Divorce is devastating. Even if the split is amicable, even if you know it’s for the best, the end of a marriage turns your emotional and physical worlds upside down. In theory, you’d like to move on and find love again. But from where you stand right now, that task seems monumental, if not downright impossible. Most days, it’s all you can do to negotiate a healthy relationship with the carton of ice cream in the freezer, never mind another human being.
Author Avalon Sequoia Brandt knows how daunting it can be to rebuild your life (and love life) after divorce. The going won’t always be easy, but she promises that when you’re ready, there can be another table for two in your future.
“There are several steps to getting back on this particular horse—you can’t just vault onto its back and gallop away,” says Avalon, author of the new book Still I Love: Loving after Three Divorces (Avalon S. Brandt, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-615-98121-5, $18.95, www.stillilove.com). “You have to take it slow. First, that means making peace with your past and building a fulfilling present. Then, you can start creating a new future.”
Avalon speaks from experience. In Still I Love, she tells the compelling story of her three marriages and divorces, which she navigated on the long road to earning her degree as an attorney. While Avalon’s story reads like a movie script, it’s interwoven with her heartfelt observations and advice. Avalon’s reflections on how she has succeeded in maintaining her positivity, resilience, faith, and belief in love will speak to anyone who has dealt with divorce.
“Trust me, I know that divorce doesn’t originally factor into anyone’s life plan,” she acknowledges. “I have been divorced three times, not because I wanted to, but because circumstances forced me to make painful choices. My divorces left me brokenhearted, but each time I was determined to manage my pain, maintain my confidence, and remain open to love.
“You might be surprised to hear that not all of the survival and recovery strategies I’ve learned have to do with meeting people and dating per se—many of them are centered on self-work,” she continues. “Believe it or not, those might be the most important of all.”
Here, Avalon shares 10 strategies to help you heal, move on, and find love again:
Stop romanticizing your ex. Especially if you weren’t the person who initiated the divorce, you might be looking back on your marriage with a lot of nostalgia. Even if the divorce was your idea, you may still be looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. (After all, your ex is the devil you know!) Before trying to move forward, you need to make sure that you’re not fixating on your ex’s positive qualities and downplaying his hurtful or unhealthy behaviors.
“Even when you know it’s the right thing, making the decision to fall out of love with someone can be difficult,” acknowledges Avalon. “To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying and admiring all of the good things about past partners—there are still many things I appreciate about my former husbands. But I’ve learned that it’s important to be honest about your ex’s flaws, too. Otherwise, you run the risk of believing that your partner is ‘perfect’ and blaming all of the relationship’s problems on yourself, which can be fatal to your self-esteem.
“My best advice is to listen to your intuition,” she says. “Even if it’s uncomfortable to admit, you know when you’re lying to yourself and mentally covering for your partner. Even though the marriage is over, hold him to the same standards of behavior and accountability that you set for yourself. Be honest with yourself about how both of you contributed to the divorce.”
Eliminate “what if” and “if only” from your vocabulary. These two phrases factor heavily into the thoughts of anyone who’s been divorced. For instance: “What if I’d only been nicer to his mother?” “What if we’d started going to therapy?” “If only I’d asked him about those unexplained purchases earlier.” “If only I’d stood up for myself more often.” The truth is, you can play this game with yourself forever—but as long as you do, you’ll be stuck in the past, mentally rehashing your old relationship.
“Of course we would all do things differently if we’d known then what we know now—but unless you have a time machine, that’s impossible,” points out Avalon. “Accept that you did the best you could with the resources you had at the time. Try to forgive yourself and your ex, which will help you to feel more at peace and to break the unhealthy mental loop of ‘what if’ and ‘if only.’ You may find it helpful to remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re condoning your ex’s or your own bad behavior—it means that you’re choosing to let go of resentment, blame, and anger.”
Write it out. If you’ve never been a journaler, now might be a good time to start. Write about what you’re feeling. Reflect about what you learned from your marriage and divorce. Record your hopes for the future. You don’t have to journal every day—just when you feel that you need to process your emotions or organize your thoughts. Sometimes, simply putting pen to paper can help you calm down and recenter yourself.
“I started writing in a journal after my first marriage and found it to be a great survival tool,” shares Avalon. “I wanted to understand why I felt the way I did and I wanted to feel better. As I started making entries, I discovered that I felt relief when I wrote. It became a source of strength that allowed me to open up to myself and to be honest with myself about my emotions. And as time passed, I could look back at my prior journal entries to remind myself that I was making progress, even when it didn’t feel that way.”
Affirm what you want. To help yourself stay focused on your hopes for the future, find a personal post-divorce mantra and remind yourself of it frequently. Your mantra might have to do with moving on, finding someone new, or personal development. Don’t discount the power of the words you tell yourself. Positive or negative, they are powerful tools in focusing your intentions and shaping your attitude.
“As my first marriage was ending, I remember buying a calligraphy set and writing on construction paper some words and themes to encourage myself,” Avalon recalls. “I wrote on one sign the words ‘I’m on my way to the top one step at a time.’ I drew a ladder beside the words and I taped the sign on my bedroom wall. Every day I read it, several times a day, and slowly I started to feel myself changing, just a little at a time.”
Build a routine that makes you feel good. Even if living as a hermit feels safer (and it might!), try to fill your days with activities you enjoy and that keep your mind occupied: walks around the neighborhood, worship services, trips to the dog park, drinks with friends, etc. This serves three purposes: Enjoyable activities lift your mood, keep you busy so you aren’t wallowing, and get you out of the house and into situations where you might meet new people. But even if you’d like to meet a new special someone, don’t avoid solo activities. If you want to reclaim your life after divorce, you must learn to be confident and comfortable on your own.
“After my second marriage ended, I made a special effort to discover life beyond being a wife,” recalls Avalon. “For me, a big part of that was exploring and enjoying the spectacular dining scene in Washington, D.C. At first, it was strange learning how to enjoy a meal alone. I got curious looks from maître d’s, waiters, and other diners. But over time, I began to dwell less on what other people were thinking and more on savoring each satisfying bite of my meals. Sounds simple, I know, but learning to enjoy a meal alone became a crucial survival tool that enabled me to reconnect with myself after a disappointing marriage.”
Set a new goal, or get back into an old hobby. If and when you begin a new relationship, you don’t want to lose yourself in it. That’s why it’s helpful to start pursuing a personal goal now—something to keep you focused on your own priorities and interests. So think: Before immersing yourself in your relationship, what did you do for fun? Where did you find fulfillment? Return to those activities. Or start pursuing a new goal that’s been on the back burner.
“Pull out your flute or your art supplies,” urges Avalon. “Join a community softball team or hiking group. Sign up for a book club or cooking classes. Go back to school. Developing yourself is empowering and motivating, especially after you’ve just ended a relationship. One of the best decisions I ever made was applying to law school after my second divorce. Not only was I finally pursuing a goal I’d had for years; I was keeping myself moving forward and focused on the future, and I was strengthening my identity.”
About the Author:
Avalon S. Brandt, Esq., is the author of Still I Love: Loving after Three Divorces. She was educated in the Baltimore City Schools. In 1994 she graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law. She is currently employed with the law offices of Saul E. Kerpelman, which represents children for injuries resulting from childhood lead exposure. Prior to joining the Kerpelman firm, she was a partner with the law offices of Wilson & Brandt, providing legal representation in custody, divorce, child abuse, and criminal defense cases.
Avalon has a strong desire to help young people successfully achieve their educational and career goals. She has been a speaker for career day activities at various public schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
Since 2008 Avalon has served on the board of directors for the corporation L.I.F.E. (Living in a Free Environment), which provides housing and daily activities for persons with physical and mental disabilities.
In 2011 Avalon was appointed as an advisory board member of U2Can a non-profit organization that provides guidance, support, and training needed to empower parents to be their child’s first teachers of reading. U2Can encourages primary caregivers to be actively involved in their child’s education and to foster positive beliefs in academic successful outcomes.