It goes without saying that a traumatic and stressful event in your life such as a divorce is easier to get through with therapeutic support. A good therapist is always a great help in sorting through ambivalent and conflicting emotions, as well as feelings and fears linked to loneliness and sadness. Before you decide whether to consult a therapist, or before you find the time to attend a therapist’s office, you can start dealing with your loneliness right now.
It is very common for divorced people to be afraid that they will be lonely and miserable forever. This issue is further exacerbated by a divorce rate so high that nearly 50% of all marriages are expected to end in divorce, which means there is a large number of people that are experiencing similar emotions. On the one hand, it is a low point in the divorced person’s life, especially if it was not them who initiated the divorce. People experience divorce as a failure of their marriage, and by extension they see themselves as failures and losers. Divorce is associated with a myriad of negative emotions such as emptiness, bitterness, regret, sorrow, etc. On the other hand, divorced people can find themselves ill-equipped to living alone. They may find out that they can hardly remember the last time they were alone and that they literally get bored with themselves. Coupled with fears of having trouble finding a soul mate in today’s troubled world, many divorced people feel despair and utter loneliness.
It’s therefore sensible to deal, first, with fears of being lonely, and then with the debilitating feeling of loneliness.
Fear of Being Alone
First of all, let us make a distinction between being alone and being lonely. These are two different states, and only one negatively affects one’s well-being. As is known, it is possible to feel lonely even when around other people; that may well be how you felt in your failed marriage. For this reason, you should not feel sorry for losing the marriage. Instead, let’s analyze your fears.
Very often, fears are completely irrational, and that is why you may have found it difficult to refute them. Sometimes fears are somewhat grounded in reality, but when you are thinking terrified thoughts, you forget about context and a myriad of ways one’s life can turn around.
For example, you fear that no one will ever love you again. You rationalize that thought by saying to yourself that you are indeed not getting any younger, you have the burden of your children, you are too heavy for a good-looking person to pay any attention to you, etc. Even if there is some truth to your words, they are so not true in many aspects. People can get interested in each other at any age and with any shape. A willingness to do it is more important at this stage.
Or, you have a fear that you will turn into an old cat lady or a helpless old man who will die alone and get eaten by dogs. If you start thinking of it, this fear is not directly linked to your idea of love or of relationships. It is more about family and your connection with the people around you.
Finding your soulmate takes time, in the sense that you start a relationship with someone and eventually get closer. The idea that you can meet someone and instantly know that this is your soulmate, and that you are bound to be happy, belongs more to Victorian romantic novels than to the modern lives of sensible and educated people.
How To Deal With Fears of Being Alone and Never Loving Again
1. Analyze Your Fears.
It is crucially important not to associate yourself with your thoughts and fears. We all have times when we find it hard to combat negative thoughts and images. Some people advise that you replace negative thoughts with positive ones. However, you may find yourself slipping into a pattern of never-ending rumination, where you get into a loop of thinking the same thoughts. Meanwhile, once you get some distance from your thoughts and start looking at them as a process which has gotten out of control. When you remove the pressure to have positive thoughts and allow yourself to contemplate negative things, you will find that you can manage them more easily. You will be able to tell yourself that your thoughts are not true and that they come from pain.
2. Confront Your Fears
Many divorced people worry about being alone when they age. As Bridget Jones says in Bridget Jones’s Diary, “I'd finally die fat and alone and be found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians.” If you constantly worry about being alone when you get old, confront your fears. Ask yourself, ‘So what?’ You’ve been alone before. Plus, if you have children and relatives, you are not alone, that’s for sure. If you have neither family nor friends, this is an issue you need to work on right now. You need to connect with people rather than look for romantic attachments.
3. Start Seeing Yourself as Complete
Even if you believe in the romantic myth of becoming complete only as a couple with your soul mate, being single is a great time to develop a deeper and more meaningful relationship with your Self. Post-divorce is a period where you can do inner work, do your ‘homework’, so to speak, after a failed marriage. It does not mean, though, that there is something intrinsically wrong with you and that you now must ‘correct’ and ‘improve’ yourself.
Humans are mentally and neurologically hardwired to maintain homeostasis, a state of equilibrium. For this reason, it is very difficult to change habits, stick to a new diet plan or exercise regime. When you think ‘I have to change,’ whatever the reason, your conscious intentions might be to develop a plan and stick to it, while your unconscious efforts are to sabotage it.
Therefore, when you start your inner work regarding the divorce and your new life, you should never scold and punish yourself. You should not worship yourself either. What you can do is get to know yourself better and treat yourself more kindly.
If you think that you are above narcissism and you have no problem with loving yourself, check whether you really accept yourself for who you are. Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? Do you set goals and not relax unless you achieve them? Do you appreciate yourself no matter what? You do not need to love absolutely everything about yourself.
It is normal, desirable even, to find things that you want to improve and that you do not really like about yourself – but you need to let yourself be and not to strive for perfection. Letting yourself be is realizing that you are completely on your own. It is accepting your flaws and shortcomings.
To help yourself accept yourself, compliment and give credit to yourself, even for the least significant things. This is a long-term task for you. You can praise yourself for raising your kids or for a successful work project that you put a lot of effort into. However, try to compliment yourself for the little things that you do during a day.
Say that you are a good girl for waking up so late – you gave your body a good rest; a good boy for making an omelette for breakfast, as eggs are a great source of protein. Or even without explanation: good for you for getting coffee; good for you for doing the shopping; good for you for washing the plates after dinner; good for you for brushing your teeth; good for you for picking this shirt. Whatever.
The point is to satiate your consciousness with a positive attitude toward yourself. The longer you do this exercise, the better and the sillier it gets, the better. Make it a game, and do not treat it too seriously. It is supposed to be fun, and it will alleviate the stress and pressure that you put on yourself.
4. Revise Your Beliefs and Attitudes
You might be familiar with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.' It gives the general idea that the way we think determines the future we will have. Your thoughts obviously inform your actions and your words. What you believe in is ultimately what you get. If you think that you are useless and unlovable, it is a natural consequence that no one will love you, simply because you do not allow it to happen.
The way our beliefs and attitudes inform our lives is a complicated subject, and it is definitely better to approach it under the guidance of a competent therapist. The problem with dealing with your belief system on your own is that your consciousness is likely to hide a lot of the truth from you. It sounds paradoxical, but if you want to accuse yourself of something, your mind will start to rationalize and give you valid reasons for doing things the way you did. Remember that humans, in general, are allergic to change. If you acknowledge that you have done something wrong, your consciousness sees this as an impetus to change, and it tries to avoid the message.
However, if you notice that you are having negative thoughts about yourself, it means that you need to deal with them first, and then you will figure out what to do with a future relationship. You cannot expect to think bad of yourself and find the love of your life. Usually people get themselves into a great relationship when they are more or less in harmony with themselves. When you’re at rock bottom, you will hardly ever find a meaningful relationship.
While you sort out your beliefs and attitudes, you can make some adjustments to your lifestyle to make the transition to a more fulfilling life easier.
Useful Tips for Post-Divorce Period
Learn to Appreciate Me-Time
If you were too distraught with changes to your life and post-divorce stress that you failed to notice the good things about living on your own, let us tell you that being alone in the house/apartment is actually a great advantage. Just think about it: throughout the whole length of your marriage you had to put up with various habits of your spouse. No matter how great and perfect your spouse was, he or she must have had some irritating habits. However, now you are absolutely free to live your life the way you feel like.
For some people, realizing what it is you really want can be a challenge. Ask yourself what you like about being alone. If it is difficult to come up with something off the top of your head, sit down and make a list of things. Perhaps you like watching a movie and falling asleep with it on. Or quite the contrary, you had to put up with the background noise of a turned-on TV when you would have preferred total silence. Perhaps you like to spread your limbs like a starfish when you sleep. Maybe you would prefer to leave the dishes unwashed after dinner now and then. Now you can indulge any desire of yours!
Now you do not need to answer to anyone about your whereabouts or people you meet or purchases you make. Cherish this time and make the most of it.
Do Whatever You Have Always Wanted to Do
Now is time to remember all your dreams and desires that you could not find the time or money to fulfill. When you lived with your spouse, you may not have had the opportunity to go to a remote destination or do a cliff jump, or what have you. Now, though, you don’t have to wait for a new partner to appear in your life in order to try something new.
You can start living the life you have always dreamed of right now. Even if you are not in a financial position to travel or buy new stuff, this is no excuse for refusing to seek new experiences and sensations. The main thing for you is not to stay home. Go out, meet people, hang out with someone new, and keep an open mind for things that bring you joy and happiness.
Meeting people is a must. You should do it not in order to meet your new love or a person you will start a relationship with, but for your own good. Being open to meeting people means that your mental and psychological condition is fine, and the post-divorce healing process is on.
After divorce, you either have half as many friends as you used to have or you find yourself in total isolation, because it was your spouse who took care of social ties for the both of you. Now you must open your heart and mind to new people, without thinking about romantic involvement.
Simply attend social gatherings, join in on group activities, get together with old friends, invite people over, etc. If you find bigger groups problematic and uncomfortable for you, start by getting comfortable around a couple of people and then expand the number of people you are comfortable around. Even if you do not like large gatherings, it is good to go to concerts or exhibitions to be around people you don’t typically speak with.
Slowly expanding your comfort zone, you will unite the imperatives to live your life to the fullest and to meet people. In the long run, it will have a positive effect on your mood and well-being. Do not reject too many invitations and try to attend as many gatherings as you can.
Get a Hobby
Especially if you don’t like art and theater and find attending social gatherings with groups of people aimless and pointless, you may find it stimulating to pick up a hobby. You can develop a hobby of yours that you did not find enough time for when you were married. Or you can select a new hobby that you never tried. It will help take your mind off the divorce, and it will introduce you to a new pool of people that you can share your interests with.
Go to the Gym
If you have not started going to the gym regularly, now might just be the time. Exercising is a great way to fill your body with energy and keep your mind off the sensitive subject of your divorce and loneliness. There are so many positive side effects of working out at the gym. First of all, all that movement distracts you from your negative thoughts. Second, working out releases hormones that improve your mood and provide a sense of well-being. The more you work out, the happier you get. Third, you can couple working out with a change in diet and – voila – and you’ve gotten leaner and fitter. Finally, there are many people at the gym, and you can socialize with them outside of the gym as well. Of course, it’s not just the gym – team sports are great for all this as well.
You and Your Notion of a Relationship
When the foundation of inner work and changes to one’s lifestyle has been laid, you can take a closer look at our conception of a relationship.
There are people who feel like they’ve been living someone else’s life. They feel as if they made the decision to get married and have a family under pressure of social approval. Or perhaps they saw pictures of idyllic marital bliss in mainstream media and on social media and wanted to have that too – but now they are not sure that they still want to be in a steady relationship.
Now that you are living alone and spending a lot of time on your own, it is a great time to do some good thinking on your motivation for a relationship. What is your idea of a good relationship? This will give you a key as to whether to seek a relationship right now or give yourself more time.
Before you start analyzing yourself in a relationship, you can draw three pictures. Grab three sheets of paper and first draw Me Alone, Me in a Committed Relationship, and Me in an Open Relationship. You need no drawing skills whatsoever to complete this task. Just try to outline some general ideas of what each of the states means for you. Try not to rationalize what you are doing. It is ok for a monogamous person to do a very detailed Me in an Open Relationship drawing. Do not judge and critique yourself. Try to turn off your inner critic and analyst, and just have fun as you draw.
If you start asking yourself direct questions about a relationship, you may find it difficult to get around the glossy veneer and appeal of a typical family. You may find other, less conventional models appealing but think that this is “not for you”, because you have conservative parents or straight-laced friends or your own ideas of what an ideal family should be.
For this reason, we need to find a way to circumvent your conscious mind. Drawing is a great way to tap into the unconscious and bring what is stored in there to light. If you spot any contradictions between your three drawings, this might point to beliefs and attitudes that are preventing you from getting what you want.
Next, look carefully at the drawings and try to analyze what you see. You might be surprised to find out that you look the happiest in the Me Alone drawing. Or you look at the Me in an Open Relationship drawing and find it the most appealing and detailed. Give it a good think through. It does not mean that this is what you are obliged to have from now on, but it definitely tells you something about yourself.
Remember: we all feel social pressure to some extent. It is just that some people have learnt to deal with it and push back, while others find it hard to muster any sort of backlash, and they comply even when they do not feel like doing so.
Think: what motivates your desire to have a relationship? Why are you so concerned with it? What generates your fears? Do you think that a real woman should have a husband, as otherwise she is not a woman? Do you believe that a real man should be validated by a wife, because otherwise he lacks something? Do you want to find someone because you find it hard to live and take care of yourself and your children? Or do you feel fulfilled and harmonious and want to share your inner strength with somebody else?
Now is the time to ask yourself questions and finally realize that you owe other people nothing. For sure, each of us has obligations and duties. As a parent, you have to take care of your young children and morally support your grown ones. As a child, you should take care of your parents, visit and help them how you can. However, getting married and finding a new partner is not your obligation towards your family and friends.
Without no particular intentions to do so, your children, parents and friends can communicate their ideas about your future fate. They can let you know that it is in your best interest to find a new love. Or they can remind you of your failures and advise against any relationship any time soon. Young children can be wary of a new person in their parent’s life, whereas older children may believe that you are in urgent need of a new experience. Your parents are probably grumpy about you not being able to retain a nice girl/guy for long enough.
None of that matters. The main thing is for you to understand what it is that you want right now and in the future.
Desire to Have A Relationship as An Illusion
Sometimes, declared readiness for a relationship is an illusion or a lie told to family and friends because that is what’s expected. However challenging it may be, you need to learn how to understand your true desires and recognize a lack of desire.
You should get to the point where you allow yourself to feel anything and to want anything; also, you allow yourself to NOT want any given thing.
So, here is a list of reasons for why you may not really want a relationship but pretend that you do.
You Miss Your Ex
If you had a strained and difficult marriage, there is often nothing to miss. However, our memory often plays tricks on us by reminding us of highlights from past relationships and by obliterating the grimmest episodes of your romantic life. That is why if you catch yourself being nostalgic for what you used to have with your ex, it is more likely a case of false nostalgia; you’re mostly remembering an artificial construction of your marriage through an idealized look of your distorted memory. It is indeed distorted because it ‘forgot’ to include instances of marital issues, flare-ups, tears, unsolved problems, and the nasty way you felt about yourself in that relationship.
However, you explain your reluctance to look for a new relationship to your friends by saying that you are not ready and that you are still healing. Meanwhile, it is time for you to own your desires. If you understand that you indeed do not want a relationship, that is what you should say honestly: I’m not in a relationship right now because I don’t want to be!
You Have No Time For a Relationship
A socially acceptable way not to have a relationship is to be too busy with work. If you fill up your schedule with work, sports, extracurricular activities for your children, hobbies, friends, etc., you project a legitimate explanation to everyone else for staying out of a committed relationship. Having an intensive social life can in fact bring you in contact with many great people and expand your pool of potential partners significantly. However, being on ‘tight schedule mode’ often backfires: ‘Sorry, no time for personal life.’
You Cannot Find A Decent Partner
If you find yourself venting about how there’s no real men/women left in this world, this is a red flag – it is probably a sub-conscious excuse to protect yourself from being hurt. The fact that your marriage failed does not mean that all potential partners out there are below par for you.
In all likelihood, you went on a couple of dates but did not like the experience. and now you think that there is no point in all that fuss and that you won’t try it again any time soon. However, take into account that your attitude is crucial in dating. If you go on a date without expecting to meet a nice person and if you do not do your best to be nice and likeable, you will surely get frustration and displeasure.
If you really are not in a relationship, it is absolutely fine. However, consider the possibility that your psychological defense mechanisms are protecting yourself from being hurt again. You need to untangle any lingering irrational beliefs or negative attitudes towards a romantic relationship. Once you start dealing with this, you will get a better understanding of what you really want.
You Find Comfort in Inertia
It’s well within your rights to do nothing to try and meet a new person and start a relationship. However, you should not hide or justify your reluctance to do anything behind a belief that “everything happens when it should”. If you say something like, ‘God knows better when it is time for me to have a relationship. He will send me someone when I am ready,’ you’re simply pretending to give control over your life to a higher power; in reality, you do not want to have any responsibility for your life. Instead of God you can substitute the law of the Universe, a fairy godmother, fate, social destiny, etc. It does not matter. What you should remember is that it is you who are in charge of your life. Only you can truly make yourself happy and fulfilled.
If you realize that you really do lack the desire for a relationship right now, own it and say – “I don’t want this. I will start dating when I want to, but not now.” Be responsible for yourself and your desires.
The objective of this article was to show that it is equally normal to want to have a new relationship after your divorce and NOT to want one. You can be most happy when you have a good understanding of your intrinsic desires and have the energy to pursue your dreams and fulfill your desires.
It is important to confront your fears regarding romantic relationships and marriage in order to understand what actually you want from it, and how you see yourself in the picture.
If you know that you want to find a loving person and make a couple with him/her, but you fear that it is impossible for you because of your flaws, you need to do internal work first, dealing with your fears first and foremost.
If, through careful inner work and honest conversations with yourself, you find out that you do not want a relationship for the time being, this is great news because you’re realizing your true desires. Nowadays the world is well-equipped for people who like to live alone. Living alone does not negatively affect the quality of your living. You can lead an active social life and have an active social presence online and offline. Being not in a relationship does not mean you feel lonely. You can still have a fulfilled life socially, emotionally, sexually, and creatively.