Post-divorce life is both physically and spiritually challenging. Some of us can’t help putting dwell in the past, where are memories are kept and where we lived all experiences, both good and bad. Many of us struggle with forgiveness, both when it comes to others and personal forgiveness. Letting go of the weight of the past is a critical step toward healing and growing after divorce but is very difficult for many of us to do. Accepting that changes that occurred learning to be true to yourself can help us move forward.
How do we deal with the weight of these memories in the present? I found myself crippled by the emotions of conversations, decisions, and events that happened during my divorce and the end of my marriage. Many involved my ex-husband, but I was surprised at how many involved my parents and others, as well. One thing became clear to me: my divorce would be pointless if I couldn’t somehow overcome the burden of the past. Divorce was supposed to liberate me from all things bad in my life; but, until I could let go, I couldn’t be free!
Here are some of the lessons I learned after my divorce:
I re-learned the definition of forgiveness. Prior to this phase in my life, when I found myself paralyzed from progress, I believed forgiveness to mean that if someone did something wrong to me, if I forgave them, it meant that I was saying “it’s okay, it’s now forgotten!” When an offense is so painful, it can be all but impossible to say, let alone believe, that it’s okay! That’s where I was wrong.
Forgiveness is an act of letting go so that peace can be achieved. It does not require accepting the actions of the other, continuing a relationship with them as before, or even necessarily forgetting what happened.
What forgiveness can do is wash away the negative feelings associated with a wrongful act by saying “what happened hurt. Because I no longer want to keep thinking about it and feeling the pain from it, I’m letting it go. I don’t like what happened. I don’t condone the action. I don’t even have to like you anymore. BUT, I am done feeling this way, and I’ve decided not to let this weigh me down any longer.”
Interestingly, I learned that the act of forgiveness doesn’t even have to include a conversation. I made a conscious choice that I would no longer allow the other person’s actions to entrap me anymore. I knew I would never receive an apology or retribution of any sort; but, the real gift was peeling back the claws that held onto me and continued to make these memories an issue for me. I didn’t have to forgive for the sake of the ones who victimized me, but so that I could achieve closure for myself and cut my ties from the pain!
“Forgive and forget” is a fallacy! Once forgiveness has been granted, we should no longer ruminate on the issue or keep bring it up. Once it’s forgiven, it is done. Forgetting what happened is a little too simplistic. We should not wipe the events from our memory because there are important lessons contained within that we will need for later. Forget in the sense that it’s no longer an issue; but, never forget the wisdom gained through the experience.
I learned to forgive myself. Every relationship and story have two sides. My ex is guilty of transgressions during our marriage and divorce, but so am I. Even if one party is more responsible for the breakdown of a marriage or other hurtful events from our past, we always play at least a supporting role. I had to face up to the fact that I did wrong, I caused hurt, and I made mistakes along the way.
The beautiful thing about mistakes is that they are some of the most valuable opportunities we will ever have to learn. Mistakes act as signposts pointing the way toward improvement, so it was now on me to own what I did wrong, make amends the best way that I could, and pledge to do better in the future.
Beyond any hurt I had been responsible for, I realized that I also needed to forgive myself for mistakes I made that hurt only myself. Before making this realization, I regularly beat myself up for decisions I made and saying or doing regrettable things. It was time to stop this self-destructive behavior and extend some grace to myself. In life, we all stumble!
I had to accept that some things will never be the same. Sometimes the past is like a mirage depicting seemingly perfect things the way they used to be. People I have loved who are no longer alive live in the past. Happy, carefree times from my childhood reside in the past. Some relationships that have been broken through my divorce are in the past and may never be whole again.
One of the most powerful lessons I learned in my divorce is that not every person, no matter who they are, will be in our lives forever. This sounds like a very sad prospect; but it’s not! Some people are not meant to be in our lives forever. Some relationships are more like seasons. They enter our lives for a period, they fulfill their purpose, teach us their lessons, then vanish. The loss of some people can be devastating until we realize both the positive and negative ways they have impacted our lives.
In some cases, we are actually better off without some people in our lives, even people we never thought we would say or think that about! Not everyone leaves our lives by way of their death, but it can feel like grieving a death when they are gone. Peace in these matters can be achieved by saying words of thanks for what they brought to our lives. Whether good or bad, we are who we are partly because of their influences and examples, and we can be thankful for their time in our life, however long it lasted!
I learned to be true to myself. Lastly, I had to accept the fact that no one lives my life but me. No one will live with the consequences of my life but me. I tried, for most of my life, to live in the pursuit of pleasing other people. I was never fulfilled because I could never meet their expectations. I finally saw that many of these issues were not mine to solve and were instead demons to be tamed within others.
I had to take action for my own self-preservation, which included learning to like and even take pride in myself. I could no longer obsess about how my every action affected others or if I was “good enough.” I just had to be me and do the best I could!
The past need not be an indicator of everything we should expect from our future, nor should it be allowed to define who we are and the extent of happiness we can enjoy post-divorce. The past will always hold a necessary role in our lives because it’s the rock on which we build as we grow. Making peace with the ghosts of the past, largely through forgiveness and reframing our perspectives about relationships and experiences, can allow us to let go of pain and embrace happiness again after divorce!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of “Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision” (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has work regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.