What’s your divorce story? You know – the story in your head about what happened in your divorce. Yes, I know. None of us think we have “stories” about ourselves. We have “facts,” and “the truth.” But calling what you tell yourself a “story” doesn’t mean that it is made up, or that it is a lie. It just means that it is a story … and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Power of Story
In his book,The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life, Dr. Jim Loehr puts it like this:
As human beings, we continually tell ourselves stories — of success or failure; of power or victimhood; stories that endure for an hour, or a day, or an entire lifetime. We have stories about our work, our families and relationships, our health; about what we want and what we’re capable of achieving. Yet, while our stories profoundly affect how others see us and we see ourselves, too few of us even recognize that we’re telling stories, or what they are, or that we can change them — and, in turn, transform our very destinies.
Dr. Brené Brown, in her new book, Rising Strong, echoes Dr. Loehr’s sentiment. But she also goes a step farther and encourages us to own our stories. In other words, she says we need to be honest about what we are telling ourselves, be brave enough to do a little reality testing, and then be willing to change the ending!
What?!! Short of convincing your spouse to remain married (which may not even be what you want any more) how are you supposed to change the end of your divorce story? Divorce is the end of the story!
But, is it?
You are the Author of Your Story
The most amazing thing about looking at your divorce story as “a story” is that YOU are the author of that story! I’m not suggesting that you caused your marriage to break down, or that you created a divorce story to purposely make yourself suffer. But what you did do is take a fact (you are getting a divorce) and attach meaning to it. (Getting divorced means you are a failure, a loser, a cheater, a victim, a bad person, a pathetic excuse for a human being etc. etc.)
It is the meaning you give to your divorce that creates your “divorce story.” It is the meaning you give to your divorce that also causes you the most pain. Change the meaning and you change the story. Change the story, and you change your life.
5 Tips For Changing Your Divorce Story
Before we dive into the tips for how to change your divorce story, please understand that I am not suggesting that changing your divorce story will change the fact that you are getting divorced. While it is possible that if you change yourself, your relationship with your spouse will change too, and you both might discover that you don’t want to divorce after all, that’s honestly not likely to happen (unless you’re writing a Hollywood movie, which is lovely, but not particularly realistic.)
Changing your divorce story, however, is likely to change how you feel about your divorce. If you are at the stage where you are still angry, sad, depressed, anxious, upset or any one of the other ugly emotions associated with divorce, changing your feelings at this point can have real value. So, how do you do it?
1. Recognize that you are the author of your story. Taking this step alone gives you enormous power. You are not the hero of your story. You don’t want to be the victim in your story. (If you do want to be the victim, find a good therapist right now. Victimhood is no way to live your life!) You are the creator of your story. That means you have the power to write, and re-write, it any way you want.
2. Ask yourself: Is it true? Before you can begin rewriting your story, you have to separate fact from fiction. Are you getting divorced? Yes. That’s a fact. Will divorce change your children’s lives? Yes. That, too is a fact. Are you a bad parent because you are getting divorced? No. That’s just how you feel. It is not a fact. Will your children suffer because of your divorce? Yes, but how much they suffer is up to you. So this is both a fact and an opportunity. You can (to a certain extent) control how this fact plays out.
3. Take stock of your feelings. Don’t try to deny how you feel, or bury your feelings under a mountain of guilt. Be quiet for a moment and just notice how you feel. If you can name your emotions, do it. That will help you understand what you are feeling. If you can’t name what you feel, that’s fine, too. What is most important is that you allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. (Yes, this part pretty much sucks. Sorry.)
4. Decide whether you want to change how you feel. That may sound a little stupid, but here is the truth: sometimes we are not ready to let go of what we are feeling. For example, sometimes when we are angry, we are just ANGRY!!!! Until we are done being angry, we don’t want to let that anger go. That’s ok. If this is as far as you get, so be it. Just know that, whatever the reason was that you got angry in the first place (like your spouse cheated on you with your best friend … in your house), right now you are choosing to stay angry because you are not ready to let that anger go.
5. Figure out where you want your story to go from here. Are you happy about how you feel? Do you want your story to go the way it is going, and end where you are at right now? If not, then decide what ending you would like better. Maybe instead of focusing on how much you hate your former best friend, you decide to channel your anger into going back to school, starting a new career, or focusing on your relationship with your kids in a whole new way. Writing a new ending to your divorce story won’t change what happened, but it will change how you feel and where your life goes from here.
6. Rewrite your story as you see fit. If you want to stop being angry, stop thinking of your divorce as something unfair that was done to you, and start thinking of yourself as a powerful person with the ability to use your anger as fuel to accomplish something you really value. Whether you are currently thinking of yourself as a victim, a loser, a failure or any other dis-empowering thing you have in your head, know that all of those descriptions are not facts, but opinions. Write your story so that you come out a winner rather than a loser. It sounds simplistic, but changing how you tell your story is the first step in changing how it ends.
Does re-writing your divorce story make the pain of divorce any easier to bear? Probably not. But, deciding what you want to do with your pain, and knowing that you have the power to interpret the meaning of your divorce so that it becomes more than just an ugly, painful part of your personal history, is up to you.
Will you let your divorce be the end of your story? Or, is it really just the beginning?