One of the most difficult parts of getting over your divorce is letting go.
Letting go of the past, letting go of the hurt and confusion, along with letting go of the dreams and plans you had for the future together seem to require Herculean efforts. And yet you know it's necessary to let it all go if you're ever going to move on from your divorce.
Even though your marriage ended, I'll bet that not all of your memories of being together are bad. You've got plenty of good ones that are worth holding on to, but not if remembering them causes you to question again and again and again why your ex decided to end your marriage. All that does is keeps you stuck.
And this is where the hurt and confusion comes from. How could your ex decide that divorce was the answer? How could they throw away everything you had together? Learning to find your own answers to these questions is another part of what you need for divorce recovery.
And if the pain of the past and present weren't enough, there's the pain of all the future dreams and plans that just won't ever happen now. This pain is often some of the most difficult to release because you've invested years working toward and believing that you'd see those dreams and plans become real.
The trap most people fall into when they're dealing with their divorce recovery is believing their hurts about the past, their hurts about the present and their hurts about the future can only be dealt with separately. That just isn't the case.
One of the most effective ways to let go of all the pain is through an exercise I call the Goodbye/Hello Letter. This is a letter that you write just for yourself. No one else ever needs to see it, but you might choose to talk about it with a trusted friend, family member, or helping professional.
To do this exercise, you'll need some uninterrupted time by yourself, paper, something to write with, and some tissues. (Yes, you might end up shedding some tears.)
First, you'll want to start off with the goodbyes. Say goodbye to everything you can and need to as a result of the end of your marriage. Yes, this includes things from the past, the present and the future.
To give you an idea of what you might choose to say goodbye to, below is a goodbye letter a woman wrote as part of her divorce recovery work:
Goodbye to everything I thought my life was and everything I thought my life would be. Goodbye to perceived financial and emotional security. Goodbye to my home, my nest, my home base. The place that I brought my babies home and thought we would send them off to college; hand in hand – smiling at each other that we were alone together again. Goodbye to trust and the belief that a man can be faithful and unselfish. Goodbye to trusting my heart fully to someone else. I will always be skeptical and know that love is temporary. When things get tough – you run to someone/thing easier, prettier, more fun. Goodbye to feeling so lucky that my kids would grow up with a "real" family. Goodbye to walking my kids home from school, being homeroom Mom, and being close friends with their teachers.
I thought you were someone you weren't – loyal, respectful, proud of me. Goodbye to excusing your annoying habits and condescending behavior. Goodbye to shopping for cars you spent more time with than me or your kids.
You broke my heart, my reality, and my dreams and now I will use the broom and dustpan to gather them up, see what's left, pick out what I want of what's left, and learn to mosaic them with something new.
What's especially great about this goodbye letter is that this woman was able to say goodbye to some things that she didn't like too.
The second part of the letter (which you need to write immediately after finishing the goodbye portion) is the hello section. This is where you start taking inventory of what is positive about your newly single situation. You might not believe that you have a lot to say in this section until you start writing it. You'll probably be surprised that there are some good things about your divorce – even if they're small right now.
One of the almost universal things that people wind up saying hello to is themselves. When a marriage ends in divorce there's usually been a period of unhappiness or at least unease. When the marriage ends, it frees you up to start getting to know you again instead of continuing to figure out who you must be now so the marriage can continue to limp along.
Now, writing the first part of this letter isn't easy, but you probably guessed that when I said you needed to have tissues. However, writing the goodbye/hello letter is one of the most cathartic things you can do. It will allow you to express concretely what it is that you're grieving and then allow you to start to realize there's hope and the rest of your life waiting for you.
Identifying the hope immediately after experiencing the grief (and closure) is what will jumpstart your divorce recovery.
Don't worry if you aren't able to purge all of your grief and find lots of hope the first time you do this exercise. The point of writing the Goodbye/Hello Letter is that you allow yourself to let go of what you can now. You can always write another one when you're ready to take another giant leap toward your divorce recovery.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and divorce survivor herself. She works with clients to help with healing after divorce. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation.