There may never be another time in your life when you feel as lonely as you do after separating from your spouse. Even if toward the end your relationship was miserable, and you felt relief when he or she finally left, the sense of isolation that comes from being really alone can knock the wind out of you.
Many of us have experienced an emotional loneliness during our marriage, but it is a different and unsettling loneliness when the person is actually gone. There is no physical being in the house. There isn’t even a possibility to share exciting or disappointing news. Silence is everywhere along with an empty side of the bed and remnants of a once happy past.
Your Support Network Won’t Feel Like It’s Enough
It is critical to have a support network, but regardless of its strength, divorce is a psychologically lonely process. You move through the stages of grief by yourself and in your own time. No matter how many people want to hold your hand while you do it, saying goodbye to the person who represented home and family, and with whom you had so many dreams invested is something you have to do on your own.
In my own case, I was taken aback by my feelings of psychic loneliness because I had a strong community of support. I had a therapist, the support of family, and many close friends, and I have never considered myself a lonely person.
You may be in this same space, and if you are, know that you aren’t really alone; you are lonely—two very different things. If you wanted to reach out to a support group or others, you would discover there are many people in the same boat.
But the tendency is to withdraw like a wounded animal instead of reaching out. So you don’t appreciate that there are many others who understand exactly how you feel.
You’ll Face Many Forms of Psychological Loneliness
Part of the reason divorce is so difficult is that when you end your love relationship, you tend to lose some other relationships at the same time, thereby compounding your sense of loss and isolation. These include:
- Your in-laws
- Mutual friends who “side” with your spouse
- Friends who may feel divorce is contagious
You may also temporarily lose the affection of your children or family who may blame you for not keeping the marriage together.
Other sources of psychological loneliness include confusion, shame, and missing your familiar reality. What just happened to your life? How did you both get here?
Your friends can’t help you figure this out. They may try, but the bigger question of “how could this happen” is something that hits you when you wake up alone at 3 a.m.
This sense of confusion may lead to self-doubt. How could you not see the warning signs? Can you still trust yourself, your judgment? Self-doubt tends to lead to further withdrawal and more isolation.
The Problems of Isolation and Alienation
Often people internalize the shame of being left or the failure of their marriage. In order to protect themselves from feelings of unworthiness, they project a strong image, and pretend not to care. “Well I didn’t really have anything in common with my ex anyway. I’m doing fine.”
These people isolate themselves by shutting off potential connections with other people who can offer empathy and understanding of what it feels like to be left in the middle of loving someone.
And then there is the sense of alienation because you are single in a couple’s world. If your context is being surrounded by happy couples, you may feel lonely as you don’t have someone to share your single experience.
You may wonder: What is wrong with me?
I experienced this when at 45, I found myself the only person in my circle of friends and acquaintances who was starting over. I felt like an island surrounded by a sea of disgustingly happy people.
How to Move From Loneliness to Aloneness
If this is the first time you have experienced loneliness, it may be so repulsive and alien to you that you attempt to run away from it. Some people resort to busy-ness, dating, or substances to avoid being alone with themselves. They may go to the gym a couple of times a day, become a workaholic, or do anything to avoid the deafening silence greeting them at home.
Dr. Bruce Fisher and Dr. Robert Alberti in their book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, cite three stages of loneliness:
Aloneness is finally achieved when you are comfortable with yourself. You are choosing solitude over company. You have developed your inner resources and can now enjoy the company of your own thoughts. You can choose to stay home and watch a movie rather than feeling compelled to go out with people.
What you can do to reach “aloneness”:
- Accept that you will be lonely following the end of your relationship, but it is temporary.
- Greet this time as an opportunity for self -discovery and reflection; it is your personal sabbatical.
- Reject the impulse to fill the emptiness with incessant activity.
Human connection is important, however. So, while you edge closer toward being comfortable on your own, stay connected with your tribe. Even if you spend weeks by yourself, identify one or two people who if you needed them, would take your call in the middle of the night. Just knowing someone is there reduces the sense of isolation.
And remember, while you feel lonely, you are not alone. Divorce support groups are in every community. There are many people who understand how you feel and are going through the same thing if you feel like reaching out.