January is the time for New Year’s Resolutions, and if you are like me, weight loss is at the top of your list. By all means, proceed with the usual weight loss goals, but this year also make plans to drop a different type of weight… the emotional dead weight that may be holding you back.
When a marriage comes to an end, there will almost certainly be pain. This is true whether you choose to end the marriage or that choice is made for you. In addition, marriages rarely come to an end for positive reasons. Usually, the spouses have been in conflict for some time, resentments have built up and/or there is some painful, terminating event like infidelity, irresponsibility with money or emotional abuse. Whatever the reason for your separation and regardless of who made the ultimate decision to end the marriage, it is likely you are dealing with some very heavy emotions and a great deal of pain. This is perfectly natural, especially for a finite period of time. At some future point, however, you must make a very important decision:
Will you make healthy choices that will help you process your pain, learn from it and emotionally slim down so that you can truly move on; or
Will you continue to feed your pain with an unhealthy diet of resentment and anger so that emotionally you grow heavier and heavier, never able to move forward or create the new life you deserve?
I hope your initial instinct is to choose the first option. Even so, you may be thinking actually exercising that option may be easier said than done. You are absolutely correct to have that concern, but this is where the healthy choices come in:
1. Get into therapy. If you are already in therapy, congratulations, you have taken the first step toward a happier, healthier you. If you are not in therapy, get into therapy immediately. Some people have the view that therapy is an admission of mental illness or the mere fact of attending therapy could have a negative effect on custody cases. Neither is true. In fact, therapy is for everyone and there are very few people who would not benefit from the process. Regardless of how sane, grounded, intelligent and educated you are, a good therapist can help you process complicated emotions, put things in perspective and prepare you to move forward with your life. For those going through traumatic or stressful events like divorce and separation, this is especially helpful. In terms of custody cases, judges generally recognize therapy as a positive step and even in cases where a parent has a diagnosable mental illness, regular and consistent treatment for that illness will be a significant bolster to their custody case. In short, if you are not in therapy, start immediately. If you need a recommendation for a good therapist, please contact us and we will be happy to help.
2. Join a support group. Never underestimate the power of people who understand you and your experiences. There are many divorce support groups that meet in Raleigh and surrounding areas on a regular basis. These are attended by people who are at various stages in the process and they lend both support and a listening ear. These groups also give you the opportunity to help other people through the process and it may surprise you to find that helping others with your own hard-won experience and knowledge may be even more beneficial to you than to them.
3. Keep a balanced view of the relationship. When a relationship ends, there is a common tendency to dwell on the past relationship and to view it in extremes. For the person choosing to end the relationship, they may be hyper-focused on all the negative aspects of the past. For the person who had the choice made for them, the past may seem far more positive than it actually was, seeming almost perfect in their memory. It is extremely rare that any relationship is all good or all bad for either participant. Viewing it from either extreme, however, may be a useful tool to distance oneself from unpleasant thoughts or emotions. For example, an unfaithful spouse may claim they were either unhappy for years prior to the affair or that they never loved their spouse at all. Essentially, this is a justification of the affair and may be an attempt, either conscious or unconscious, to shift the blame for the affair to the spouse, allowing the unfaithful spouse to avoid confronting difficult feelings and emotions. On the other hand, a spouse who is cheated on may view their marriage through rose colored glasses, declaring it was perfect until the affair partner destroyed the relationship. If the cheated on spouse is harboring any hope of reconciliation, even if that hope is one-sided, it may be too “dangerous” to view the past through a balanced perspective or to accept the unfaithful spouse is at fault. Either extreme view of the past relationship may create unrealistic expectations, increase resentments, and prevent the hard work necessary to move forward. A therapist can be particularly helpful in putting the relationship in a more balanced perspective, bringing you a degree of peace and freeing you to concentrate on your future.
4. Forget “fair.” Do not dwell on making things “fair.” Most likely you have been injured or let down by your spouse and it is not fair. Unfortunately, the process of separating and divorce is not set up to correct the wrongs done to you. You may put your faith in karma, life or a higher power righting the wrongs done to you, but realistically, that may never happen in a way that is observable and obvious to you. Even if you were guaranteed the revenge you may so richly deserve, spending your life waiting for something bad to happen to your former spouse takes the focus from the good things in your life and, instead, channels your energies in a negative direction. Keep a positive focus on yourself and your children and concentrate on building a great life, not on waiting for past wrongs to be made right.
Dropping the emotional dead weight that so often hangs around after a relationship has ended is never easy. It can be a long, difficult process, but the end result is a lighter, healthier and happier you. So, when you make your New Year’s Resolutions this year, remember my advice and be sure to include a plan for dropping the emotional dead weight along with those other unwanted pounds.