“The world breaks every one and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.” —Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)
After a twenty-six year marriage, it ended in divorce. He chose to spend the last four years alone and he recently met someone new. You’d think he’d be happy.
During our phone conversation, my friend told me he really liked this woman a lot, but he “isn’t ready.” He is choosing to retreat and be alone again.
I asked him, “Are you happier being alone?” and his answer surprised me.
“No. I don’t like being alone, but it’s familiar….it’s what I’m used to…it’s comfortable…I’m still broken, I guess…”
My friend is like a turtle, moving slowly after his divorce, giving himself time to heal and reflect. He wanted to date but never expected to have feelings so quickly for this woman. “It happened too fast,” he told me.
I wanted to ask him, “But is the answer to turn your car around and speed blindly into the sunset or would it be better to put your foot on the break and coast for a while. Catch your breath. Maybe stall in the break down lane but, for God’s sake, don’t toss something away that brings you happiness.”
That’s what I wanted to say, but didn’t. The intensity of the new relationship scared him, so instead of slowing it down and staying in it, he was choosing to retreat into his cold, hard turtle shell. That’s where he felt safe and protected.
But is this healthy?
We all feel a sort of brokenness after any loss and divorce is like a death-even if you were the partner who wanted it. The transition from married to single causes stress and anxiety and entering a new relationship might feel strange, even uncomfortable for some people.
There is no time table for grief and we all grieve differently. Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., wrote the article, “Coping with Grief and Loss.” In it, they reported:
“There are healthy ways to cope with the pain. You can get through it! Grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing that eventually can strengthen and enrich life. The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you’re grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.”
Another article, “Dating after Divorce: Supportive Friends, Healthy Self-esteem, and a Little Patience are some of the Keys to Get Back Into the Dating Scene”, written by David Anderson, Ph.D. and Rosemary Clandos, reported:
“Fear absolutely devastates some people,” says clinical psychologist Michael S. Broder, Ph.D., a former radio-talk-show host and author of The Art of Living Single. “It can be the fear of being hurt, rejected or involved, and it can stem from a history of having been hurt or of traumatic relationships. People can be very proficient in other parts of their lives, but the fear of dating can make them stay alone or pine for the relationship they left.”
E. Mavis Hetherington is the co-author of the book, “For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered.” She has studied divorce for more than thirty years and evaluated more than 1,400 families. She worked with Judith Wallerstein and together, they conducted long term studies on divorce. Hetherington agrees with Wallerstein in her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce when she asserted:
“Divorce is a continuous process, beginning long before the separation and having consequences many years after.”
Hetherington and her co-author John Kelley suggest that despite the suffering of divorcees in the first year, most are doing relatively well by the sixth year.
Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Gina Kemp, M.A., and Melinda Smith, M.A. contributed to the article, “Coping with a Breakup or Divorce-Moving on After a Relationship Ends.” They reported:
“In order to fully accept a breakup and move on, you need to understand what happened and acknowledge the part you played. It’s important to understand how the choices you made affected the relationship. Learning from your mistakes is the key to not repeating them.
Some questions to ask yourself:
• Step back and look at the big picture. How did you contribute to the problems of the relationship?
• Do you tend to repeat the same mistakes or choose the wrong person in relationship after relationship?
• Think about how you react stress and deal with conflict and insecurities. Could you act in a more constructive way?
• Consider whether or not you accept other people the way they are, not the way they could or “should” be.
• Examine your negative feelings as a starting point for change. Are you in control of your feelings, or are they in control of you?
Joanna Saisan, MSW, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., contributed to the article, “Relationship Help-Advice for Building Healthy and Exciting Love Relationships.” They reported in their article:
“Everyone’s relationship is unique, and people come together for many different reasons. But there are some things that good relationships have in common.”
They listed: “staying involved with each other” ; “Getting through conflict” ; “Keeping outside relationships and interests alive,” and “Communicating honestly and directly” as the ingredients to a healthy and loving partnership.
Do you remember Mary Pickford, the silent movie star? She was quoted as saying; “The past cannot be changed. The future is yet your power.”
So, my advice to my friend is:
“You’re broken? Join the club. Happiness is a choice. You can live your life alone, protected in your hard, green shell; but think of all the fun you’ll be missing. Work through your fears and be patient with yourself. Don’t walk away from a relationship for the wrong reasons. Get support (see a therapist if needed). Most of all, take care of you and don’t be so hard on yourself. There is no time table for grieving. Take baby steps and sooner or later you’ll be running again.”
It’s not easy, but it can be done.
If you don’t believe me, listen to Mike Fleischmann. On his blog, Truth On the Fly, he wrote:
“Most people that you meet live in a no man’s land. They aren’t really happy – but they aren’t un-happy enough to do something about it. The key is to take our dissatisfaction with the present and convert that an energy that propels us toward a future that is transformed.”
Forget acting like a turtle. Think: Butterfly.
So, What are you waiting for?
1. Wallerstein JS, Lewis JM, Blakeslee S: The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. New York, Hyperion, 2000 GLENN H. MILLER, M.D. Bethesda, Md.
2.Hetherington, E. M., Kelly,J: For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered. New York, W.W. Norton & Co.,2002, 307 pp.Powered by Sidelines