Ask Divorce Coach is Women’s Divorce Coach’s divorce advice column. Have a question? Send it to Cindy here. It’s anonymous!
Dear Divorce Coach,
I have been separated from my husband for six months, and I’m getting pretty lonely. I know I probably shouldn’t date yet, but I really want to have some fun and I know that he is dating (my single friend saw him on a dating app). The thought of him meeting someone first is really difficult. At this point, I question my attractiveness and I just want to show him (and prove to myself!) that other people find me attractive. Can you tell me why I should wait?
– Lonely in Seattle
Dear Lonely in Seattle,
I hear that you are dealing with the pain and conflicting feelings from the fallout of your marriage. When a relationship ends, it can feel like a painful rejection and often people question their attractiveness and worth. I encourage you to see the question of your attractiveness as a reflection of your disconnection in the relationship and not a reflection of your actual attractiveness and worth. I also understand your motivation to get this validation from someone new. Even if someone told you how attractive you are, would you believe them? Instead of focusing on what others can give you right now, I encourage you to use this time to focus on and love yourself. When you are ready to date, you will be less likely to question other’s attraction to you because you will have done the work on yourself and feel more confident. When we are hungry for external validation we are also more likely to attract partners who take advantage of us and make us more willing to accept breadcrumbs.
Seeing or thinking about your husband with someone else will understandably bring up tons of emotions. I know many people who have treated finding a new love as a competitive sport with their ex. I highly discourage you from playing this painful game. Again, I encourage you to focus on yourself right now and not on what he is doing. Most people who date during separation do so to avoid the incredible grief they are feeling. Unfortunately, this grief is not something we can just wish away. It must be contended with or it will show up like an unwelcome present when we least expect it. Think of dating now like a band-aid. It may make you feel better in the short term but in the long term, you are robbing yourself of the healing you truly need to be ready to bring another person into your life again.
Dear Divorce Coach,
I just got out of an abusive relationship and although I’m proud of myself for finally leaving, I feel a lot of shame for being in a relationship where I was emotionally and at times, physically abused. On top of that, my friends and family who encouraged me to leave are no longer providing me the support I was hoping for now that I’ve left. I feel so needy and am scared I am too much of a burden. How do I move forward alone?
– Needing Support
Dear Needing Support,
First, I want to say how brave you are to have left a relationship that was caused you so much pain. The cycle of abuse is complicated, and so is the attachment to an abuser. I highly recommend you find a support group for women who have left abusive relationships and/or a therapist or coach for ongoing support. This may alleviate some of the deeper levels of support you desire from friends and family.
Next, let’s talk about your shame. Please know that what you are feeling is common. Shame is like an ugly monster that thrives on silence. The more we try to ignore it, the louder and bigger it becomes. Many divorcing people report feeling shame and so do many abuse survivors. Unfortunately, you may be getting a double helping of it right now. I encourage you to share your feelings of shame with trusted friends and/or support people and don’t suffer in silence. Brené Brown has some really good books and talks on the subject of shame, and I highly encourage you to check them out.
Lastly, I really wish for all of us that there was a playbook for friends and family to support us during a divorce. For most of us, divorce feels much like a death. Divorce is about loss and the grief that accompanies it can be profound. The instructions for support are clearer when someone has passed. We get showered with support, people bring us meals, lend a listening, non-judgmental ear, etc. During a divorce, often even the best-intentioned people have no clue how to support us and ultimately do nothing. Knowing that people are well-meaning and care about you, you may need to be upfront about how they can support you. Please don’t suffer in silence and take good care!
Dear Divorce Coach,
My ex and I divorced five years ago when my son was eight. Recently his teacher asked her students to write a self-reflection paper about a difficult time in their lives and how they persevered. While it is not uncommon for my son to have me proofread his papers, I was surprised that had me proofread this one. The situation he chose to write about was the divorce. He revealed things he’d never told me. I am glad he is acknowledging his painful feelings but I am confused about this format and I am feeling a ton of guilt again. A big part of me wants to avoid a conversation with him since he didn’t bring this to me directly but I know that’s probably the wrong thing to do?
– Confused Mom
Dear Confused Mom,
It can be painful to be confronted with the feelings our children have about our divorce. You mentioned that you are feeling a ton of guilt (again) and that tells me that it would do you some good to talk through your own painful feelings surrounding your divorce. Feeling guilty and wondering how our divorce will impact our kids long-term is very common. It sounds like you have a good relationship with your son and I’m actually not surprised he decided to share his feelings with you in this way. If you put yourself in his shoes and think about having a direct conversation without someone you love about how a decision they made impacted you, how do you feel?
Let’s examine this further. What is your son telling you by asking you to proofread this paper? First, he is telling you that he is in touch with the feelings he has surrounding the divorce and is not bottling them up. That’s a great thing! Second, he is telling you that he trusts you to read his thoughts. That tells me that he feels secure in your relationship. Third, I am also guessing he completed the part of the assignment where he detailed how he persevered. I urge you to read it carefully and put as much weight on this information as the rest. It is so easy to be blinded by our own feelings that we laser in on the negative and ignore the positive.
You didn’t say exactly what he shared so I am assuming that it wasn’t anything too alarming. But if I am wrong about this, I highly encourage you to reach out to a school counselor, a child therapist or perhaps a family therapist. Regardless, I don’t think you’ll feel good about avoiding a conversation with your son. Additionally, as the adult and the emotional leader in your household, you owe it to him to open the door at the very least. This can be something as simple as “Hey, thanks for letting me proof your paper and for sharing some of your feelings about the divorce. I noticed you said “….” is there anything specific regarding that you’d like to talk more about with me? He may say “no” feel and feel the conversation is complete. Remind him that if something else comes up, you always want to hear his thoughts.