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Letting Go of Unhealthy Attachments After Divorce

A woman we spoke with said that signing the divorce papers immediately severed the ties between her and her husband. She no longer felt attached to him and was eager to start anew. Then she went home, to the house she and her husband had chosen, decorated, and turned into a cozy home, and that is what undid her.

Not only did it feel unhealthy to be surrounded by everything that meant “married life” to her (she remembered when their wardrobe held both of their clothes, for example), but she also felt that she had formed strong attachments to this place filled with belongings that surrounded her for years. She had let go of the idea of a happy marriage months before she actually signed the divorce papers, but she had difficulty letting go of the idea of a happy home.

This place had brought her joy at one point. It was her first and only time making a home with someone, her first time picking out curtains that matched the furniture, her first time being a housewife (when she wasn’t working two jobs), her first time having a place to retreat to that was just her and her husband’s–without five college roommates to share it with–and she loved it. She loved it so much that it almost hurt more to leave the house behind than to see her marriage crumble.

When she realized that, she understood that not only was it unhealthy to be surrounded by constant reminders, but it was even more unhealthy to be so attached to a building with objects in it. She knew she needed to rip off the band-aid completely and flee the scene. Start over somewhere new. Begin again. And if she wasn’t ready to part with it all yet, she needed to learn how to let go of one thing at a time. What helped is to fill in the gaping spaces with new attachments.

First, she made sure to not renew her upcoming lease. Next, she moved in with a friend. She realized she’d been neglecting her friendships because she was so overwhelmed with the problems in her marriage, and now that she needed their support and her friends were willing to give it, she made sure to cultivate those connections and see them grow.

Many people struggle to leave their spouses simply because they feel that they will have no one if they go out and there try to start anew by themselves. They realize only after the unstable marriage crumbles anyways that they were surrounded by people who were only waiting to catch them when they fell, knowing that they would fall (an outsider’s perspective often gives them the ability to see what’s coming even when the person experiencing the problem is in denial). Oftentimes, your friends simply don’t want to interfere in a relationship they know they might not understand, or they don’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the marriage if they’d been encouraging you to leave a person who wasn’t good for you in the first place. But when you are free from the person whom your friends assume is closer or more important than they are, your friends will feel that they can step in and help heal the hurt.

So, our aforementioned divorced woman moved in with a friend, spent every day amongst friends for two months or so, and slowly moved out and packed her house away into storage. She found herself unable to tear her house apart and stuff it into boxes on her own, so she shared her troubles with her friends and they came over and labeled boxes and asked what goes where and tucked everything where it needed to go. At the end of the day, she had boxes labeled “kitchen: pots and pans” and “bedroom: bedspread, sheets, pillows” and everything was cleared out and placed inside a U-Haul and driven to the place where she would store these things for the next few years.

Throughout the years, she parted with these things one by one until only a few favorite pieces of furniture were left in storage (her antique stationary desk and an old, intricate wardrobe, for instance). And each time she let go of something, instead of pain, she felt relief. She would mentally tell herself, “Oh, good. Another thing I’m ready to let go of. Another attachment I can detach from.” She measured her progress by how many things from the past she was capable to part with.

And in the meantime, she filled her life with all sorts of things of value. And we do not mean more possessions–we mean experiences. She filled her life with activities, plans, goals. She helped her friend remodel her home and kept busy in the garden. She visited her family and saw how much she’d neglected them. She discovered a passion for new hobbies and explored places she considered moving to when she was ready to relocate. The best part of it all? Her relationships benefited from the attention she was giving them–she got closer to her friends and family. She also began to love herself again.

All of this–simply because she freed herself from the things she felt attached to. With her belongings in storage, she was free to move in with a friend, to visit family, to travel. She felt so much healthier than if she stayed in a house full of objects that she had difficulty letting go of. She was able to set aside the things that brought painful memories of the past, and instead fill her present with things that brought her joy. In time, she realized how much more significant it was to have friends that loved her and the freedom to move around than a home that represented heartbreak. Heartbreak was sitting in a storage container now, and every few months, she got rid of more and more of it. Soon, there would be no more heartbreak.

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