In a marriage things get tangled up: there's one house, one name (if you are traditional), 'your' stuff becomes 'our' stuff, 'I' becomes 'we'. You become a unit.
As things unravel during a divorce, not only do you have to figure out how to separate your assets, you also have to figure out how to untangle your identities.
Personally, prior to my separation, I had spent my entire adult life with my ex-husband. Therefore, when it came to untangling our identities, there was a lot to figure out.
- 'Who I am as an adult?'
- 'What do I like?'
- 'What are my values?'
- 'What are my passions?'
- 'Who are my friends?'
I was completely clueless as to my own identity. Obviously, I knew who was in broad strokes. However, when going into details things became rather blurry.
'Did I like this movie because we had enjoyed it or was it because I really liked it?'
'Had I chosen this activity because I was really passionate about it or because that was one of our things to do?' Those were the type of questions going through my mind.
The road to entanglement
The thing is when you spend so much time with someone as you do with a spouse, you begin to absorb their values, their habits, their attitudes. That's natural, it's emulation. Every marriage entails a share of compromise.
If you are a night-owl and they are an early-bird, or if you need to sleep with the window open and they get cold easily, you have to find ways to make things work. You find workarounds. In the process though, you become a diluted version of yourself.
In addition, there's a certain level of interdependent role-play that can begin to develop in certain couples: she might be the messy one and you're the one always tidying up, or he's the 'project' and you are his nurse.
Now, what happens to the nurse when there's no one to fix?
How do you define yourself on your own when part of your identity was tied to someone else's?
The journey to recovery
After my separation, I took a long time to rediscover myself.
There were many challenges inherent to the situation. And even though I had to seriously downsize and I could have wallowed in self-pity, I chose to embrace the experience. I allowed myself to marvel at the smallest things and really enjoy the process. Buying accessories for my new home, discovering the little shops in my neighborhood or going to see a movie alone became delightful self-discovery experiences.
Which movie did I really want to see if there was no else to please? Which were my favorite curtains? Or what cutlery did I prefer? So many opportunities to test myself!
What was unsettling was to realize how much I had internalized his voice and how I developed the habit of shrinking from certain choices out of habit, due to our merged identities.
Through practice and self-awareness, I eventually began to find my own voice again and make choices entirely directed by my own tastes. Being able to silence his voice in my head was an added benefit and a great part of the healing process.
With my own voice resonating clearly in its place, it became easier to connect with myself and find my way to what really brought me happiness, leaving the nostalgic and painful 'we used to' world behind to enter an exciting, future-oriented, full of possibility 'I love this' world. Some concrete steps:
If you are going through this process, these 5 tips can help you begin to reconnect with yourself.
– Acknowledge the fact that you were entangled. It's crucial because you cannot fix a problem you do not acknowledge.
– Actively seek out new experiences. When you engage in the old, it's easy to fall into old patterns. New experiences, on the other hand, force you to be present, turn off your auto-pilot and actively decide how you want to proceed.
– Be present and listen to the voices that come up. Their voice may have become really loud and yours only a murmur. Hearing those different voices and learning to differentiate them is the first step in re-establishing a proper balance.
– Journal to keep track of your insights and gain more clarity.
– Be patient. Especially if there was a lot of conflicts, you may have lots of fear around expressing yourself. Practice, practice, practice. It will become easier.
Dominique Andersen is the founder of STRETCH+BLOOM, where she helps unfulfilled high-achieving women reinvent their lives.
As a divorcee herself and a serial reinventress who has worn many hats, she's a strong believer in 'if it doesn't fit, change it!'. She is based In Berlin, Germany where she lives with her current partner. Curious about her reinvention process? http://stretchandbloom.com/JoyfulReinvention