For most of us, the loss of a loved one creates an emotional landscape fraught with uncertainty, anger, confusion, and anxiety. As humans, our brain is wired in such a way that when we are triggered by a threat event, we disconnect from our Pre-Frontal Cortex (thinking/logical brain) and engage our Limbic system (the Limbic system is more commonly associated with the “fight or flight” response).
The problem is, when we’re “limbic,” our decision-making is affected by our emotional state and is usually over-generalized and exaggerated. For some, the loss of a spouse and the end of a marriage can feel like the end of their life. This is an extreme but common emotional reaction/thought. While the loss and the hurt are real and painful, we are in fact still alive.
This reaction can also be related to the meaning we apply to our spouse in our life. In Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” he writes about the idea of being centered. This has to do with what we identify as central to our being, our guidepost, our foundation. People can be centered on a variety of “things.” They can be family-centered, status-centered, money-centered, enemy-centered (that one confused me for a while), child-centered, job-centered, spouse-centered. You get the idea. The challenge is, if we are centered on something that is transitory, meaning it can be taken away from us, when that ultimately happens, which it will (people lose jobs, spouses, children, money…), we lose our center. This can be destabilizing. When we make our spouse the primary center of our life and they leave us, it can be extremely destabilizing. It can in fact feel like our life has indeed ended. I’ll add here, our life (or more accurately, our future) as we imagined it with our spouse has indeed ended. Our life, however, has not.
There are tools I will share later that can help us regulate the emotional minefield that is divorce. For now, I’ll offer ten reasons (in no particular order) why your life is not over even though your marriage is.
#1. You are alive.
You may be exhausted, you may not want to go on, you may feel like there is nothing to live for – but you are alive. A lot had to go right to create you and you are unique in the world. When you wake up each day, you have another opportunity to heal, to process, to recover, to be. Honor that. Respect that. Your life is sacred, precious—even in the midst of pain.
#2. You are human.
To be human is to be conscious. This means we experience things in a way much of the non-human universe does not (as far as we know). We have perspective and the ability to be self-aware. Inevitably, being human also means we will experience loss. How we learn to manage (deal/cope with) loss can be a defining element of our identity. The more we experience loss, the better we get at it managing it. It never gets easy, it can get easier.
#3. You are a piece of the puzzle.
You are part of the greater community of humanity. What happens to you happens in some way to all of us. Your pain is our pain (there is even a neuroscience tie-in to this phenomenon). Your survival and recovery is part of a bigger picture. You may not care about the rest of us but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about you. We do.
#4. You define you.
Divorce for many men feels like a failure. We feel like a failure. The thing is, you didn’t fail. It takes two to get married but only one to create a divorce. While both parties in a divorce usually share some level of responsibility for the collapse of the marriage, neither person failed. Sometimes, things don’t work out.
You are divorced. That’s a fact. That’s it. It’s up to you to decide what the divorce means for you. Who you are, what you are—that is defined by you, not by your divorce.
#5. You have an opportunity.
This is perhaps the most difficult idea to process. Divorce, while you’re in the midst of it, seems like anything BUT an opportunity. It’s an assault, an attack. It may take some time for you to see things in a way that opens up possibility. Be patient. There will come a time when the fog begins to lift and you recognize that option. It will be up to you to take advantage of it and leverage it.
#6. You have children (perhaps).
If not, skip this and I owe you one more reason. If so, you have a responsibility to them to survive this ordeal, move on with your life and continue to serve as their father. Your kids are watching what you (both) do. How you respond to this will teach them how to respond to adversity in their lives (and they will face adversity). Crash and burn and you offer them no hope. Dig deep and show them how to get back up once you’ve been knocked down (even if it takes a while) and they can draw upon that lesson the rest of their lives.
#7. You are an example.
You’d be surprised how many people are having marital issues and are contemplating or heading for divorce. Once it’s “out” that you are, others in your network who respect and look up to you will be watching to see how you handle this. I once heard, “your life will either serve as an example to others, or as a warning!” Use this trial to be an example to others, to show them what is possible. Don’t be the “what not to do” case study.
#8. You are unique.
You have a gift, a talent that no one else has or can display in quite the same way. Stopping now or getting stuck in this situation is to withhold your value from the world. You may not care about the world but there is something left for you to do and this may be part of your growth process. Pulling back is almost (gasp) selfish. Focus on your gift, your talent. It will give you strength.
#9. You existed as an individual before you met/married your spouse.
You were you before you were a husband. While you didn’t expect to get divorced (or you probably wouldn’t have gotten married), you’re simply returning to a state you were in before your marriage AND you are now even more experienced, battle-tested, knowledgeable… You are a more mature version of your earlier single self. A new and improved version, if you will. You don’t feel like it, but you are. You have more to work with now than you did before your marriage. This will serve you well in your transition.
#10. You have at least one loved one.
You love(d) your wife. Her decision to leave you may feel like a violation of your trust and an affront to your love for her. You may now feel like no one cares about or loves you anymore. This is more than likely NOT the case. In fact, if you had to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt in court, you probably couldn’t. I’m betting there is AT LEAST one person in your life that cares deeply about you AND, yes, loves you (not romantically—but as an individual, a friend). Universally attributing your wife’s act/decision to the rest of the people in your life is understandable AND erroneous. Remembering that there are other people out there who love you is fuel to keep moving forward.
I hope these ten reasons to focus on acknowledging and moving forward with your life are helpful.
I survived the fog. There's no need to do it all alone.