What if you’re divorced and your friends are busy buying Valentine’s gifts and cards for their spouses? What can you do to make yourself feel better and to make it through February 14th stronger and with hope for a new and fulfilling relationship? Here are the do’s and don’ts for handling Valentine’s Day when recovering from a divorce:
1. Create a good support system
Find someone to talk to about what’s happening. Rely on a buddy to do things with to make you feel better and forget about your problems for a while. Assess who will be the most understanding, nonjudgmental and willingly supportive; and then give them a call. If there's someone who's been through a divorce, put them at the top of your call list.
2. Seek help
Get professional help or absorb yourself in good self-help books. This is a necessity if you're extremely depressed, anxious or terribly guilt-ridden — if you were the one who left the relationship. The more you know about yourself and your core issues, the better you will heal, learn something from the relationship, and not make the same mistakes in the next one. This is a learning experience, not a conspiracy to make you miserable.
Assess the recurrent patterns in your prior marriage and all of your relationships to help you understand the why, the what, and the how, about you and your relationships. Why did you choose your former spouse? What is your past telling you that will help you with a future marriage? How can you use this information to make positive change within yourself and your relationships?
4. Take a breath
If you’ve just broken up with your spouse, you may be in shock, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. During this time, don’t make any major decisions about yourself or your future — don't quit your job or move out of the area.
5. Turn to faith
Look into a spiritual practice if you don't have one. This will help you with the grieving process — even if you're the one who ended the marriage. You will gain tools to cope and a perspective on the bigger picture.
Don't try to get information about your ex. You may think you want to know, but it will only make things worse. Why? Because it’s a reminder that it didn’t work — a reminder that he’s with someone else. It simply reconnects you with him when you’re trying to heal the wound and move on.
Don't have contact with your ex — less is more in this situation. If you left, checking in with your ex isn’t going to help alleviate your guilt; it will just make it worse. Struggling with guilt can be tortuous and professional help might be necessary, especially if you feel consumed by it. And if you’ve been left, time and space is required to help you heal. How could you move on if you’re constantly in touch with your ex, hoping for a reconciliation that most likely won’t and shouldn’t happen?
Don't spend time with people who are judgmental or too opinionated. At this time, you need support, and honesty with compassion. Unsolicited advice can be damaging and can impede your progress.
Don't put the marriage or your ex on a pedestal. Remember the truth about what wasn't working and all the things you weren’t happy with. If you left, remembering the reality of the relationship will help you with your guilt. If you were left, you were probably unhappy with your partner, and just remembering how it was will help you feel more empowered and less like a victim.
Don’t jump into the next relationship or marriage too soon. Heal your wounds and create a good relationship with yourself first; otherwise the same destructive patterns will repeat themselves in the new relationship.
During your breakup and divorce, remember to take it day-by-day. Stay in present time, and don't worry about tomorrow. Your feelings and emotions about the breakup are going to be all over the place. You need all the support, information, and tools to help you get through this difficult time and come out stronger than when you entered the marriage. But just know that there really is a beginning, a middle, and an end to your pain.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution and affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle. Sharon has appeared on TV and radio shows nationwide. She writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com.