Your Post-Divorce Christmas Carol

Now that you’re single again, here’s how to use the lessons you learned in your past and build a brighter dating future.

By Jennifer Benjamin

hile all of the holiday parties, gift giving and tree trimming may be heartwarming to most, weathering a divorce can have you feeling more Scrooge-like than the man himself. Being newly single around the holidays can stir up a whole range of painful emotions: anger, guilt, loneliness, depression. Before bah-humbugging the entire Christmas season though, use this time to take a hard look at the ghosts of your past… and embrace your new present and future.

The past: Make peace with what happened
Even if divorce was the best possible solution to your marital problems, you can’t help but feel some residual resentment or guilt. But wallowing in your
The best part about being single is that now you can do whatever you please, without having to run it by your partner.
pain, though par for the course, solves nothing. “It’s hard enough to go through the trauma of a divorce, but it’s a double blow if you don’t learn from the experience,” explains Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los-Angeles based psychologist specializing in relationships and self-esteem.

Every time a painful memory pops up, both of good and bad times, don’t indulge in it. Instead, resolve to find the lesson in it. “Think about the red flags you might have overlooked in your marriage and how you can be more aware of them in the future; think about how your partner made you feel, what was missing emotionally, and the ways in which you yourself were accountable,” suggests Jennifer Oikle, Ph.D., founder of the Coupling Connection and author of Create the Love You Deserve. That way, thinking about your ex will feel more like a learning experience and a reminder of how far you’ve come rather than just daggers through the heart.

The present: Savor what you have right now
You might still have a lot of healing to do, but the good news is that your faulty marriage is behind you. Although you might feel a little lonely and out of sorts, the best part about being single is that now you can do whatever you please, without having to run it by your partner. “The here and now is when you’re the most powerful, when you’re able to discover the real you, explore life’s possibilities, and craft the kind of life that you want from now into the future,” explains Paul Dobransky, M.D., author of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love.

The first step is accepting your single status. “No one’s life is perfect—even if you don’t have the long-lasting marriage you had hoped for, you probably have a number of other things to feel good about: your health, great friends, a satisfying career, your children,” says Dr. Oikle. “Now is the time to embrace all the positives in your life and remind yourself that life can be just as fulfilling without a partner.”

An example: If you love skiing and used to always go with your husband or wife, make plans to go with a friend or a sibling. “It’s an opportunity to get to
If you’ve always wanted to try tennis or yoga or ethnic cooking, pursue those interests now, when you need the distraction more than ever.
know someone in a different way, to build new memories as an individual,” explains Dr. Thomas. If you’ve always wanted to try tennis or yoga or ethnic cooking, pursue those interests now, when you need the distraction more than ever. Not only will you feel reinvigorated by the experience of trying something new, but you’ll also meet people in the process, friends or even potential partners who share your passions.

The future: Imagine your ideal partner
The idea of positive visualization has gotten a lot of press lately. But although you may be a little skeptical, picturing your ideal romantic partner or a coveted future really can help you get there. “You can tap into your imagination and create for yourself an idea of what you’d like your life to be, not dwelling on probabilities but instead focusing on all of the possibilities,” says Dr. Dobransky. No, we’re not suggesting sitting in a dark room, burning patchouli candles, and channeling your Mr. or Mrs. Right. Just grab a pen and paper.

Take all the lessons you learned from past experiences and use them to consider your ideal mate. “Write down all of the things that you want from your next relationship, and everything that you don’t want,” suggests Dr. Thomas. “People tend to be more cognizant of behaviors both in themselves and in others when they commit their desires to paper.”

Although you may want someone who’s generous and attractive, it helps to think in more tangible terms. Rather than just write down that you’d like to be with a social person, get specific, describing someone who’s able to hold his or her own at a party and doesn’t require babysitting. Or instead of writing, “No workaholics,” spell out how neglected you have felt by a partner who worked around the clock. By putting these ideas on paper and looking them over regularly, you’ll refocus on what you truly need in a relationship. Design your romantic future now, in this way, and by this time next year, you may be spending the holidays with the real love of your life.

Jennifer Benjamin has written for Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, Allure and The Nest.
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