How to Look on the Bright Side of Divorce

In his tremendously helpful book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, Dr. Bruce Fisher identifies 19 stages that we must experience to completely heal from the loss of a love. These stages are: Denial, Fear, Adaptation, Loneliness, Friendship, Guilt/Rejection, Grief, Anger, Letting Go, Self-Worth, Transition, Openness, Love, Trust, Relatedness, Sexuality, Singleness, Purpose, and Freedom. Dr. Fisher uses the metaphor of climbing a mountain to symbolize this 19-step healing process. Although this process is terribly difficult, he notes, "The rewards at the end make the tough climb worthwhile."

If you're wondering how long it will take you to fully recover from the end of your relationship, Dr. Fisher's studies indicate that: "On average, it takes about a year to get up above the treeline (past the really painful, negative stages of the climb), longer to reach the top. Some research suggests that a few in the climbing party will need as long as three to five years. Don't let that discourage you," he cautions. "Finishing the climb is what counts, not how long it takes."

You can start climbing with these three steps:

1. Dealing with Denial

As human beings, most of us have this remarkable ability to temporarily shut off pain that's too great for us to handle. We put it in a box labeled "Denial," which we keep tightly shut until we're strong enough to face what's inside. If the experience is sufficiently traumatic, we place it in a box labeled something like "Worst Nightmare: Do Not Open!" We store this box behind a hidden trapdoor in a dark and secluded cellar of our minds; in fact, it's so well hidden that we actually forget where we put it for long periods of time.

This storage system works nicely for a time, allowing us to get on with some of the daily tasks of living. But until the experiences filed away in those boxes can be taken out, held up to the light and seen for what they really are, they'll always be lurking around, ready to trip us up when we least expect it.

No matter how smart you are, how many successful business ventures or university degrees you have under your belt, this is a process that you may not be able to begin -- never mind complete -- alone. If you take nothing else away from this article, please take this: it isn't shameful, or an admission of weakness or stupidity, to admit that you need help. Enrolling in some kind of therapy, attending seminars geared to personal growth and/or recovery, or even reading some of the better self-help books available out there may be the smartest investments you'll ever make.

"After my third marriage failed, I had this sudden revelation," says Laura, an investment banker at a prominent Toronto firm. "At first, I just blamed my ex in specific, and all men in general: you know, the 'all men are pigs' sort of thing. Then one day, I suddenly realized that all my relationships have essentially been the same -- different man, same old crap -- and that I was the one element common to all three relationships."

By accepting her share of responsibility for her marital breakdowns, Laura was able to see that she had some issues she needed to resolve before becoming involved with someone else. She realized that she consistently chose the same kind of man to have the same destructive relationship with, but had no idea why she made these choices. "Before therapy," she asserts, "I really had no freedom to choose a healthy relationship. I didn't have the freedom to choose being single, either," she adds.
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