How to Ease the Process
By Francesca Sullivan
For most people who go through a marriage break-up, finding themselves single again is difficult and painful. Yet there is life after divorce, not to mention the possibility of starting over with a new partner. Divorced women in Egypt may face challenges when dating and trying to form new relationships, not least of which are feeling stigmatized and seen as a threat by those still married – or worse, as an easy target by men. However beyond this, the most important aspect of discovering a new partner might actually be learning more about yourself.
Cairo West Magazine talked to individual and couples counsellor Maryam Maafa about the positive steps you can take to this end, as well as how to avoid making the same mistakes the second time around.
CWM: How do you work on yourself to clear the negative emotional effects that result from a break up?
MM: Be kind to yourself. After divorce it is natural to go through a mix of negative feelings: anger, confusion, pain, frustration and fear. Even though sometimes one may feel a sense of relief that the arguments and disagreements are finally over, it is natural to go into a grieving period in which you are mourning the loss of the person you once loved, the loss of the hopes and dreams you once had together, and the failure of the marriage itself. Getting divorced may lead to fears about the future, wondering whether you will be able to cope on your own, or ever find anyone else. You may suffer from the loss of support: perhaps financially, socially or emotionally, and find it hard to build a new sense of identity.
Recognize that it’s alright to have these emotions, allow yourself time to feel them; don’t suppress or ignore them. It is part of a healing process, which will eventually allow you, at some point, to move on and start a new phase in your life. Take it easy on yourself and try to reduce any other stress that you may encounter.
Understand what went wrong. Try to analyse and understand what lead to the divorce from both sides, and to learn more about your part within the relationship. How did you react to stress? Were you in denial?
Get support. Other family members will be affected, but be encouraged to reach out to family and friends when you need to talk to someone. If that is not comforting perhaps try counselling or therapy as another option for support.
Look after yourself. Eat well, exercise regularly to generate endorphins and improve your mood. Learn a new hobby, train yourself to think positively, meditate, stick to a routine and get enough sleep. Learn to appreciate yourself by doing these simple exercises; make a list of your positive traits, if you are struggling ask the close people around you what they see as your positive traits. Make a list of the good things you have accomplished so far, and also a list of the things you are grateful for.
Give yourself time. Make sure you don’t jump straight into another relationship in order to avoid confronting your feelings or being alone. You will be ‘on the rebound’ and not emotionally ready to build strong foundations in a new relationship. There is no ‘right time’ to start looking for a new partner, but be aware of your emotions and feelings and if you seem to be stuck for more than a couple of years unable to move on, you might find counselling or therapy helpful to learn more about yourself and how you can go forward.
What are the warning signs you should look out for when choosing a new partner, and how can you avoid making the same mistake twice? Should you be looking for someone different from your ex?
Divorce is not a ‘mistake’, but rather the outcome of an unhealthy marriage. There is still a lot of stigma attached to the idea of divorce, and sadly many couples continue together for years after their relationship has broken down, without seeking help or trying to change the situation. I sometimes end up counselling the grown-up children of such couples, who have witnessed their parents living together without meaningful communication for years on end.
When choosing a partner the second time around, it is not about choosing someone different from your ex, because every situation is different and that is a personal choice. I believe what is more important is being honest about your needs and how you want to be treated. Be fully aware of his habits and the way he operates before you commit to him. Don’t marry a chain smoker thinking you can change him; what you tolerate now for the sake of your attraction will later become a source of conflict.
Relationships shouldn’t be about ticking off a check list, they should be about love, understanding, fun, tolerance, giving, compassion – the list is endless. But a few warning signs to look out for might include the following:
You may have an insecure-attachment style. A lot of research has been done on this subject, and it makes for fascinating reading. John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist (1969). He found that children’s development in bonding with their primary caregiver or parents had a great impact throughout their life. Psychologist Mary Ainsworth further developed his work in 1978 in her ‘Strange Situation’ study that involved testing babies’ reactions to being placed in a room with a stranger replacing the primary caregiver. More recently psychologists have further refined this idea to argue that early childhood attachment patterns predict adult attachment styles in romantic relationships later in life. If you are continually choosing the wrong kind of partner, it might be worth identifying which ‘attachment style’ you have, and which you are attracted to.
For example if you have ‘insecure avoidant attachment’ style, characterized by the fear of being hurt, avoid a partner who themselves have any insecure attachment style. Of course the optimum partner to choose would be a partner with ‘secure attachment’ style, for whom close attachments are easy and natural. You can work on yourself to develop secure attachment and this could also be done with the help of a counsellor.
Not being your true self around him. I have observed that a lot of women tend to put the idea of attracting a man before really knowing themselves. They will give a lot to satisfy a new partner, even supress their true selves in order to please him. But this is eventually unsustainable, so when they become more assertive and their real feelings come out, they don’t realize what they’ve been doing and will complain that the man has ‘changed’. Be yourself around the person you want to share your life with. Know what your values are and your expectations for a happy relationship. Make sure you are honest with yourself and comfortable in every aspect of the relationship.
Basing your choice only on chemistry. New relationships are always fun and exciting in the beginning but basing one on chemistry alone is not a good idea, because in time reality will set in. So always remember to follow your heart and mind at the same time.
Ignoring unacceptable behaviour or actions. If the person doesn’t fully respect you, if he is critical and judgmental of others (you may be next!); similarly if he talks down to people and treats employees, subordinates or family without respect, if you are the one always accommodating his needs, if he expects you to change, if he tends to blame others rather than take responsibility himself, if he is dishonest, or his words don’t match his actions, walk away.
Expecting that he will change. A person’s tastes, desires and interests may change overtime, but their personality and the way they deal with the world usually will not. So it is best to choose someone according to their personality, making sure you know what type of personality you want in your significant other before starting a new relationship.
Listening to others opinions only. When friends and family give advice regarding your new significant other, listen and be objective but don’t settle for anyone just because your friends and family think that he is a perfect fit for you. Always follow your gut feeling.
Maryam Maafa, MA
Individual and Couples Counsellor
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bowlby J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books.