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How to Let Go of the Past After Divorce

by Wendi Schuller, Therapist

Moving on after divorce can be difficult, but there are actions you can take to make the process smoother.

It can be hard to let go of the past after divorce. Focusing on what was instead of what is can hinder you from moving on post-divorce. Divorce may come as a shock, and fixating on what used to be gets in the way of taking action now. Some people interviewed for this article said they kept dreaming about the past – likely through the lenses of rose-colored glasses – as the present was too painful to think about. Others felt that if they denied what was happening (i.e., that their spouse was leaving them), things would go back to the way they were.

One sign that a person is hanging on to an ex-spouse and not letting go is talking endlessly about them. An acquaintance went on and on about her former husband until somebody else changed the subject. She did not date but instead wallowed in that relationship which she failed to leave behind post-divorce. There were no children and it was a clean break. I occasionally run into her former husband; he has never brought up his ex in conversation with me, and he was able to move on with his life. He is happily remarried and is a proud step-father.

You must realize that you can and must choose whether to stay mentally and emotionally attached to a former partner or face the cold truth of reality that they are not coming back.

How to Let Go and Move On

Part of getting beyond reliving the past is filling the void left by your divorce. When an old life and marital relationship ends, something has to fill this gaping hole. This was the problem with my acquaintance. She did not try to meet people, take a class, or pursue new endeavours. The void remained. One of the first steps to moving on is replacing the loss of friends (those who departed from your life with your ex) with new friends, pursuits, hobbies, and adventures. Expand your social circle by joining a special interest group or renewing friendships that may have fallen by the wayside when you got married. I joined travel and book clubs. Other divorced pals are in film and hiking clubs.

If you haven’t already done so, go find your “tribe”! There are many studies globally that show the health benefits of being connected to others, so you must leave the (depressing) safety of your sofa by enjoying pleasurable outings with like-minded people.

Stay (or Get) Mentally and Physically Active

A new job during the early phase of my divorce proceedings was mentally stimulating, and it gave me less time to think about my losses. Others have taken courses or changed career paths after a divorce. Take up a sport for a physical challenge (start slow if the only “sport” you’ve engaged in for years is channel surfing). The goal is to keep mentally and physically active to fill the void and find life more satisfying. When your agenda is crammed full of entertaining events and pleasurable pursuits, looking ahead instead of behind becomes much easier.

Some divorced individuals told me that they became more active in their churches, synagogues, or mosques. The support received helped them realize that they were not alone and that other people care about them. Divorced people in the congregations offered advice and shared their own stories. One divorced friend even met her next husband in her church’s singles group.

Start New Traditions

Rituals and routines can keep one rooted in the past. If you always went out for Sunday brunch with your spouse, make it a Saturday brunch with friends. Discover different dining or coffee venues. Doing the same activities at the same places that you did when married triggers memories.

My boys and I dropped some routines that we did with their father. Instead, it was exciting to dream up fresh ways to have family fun and create new experiences after divorce. My sons and I shook up Christmas rituals by leaving town over the holidays several times. Think about what no longer serves you or keeps you tethered to your former spouse, and drop those traditions, habits, and routines like a hot coal.

Focus on the Positive

Being in the company of positive people can help you leave the past behind and notice what good things lie ahead. They tend to look at the bright side of life and not dwell on the negatives. Emotions are contagious, and being around these people is uplifting.

Instead of focusing on what you’re missing, look for the silver lining in your divorce cloud. I gave up being on the party circuit and entertaining, which we did to further my husband’s career. After divorce, I realized how draining the constant parties were and am so glad to have given them up. I have more time for my sons, which resulted in a closer relationship with them.

Think about what aspects are better in your life now, and keep looking forward to your next adventure.

Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist, and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP). Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce, and she has over 200 published articles. She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. 

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