The new year is often a time when we want to shake things up, and while for many that will mean looking for a new job, getting healthier or losing weight, for others it involves trying to move on from the break-up of a long-term relationship or divorce. A break up is never easy – not for nothing is divorce cited as one of the most stressful events we will face – but if you are going through that difficult process, the following advice from divorce coach Sara Davison will help you begin to think about the new life you want to live.
Many people feel powerless over their own lives when they are feeling stuck and unable to take the first step on the road to recovery. They know they have to design a new future, but they don’t know where to begin, and it is very easy to get stuck in the ‘I don’t know how to move on’ trap. This is often the point when the messy legal stuff is over and all your non-divorced friends have gone back to their lives believing you are fine. It is a bit like grief after the death of a loved one: the shock is passing, all the paperwork has been finalised and now you are just faced with the emptiness. For some clients, who have had tricky marriages or relationships with partners who didn’t encourage their independence, it can be doubly difficult. However, irrespective of your situation, the tiniest move is a big step forward.
Take positive steps away from uncertainty
There is not much certainty during divorce or breaking up. Lots of things that you once took for granted are up in the air, such as where you are going to live and what your new life will be like. It is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it can be scary when you have little control over the changes to your finances and lifestyle, hopes and dreams.
Taking small steps, using my Stepping Stones exercise, will help you to grab some control back into your life and begin to get some much-needed focus. This will help to steady your emotions and put you back in control of your life. A break-up is a great chance to redesign your life and to make it look the way you want it to – you have the opportunity to create a compelling future for yourself that you are excited about and cannot wait to live. In order to achieve this you have to get clear about precisely what you want. When you know this you can build a plan to make it a reality.
Reclaim the real you
Finding ‘you’ again is a big search-and-rescue operation. The loss of your whole self can begin slowly right at the start of getting together with someone: you finish each other’s sentences, you begin to have the same interests, and the next thing you know you have the same opinions. The truth is that, yes, of course, you probably do agree on many issues – that’s what drew you together in the first place – but when you fall in love, what immediately begins to happen is a meeting in the middle and a subtle shifting of behaviour so that you become even closer. It’s what humans do: one mind can influence another with ideas, and then we pick up instantly when our actions make the other person happy. If we know that something pleases the other person, of course we work hard to recreate that pattern. Once you are no longer with that person, the first question you have to ask yourself is: ‘Am I making this choice because it is right for me or because it is what I’ve become used to?’
We become used to living and breathing for the other person; we shift our agendas and feelings according to the other person in our life. The terror of being on our own comes from the realisation that we are now solely responsible for ourselves. It takes a long time to break the habit of attachment to the very person you need to distance yourself from. Even if things have been going wrong for some time, that doesn’t remove the sense of loss once you no longer have a life together. We forget how to put ourselves first and we have to re-learn that.
Be encouraged by each small achievement
The exercise that follows will show you how to use the Stepping Stones technique to move gradually towards your goal. As you take one tiny step at a time you can celebrate even the smallest achievement because it adds to the new you. Your future is there for the taking, it will hold whatever you want it to, depending on how you put yourself back together after a life-changing break-up. It’s now time to stand on your own two feet and decide what you want from life.
When you are feeling overwhelmed by your separation it can feel like you are standing at the bottom of a huge mountain looking up at your life to come. If separation is a huge mountain, no one expects you to scale it in one go like a superhero. Even if you spend a lot of time looking up at the steepness in awe, at least you are acknowledging it is real and something to be tackled. Looking straight on at the task ahead is the first and most important step.
To do this you need to change focus. This is not always easy when you are in the middle of a break-up, as you feel desolate and believe you may never feel a moment of happiness again. You will want to run through the ins and outs over and over again, punishing yourself by reliving all the gory details. It is completely normal to get stuck in a cycle of reliving the events before, during and after the break-up; however, if you want to move forward and heal faster, you need to switch your focus back onto you. You will need to wrench your thoughts away from your ex and start to focus on creating a future you are excited to live. It is a mammoth task. I know that because I have been there. The trick is to take it one step at a time and not to overload yourself with expectations – everyone has their own pace.
Exercise: Stepping Stones towards your goals
1 Take a large piece of paper and write down all the things you would like to have, be and do in your future. Don’t worry about how you will achieve them at this stage, just brainstorm ideas, such as taking up a new hobby, starting a new job or finding a new loving relationship. You might want to learn to cook, or have more fun, visit a new country, get fitter – it doesn’t matter how big or how small your goals are, just write them down.
2 Circle the three goals you would most like to create in your life.
3 Write down the first goal on a separate piece of paper. Underneath it, write down three small things that you can do right now to take you closer to your goal; for example:
Goal: find some new single friends locally. Three small action points:
a) Smile more and be open to talking to people when I’m out locally.
b) Research local clubs and classes that I might like to join.
c) Book a place on at least one of the classes.
These three small actions are the Stepping Stones to take you closer to your main goals.
4 Repeat this for all three goals.
5 Write these goals on sticky notes with the Stepping Stones towards them, and put them up where you can see them every day. (I put mine on the front of my fridge.)
6 Commit to doing what it takes and creating Stepping Stones to get to your goals.
Organise your thoughts within a time frame
The key thing to do is to provide a time frame. This gives you something you can control, something you can hold on to, while everything swirls around you.
If having fun and finding someone new is one of your goals, tackle it systematically. Do what makes you feel comfortable, it might not be the right thing to do to jump right in and accept a blind date set up from a well-meaning friend, but joining a dating site so that you can take a look at what is out there without too much pressure might work well for you. Take it at your own speed. Be prepared that you might be feeling very raw for a long time yet and, like all aspects of the process, how you approach these early steps will affect your long-term ability to make a new life for yourself. By taking tiny steps, if necessary, you can help yourself to move on gradually, being careful that you don’t stand still in the misery of separation. You can set the pace according to your new, single, goals.