Is it just us, or does Autumn have a way of conjuring up old, cherished feelings that we forgot were buried deep, long forgotten with the passing years? There’s just something about the cooling weather, the brush of a breeze on a cheek, and the falling leaves that seem to signal “change” and “nostalgia” to our brains—signals that can stop a person in their tracks as a very tangible feeling flashes to the forefront of their mind—the feeling of falling in love, holding hands on a chilly fall evening, or the memory of anticipation for a once budding romance. These moments can transport us back to a moment in time so many years ago with a person from our past— a person who may no longer be in the picture.
If you’re recently divorced, you may be finding these small moments from your past marriage catching you at unexpected moments, and reminding you of a past life that, while not perfect, you find yourself missing, or even wistfully yearning for. Rest assured: this is normal. Remember that nostalgia tends to stem from past positive experiences and then presents those memories to you ten-fold and with a stronger intensity than you likely even felt all those years ago. Nonetheless, all the logic in the world can at times feel insufficient when faced with nostalgia, and the feeling can at times leave you feeling hopeless and wondering when the time will come that the memories of your ex will no longer lurk around ever corner, and you’ll be able to lay the past to rest and move forward boldly and freely.
While it will never be easy, there are steps that you can actively be taking to move on from your divorce.
Acknowledge, Grieve, and Take the Time
As much as you may wish to just push away hard thoughts and tumultuous feelings, allow yourself the time to acknowledge the sense of loss that inevitably goes hand-in-hand with divorce. Even if you were in an unhealthy relationship, it is still the dissolution of a marriage—something you probably once had high hopes and dreams for. Allot the time to work through what went wrong, even when it hurts, and don’t rush yourself—grieving a loss, coming to terms with your new life, and finding the peace and confidence to move forward can take time.
According to psychotherapist Florence Falk, author of On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone, even if you may have felt ready for divorce, there’s still likely going to be an adjustment period and a grieving process as you let go of your old life.
“You may feel remorse for what you did or didn’t do, or wonder what you did wrong. Don’t dwell on those feelings, but make room for them,” says Falk. “Loss is loss. There is an empty space where something once filled it up, even if that something may not have been desirable.”
It’s also important to take time to process before jumping into new relationships. While company can feel like a very needed distraction, be cautious about stepping into anything serious too soon—bringing in unresolved baggage from your old relationship into your new relationship will do no favors for either party.
According to psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez, being able to forgive your ex and yourself is key to coping and moving forward.
“You are really only ready to let go and move on when you have fully let go of the previous relationship and you harbor no resentment or ill-will,” says Martinez. “When you have fully closed that chapter and are looking forward to moving on with your life, then you are ready to approach a new possible companionship.”
Introduce the Old You to the New You, and Learn to Love Them Both
For starters, do you feel disconnected from the “you” from before your marriage? Have you taken the time to think through who you were, who you are now, and who you hope to be? An unhealthy marriage can have a way of making us forget what once set our souls on fire, or the pieces of ourselves that we once really loved and admired. Take some time to remember who you were and identify areas of your life that you want to rekindle and focus on. For example: perhaps you once loved to travel, but have since lost track of the last time you even considered going on a vacation. Maybe your spouse didn’t like to travel or didn’t value spending money on vacations, so you buried that passion in an effort to make amends and keep the peace. Now is the time to rekindle old passions and reintroduce yourself to the “you” that may have been reduced or ignored for years.
According to psychologist Robert Aldi, author of Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, a sense of self-rejection post-marriage can make a person feel incapable of moving forward.
“You might think that there must be something wrong with you if you couldn’t make this relationship work,” says Aldi. “You have to work on getting confidence and faith in yourself and the ability to believe in your own worth.”
On the other hand, you can’t walk through a divorce and pretend that you didn’t came out different than the bright-eyed person who once walked into the marriage. It’s okay to acknowledge that you may be different in some ways. Rather than ignore your scars, examine then and determine how they have shaped you over the years, and then focus on learning how to love yourself for all that you’ve become.
And then, of course, there will come a time when you need to ask yourself who you want to be. It will take introspection and speaking with a counselor or therapist can help, but this is your time to determine not only who you were, or who you are now, but who you want to be in years to come. Your future is no longer tied to your spouse’s, and perhaps this is the first time you can be honest and selfish (in a good way) with this answer. How can you discover a new side of yourself? If your spouse repeatedly projected their own idea of you, and in turn kept you in a box and prevented you from growing, this can be an incredibly liberating and invigorating season of life.
“As long as the changes are healthy and constructive, these are very appropriate,” says Aldi. “Think about who you want to be—the person you were before the marriage, or maybe a new person? What are some of the things you can do differently?”
Have you always wanted to learn a different language, or dye your hair a different color, or take up dancing? Why not? The only person stopping you is yourself—this is your time to lay out the drawing book and draft the life you hope to bring into fruition. Invest your time and energy into achievable goals and don’t be discouraged if you run into a dream that is no longer obtainable—some change is always better than no change.
By taking the time to grieve, cope and fall back in love with yourself, you may soon find the memories of your ex being replaced with dreams for the future.