Just because you’re thinking “The D Word” doesn’t mean divorce itself is inevitable. It does mean, however, that the form your marriage once took has had it’s time. Divorce or not, you (and your marriage) are in transition. This version of your relationship is over and a new one is beginning. Dealing with loneliness before divorce is made official is critical to your well-being and eventual healing.
One of the strangest phenomenon at this stage of your relationship is the type of loneliness that encroaches on your psyche as you’re just trying to get through whatever this is to an equally uncertain future. Technically, you’re not alone. Still…
- you feel like you can’t talk to your partner because all you do is rehash old points in a desperate attempt to be understood
- conversations with friends feels guarded because without the time (and safety) to go deep you’re afraid they can’t understand
- if your friends do sense real trouble they, well-meaning of course, attempt salving platitudes like, “everyone has rough patches”
- or worse, they try to one up you, “oh please, you think your marriage is terrible?! Listen to what David did last week…”
Essentially, you doubt your own wisdom, you have a blind spot to your partners’ wisdom and the stuff “everyone” says is tempting to fall for because…well…”everyone” is saying it. There’s a “lonely in a crowd” kind of feeling while you’re dealing with loneliness before divorce that leaves you feeling lost…even desperate for connection.
Once you realize there’s a fundamental disconnection from many avenues in your life you understand how easily your marital problems have become a default in other areas as well.
“Dealing with loneliness,” in any circumstance, is synonymous with “trusting your loneliness.” Loneliness is a tell-tale sign that fundamental change is both imminent and necessary.
Here are the 6 strategies you need to trust, and grow through, dealing with loneliness before divorce:
1. Remove the pressure to “feel better”
There’s no running away from the loneliness you feel and there’s no fixing it either. This is an appropriate time to feel like shit.
Forcing yourself to feel better, despite the fact that you feel terrible, only 1) invalidates your emotions and experience and 2) leads to guilt and/or shame about feeling so terrible while still having it all.
Instead, feel whatever it is you feel at any given moment. Just make room for the entire spectrum. You can feel miserable AND grateful that you’ve had as long of a run as you’ve had. Allow the two emotional states to share the same space. Make sure you, give as much attention to one as you do the other to keep yourself feeling balanced throughout the pre-divorce stage.
Stop isolating your emotions from each other and you stop isolating your emotions from yourself.
2. Sit in others’ discomfort and invite them to sit in yours
Your partner, your friends, your kids … they all have their own discomforts during this phase of your life. While you’re desperate for them to understand your heartache they’re just as desperate for you to understand theirs.
Next time your partner is railing away tap into what may be their way of dealing with loneliness before divorce. Reflect that back to them, “I know you’re upset … it must be so frustrating to feel like I don’t understand you.” Then offer to make the next few moments about you feeling their pain.
No justifications, defenses or clapbacks allowed. If you feel tempted, be honest, “hold on, I really want to appreciate what you’re saying but I feel triggered right now. Gimme a sec.”
Make no attempt to talk them out of their emotions. Instead, put emotional language to physical experiences, “when it takes me a while to text back you feel unappreciated?”
Use “The Toddler Game” from the book “FAIL* to Win: 4 Simple Principles To Get You Out Of Your Own Way” to dive deeply into their experience.
You’ll find some new epiphanies and insights that can go a long way in your relationship and may help heal the wounds that have you thinking “divorce” in the first place.
Once this safe space has been created, let them know you’re willing to do the same thing in reverse. Whether they agree or not is irrelevant. You’re speaking a desire for deeper understanding with ACTION, not just words. That will inevitably bring people into your life (maybe even your partner) that are willing to be as connected as you are.
3. Understand you are already grieving
Denial was the first stage of grief: “We’re going to be fine.” “Everyone has rough patches.” “We’re just tired.”
Anger is the second stage. Anger masks the true root of the problem. Anything that hasn’t been dealt with in the past (confusion, frustration, loneliness, abandonment, jealousy, betrayal) will fester into anger. If you’re both angry, you’re both ignoring the genesis of the problem. Use that knowledge as a way to further understand yourself first, then possibly each other.
It’s more than ok to say goodbye to your old relationship. It was built for a specific era in your life.
Life changes, and fast!! It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that your marriage will too. You’re saying goodbye to your old selves. Which means you’re grieving that loss before you even know if there’s an iteration of this marriage that will work for your new era in life.
Take your time with grief. Really go through the process with intentionality. It’s the only way to ensure that this temporary pain doesn’t define the new era in your relationship (whatever that may be).
When you’re in touch with the depths of your experience you’re more in touch with yourself and, ultimately, others as well.
4. Find a safe space for deep processing
If you have even just one friend who doesn’t seem in a hurry to gloss over your pain ask if you can process some of what you’re going through with them. You may be surprised to find they’re longing for a deeper connection too.
If you genuinely don’t have someone you can trust then hire someone. A big part of your loneliness stems from the fact that you’re holding in all the feels. You need to feel the feels, process the feels and allow the feels to evolve. This is true for dealing with loneliness during divorce and dealing with loneliness after divorce as well. The difference is you’ll see your more trustworthy people enter your life as you become increasingly selective through this process.
Nothing hastens the “I’m all alone” story like bottling up your thoughts, experiences and emotions.
5. Work hard to understand yourself as deeply as you wish others would
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being your own best friend, your own saving grace and your own healing angel. If you don’t learn to show up for yourself in the ways that are important then you can’t really expect others to either.
An amazing thing happens with a deepened understanding of Self:
- You show up differently for others. They show up differently for you, too.
- Unhealthy influences have a tendency to fizzle out.
- Healthy influences either blossom out of your current circle or arrive through new endeavors.
Commit (and recommit) to understanding your Self. The energy to foster healthy relationships and activities in your life naturally flows.
6. Be on the lookout for new advocates…they DO show up out of nowhere
As tempting as it is to hermit yourself away, don’t. Because you’re limiting your time and bandwidth spent with the unhelpful people in your life you’ve carved out space for someone who is helpful. Give them an opportunity to show up!!
Network, introduce yourself to the new neighbor, ask a co-worker to lunch. I had an amazing “best friend” during the 3 years it took to recognize my marriage was irreparable and get through our divorce. I didn’t know it at the time but this friend of mine and I clearly arrived in each others’ lives as partners to each others’ healing. The timing and circumstances of us meeting were as unlikely as they were purposeful. I might have missed it altogether if I’d closed myself off to the possibility of new friendships during such a scary time.
This time in your life sucks … and it serves you, too.
Stay open. Be vulnerable. Access your patience, kindness, compassion and all of the other “soft” things you love about yourself. Acrimony takes a lot from you, don’t let it take the most important pieces. Instead, use each doubt, fight and fear as an opportunity to practice what you most love about yourself. After all, that’s how we strengthen those characteristics anyway.
Then get on about the the business of loving yourself deeply. Profound connection to others starts with a profound connection with yourself.
Dealing with loneliness before divorce is even spoken is a nuanced endeavor. The upshot is this, take really good care of your Self right now, it’s not just your partnership that has the opportunity to grow and evolve here, it’s YOU. You can, and will, find support.
It’s amazing how a few steps in a list can actually feel like a lot. Download The Squeeze right now to help you manage any anxiety that crops up. It’s my favorite go-to practice when I start spinning and my first recommendation for people who can’t shut their brains off at night. Lemme know what you think!
Triffany is a certified professional life coach who helps strong women tame their inner hot mess. Start with the book F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles to Get You Out of Your Own Way and follow up with a class. Everything you touch will get easier as you go.