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Surviving Divorce: Recovery From Divorce

The second phase of the journey is the process of recovery

Maxine B. Cohen, M.F.T.

Recovery involves rebuilding self-esteem. Regardless of who left whom, feelings of self- worth are at an all-time low. The many changes that have and are taking place force you to develop new areas of yourself quickly as a means of survival. Low self-worth--feeling inadequate and undesirable--can make it hard for you to function. But if you can face and rise to each challenge as it occurs, slowly but surely you will rebuild your sense of competence as a person and learn to trust that the person you are becoming can be relied on to come through.

As you feel better about yourself, it is time to begin to rebuild your social network. It seems to be a common experience that many married friendships do not survive divorce. So you need to find new people whose company you enjoy and who have similar needs in terms of time and activities. You can meet people anywhere you go; simply be truly open to it. When you are ready, you can join single groups which are abundant through the churches and in the community. The only criterion for friendship is whether or not you enjoy the person's company.

This is not a good time to become involved in another committed love relationship. The majority of people exit their marriages with a wounded heart which prevents them from trusting in a new relationship. Until your heart is more healed, you will stay emotionally distant as protection and will not allow yourself to get close. This is not a good way to make a relationship work and you don't need another devastating emotional experience right now.

Another task along the road to recovery is learning to love yourself. Loving yourself means that you know yourself well enough to be aware of who you are, i.e. your thoughts and feelings in the moment, no judgment attached. By our very nature as human beings, we are imperfect and yet each of us wants to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Your capacity to be loving to others is closely related to your capacity to be loving to yourself, so what you do not accept in yourself, you will not accept in a partner. For example, if you are afraid of your own sad and hurt feelings, it is likely that you will reject your partner's feelings when s/he is sad or hurt.

The final stage of recovery is singleness. If you have paid attention and worked hard, you may arrive at a place where you are comfortable with being single. This means that you're able to be alone with yourself without feeling lonely. Now you can choose to go Out rather than being propelled to go out from a need not to be alone. This is a time when you can solidify the many internal changes that have taken place as a result of the external changes. This is a time when you can get to know yourself and build a new identity as a single person which will guide you in making healthier, more loving choices for yourself in the future.

In closing, I'd like to suggest some books that may be helpful. Rebuilding: When Your Relationships Ends by Bruce Fisher is a good one. So is Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce by Abigail Trafford.

Maxine Cohen | 949-644-6435 |
Maxine Cohen is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked with individuals, couples, and families since 1989. She is an expert on all aspects of the divorce transition-from how to tell the children in the best possible way, to riding the emotional roller coaster and grieving the loss, to dating and rebuilding a life that is satisfying and good. Maxine is also a writer, having contributed columns to Orange Coast Magazine and the local editions of the Orange County Register and the LA Times (Daily Pilot) for the past 10 years. She is in private practice in Newport Beach.

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