want a relationship. She would tell me we weren’t going to work out. And I would dive right back in at the first opportunity. Perhaps the physical attraction was just that high. Perhaps it was that she shared my love of tennis, and the cute tennis skirt. Either way, I learned, that no matter how fantastic I think the person is, and not matter how hard I’m willing to try, push, encourage, nurture, if they are not ready, they are not going to be convinced that they are ready. It’s not our job to get the other person ready. Either they are or they are not.

MOVING FORWARD

I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me. I am as transparent as I can be. And so far, I’ve had one near miss. This time it appeared we had a YES on both sides. And then after three fascinating days, she went dark. Again, I couldn’t pushed, I could’ve worked my romance. Instead I listened and responded. I asked about what was going on. She said it was a timing thing, and her life had just turned topsy turvy.

I had to accept her word for it and move on. As excited as we both seemed on day two, when the connection goes from 50-50 to 90-10 it’s time to back off and reconsider. It’s in those moments of reconsideration that we can have the greatest clarity. When we stop and ask again, “What do I want?” we have an opportunity to refine and redirect our energy towards what is most important in our lives.

For me, most of the time and energy has been redirected towards being a great dad, and being present for my kids above all else. I’d like a relationship, and I’m still casually working the online dating options, but I’m not in a hurry. The first YES woman, the most recent near miss, had me just a tad nervous. I think that’s healthy. What will happen when SHE shows up?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. Patient to make sure it’s a solid relationship, but I’m ready. I’m asking the universe to “bring it on.”

So, in answer to the original question, “How long will it hurt?” I think the answer is always. But the next part is the critical work for your divorce recovery. What are  you going to do with that hurt? Get over it by sublimating your feelings with another relationship? Or are you prepared to dig in a bit, pause, and explore what went wrong? And then by building back yourself, while you are alone, you can re-find your own priorities and joys in life. When you’ve got someone who’s ready to join you in those, and who speaks the same love language, well… I don’t know, but then perhaps the hurt will be nothing more than a mosquito bite.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: the kiss, the prophet, creative commons usage

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2 thoughts on “How Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness

  1. Raw. Authentic. Honest. Vulnerable. True to the essence of vulnerability as written by Brene Brown. And a reflection of my own experience as well. Divorced 4 years and there are still pangs of sadness and grief. But it supersedes the relationship. It’s the entity of family that I grieve most. And my grief is largely focused on my children as well. The loss of what I wanted for them, the happiness and security of a nuclear family.
    I also jumped into dating right away (via match.com), and found within months that I was not ready. I learned some great lessons as well, but maintain relationships with two individuals, as friends.
    In the last four years I have devoted my attention and time to my kids, I don’t regret it and never will. Those memories I will always cherish.
    So bottomline, take time to get to know yourself. Reflect on learnings from the marriage, what dysfunctional patterns did you contribute? Be a role model to your children. It’s time to embrace some important truths that will set you free. Don’t look to avoid pain by jumping into a new relationship, and probably repeating the same pattern. A new opportunity is at hand.

    1. Kelley, thank you for your complement and story. We’re all doing the best we can! And new opportunities are always right around the corner if we’re looking the right direction.

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