Another Chance at Love: 10 Ways to Get Back on the Horse after Divorce
After experiencing a divorce, you may want to move on and find love again—but that’s easier said than done! Here, author Avalon Brandt offers advice to help you make peace with
the past, reconnect with yourself, and start the process of finding love again.
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.”
Fall in love with yourself. The popular adage is true: You can’t build a loving relationship with someone else unless you love yourself first. But what does that mean, exactly? For one thing, you need to learn to see yourself as a whole and complete person, not as one-half of a relationship. You also need to treat yourself as kindly and with as much compassion as you would a friend or loved one (i.e., stop beating yourself up relentlessly!). And while all of us can and should strive for self-improvement, you need to recognize and value all of the wonderful aspects of yourself that have been there all along.
“Even after my divorces, love is still the center of my existence,” confirms Avalon. “Actually, my number one goal and priority is to value, honor, and love myself. Every day, I affirm this intention by looking into the mirror in the morning and saying with a smile, ‘I love you.’ Then, I show myself love with actions big and small, starting by luxuriating in a long, hot shower!”
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.”
Remind yourself of success stories. If you’re like many individuals who have been through a divorce, you may find yourself looking at love in general with a jaundiced eye. Maybe I’ll meet some nice people, you think, but I’m not sure I really believe in “lifelong love” anymore. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself thinking, The whole concept of love in general is a crock! I’m better off on my own. Be careful, warns Avalon. These thoughts can do more to isolate you and to promote unhealthy cynicism than they can to protect you.
“That’s why I suggest reminding yourself of success stories,” she comments. “Even though it might be uncomfortable at times, remind yourself of couples you know with great marriages. When my second marriage began to dissolve, I remember watching the couple who lived across from me in my apartment complex. They would come and go together, holding hands, laughing, smiling, and kissing. He treated her like she was a queen—even showing up in a limousine with roses to take her out one night! It was love as I had always envisioned it, and love as I still wanted it. While watching this couple was often painful, I give them credit for helping me maintain my faith in love at a vulnerable time in my life.”
When you’re ready, go on a date. Yes, reentering the dating pool after a divorce can be nerve-wracking, overwhelming, and for some, downright terrifying. So first, says Avalon, don’t force yourself to go on dates before you feel ready. She recalls several periods in her life during which she avoided dating in order to heal, build platonic friendships, and focus on herself. Once you do start saying “yes” to dates, Avalon advises you to be patient with yourself and with other people—many of whom may be in the same post-divorce boat!
“The important thing is that you’re putting yourself out there,” she says. “Even if the first few dates turn out to be duds, remind yourself that this is a learning experience. Trust me, it really is! You are not the same person you were the last time you were on the market, so to speak. It’s important to take your time and to make sure that you’re negotiating dating relationships that you’re comfortable with and that are mutually fulfilling.”
Involve your inner circle. As you start to meet new people and go on dates, be open and honest with people you trust: family and friends. Let them know who you’re seeing, what you like (and don’t like) about these people, and—if the time is right—introduce your boyfriend or girlfriend to your loved ones. The people who love you and who have known you f
or years will keep you grounded and remind you of who you are, if you allow them to do so, promises Avalon. And sometimes, their warnings might be full of wisdom.
“When I was dating my second husband, Solomon, I discussed the possibility of marrying him with my parents,” she recalls. “They liked Solomon, but advised me to wait for several reasons—among them, my mother claimed that neither Solomon nor I was ready. Looking back, I wish I had listened more closely and taken more of the advice that they offered instead of allowing my desire to be in love and in a marriage dictate my decisions!”
“After navigating three divorces, lo
ve is still the center of my existence, and yes, I still hope to find a lifelong romantic partner,” concludes Avalon. “I have serenity because I never allowed myself to think that I was a failure. No matter what other people thought or said, I have never thought of myself as having failed at marriage. My marriages ended in divorce but the love that created those marriages continues, and I consider that success.
“As you embark on reconnecting with yourself and finding love once again, my best advice is to create and savor your own rhythm in life, no matter what oth
ers may say,” she adds. “Only when you have discovered and embraced who you are can you love others freely and unconditionally. And never lose faith—if there is one thing I am more sure of than ever, it’s that love is a possibility for all of us!”