As a divorce lawyer for more than 20 years, I have watched client after client rebuild their lives in beautiful and empowering ways. My goal in sharing 5-Part Plan is to give hope to anyone who is dealing with crushing heartbreak, and to remind them that there is a happy and fulfilling life waiting for them.
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One thing I’ve seen is a lot of is broken hearts. A lot of time when someone is seeking legal advice they’re reeling with the shock and pain of having their marriage or long-term relationship break up. During the months – and sometimes years – it takes to settle their divorce or separation, I sometimes get the gift of witnessing that person who was once so broken, blossom into someone who is happy, vibrant, and living a life they couldn’t have thought possible.
Why am I telling you this? Time and again I’ve watched this transformation, so I know my clients are on to something. And I’ve gone through this myself, so I speak from experience when I say:
No matter how bleak things may seem, if someone is being strategic about putting their life back on track, they can live a life that is more powerful, more exciting, and more rewarding than they ever thought possible.
Why Is The Pain So Excruciating?
Many of us live in a home with our spouse or partner, and maybe with our children in a Nuclear Family structure. This structure is actually quite isolating, and it’s very different from how our ancestors lived and thrived. Our ancestors lived in group settings, with extended families and in tribes, with strong social connections that were necessary for the survival of the group. These relationships were important not only because they ensured survival, but because they reinforced the social bonds within the group. There were many that could offer support – hunting, gathering, child rearing, etc. – when it was needed. In today’s isolated Nuclear Family structure, your spouse or partner is often your only support. When you’re going through a breakup or a divorce it can be excruciatingly painful because you’ve lost your primary relationship. You’ve lost the one person who was supposed to always been there, no matter what.
The Threads That Bind Us
I like to think of the relationships I have with my friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances as a social fabric. I imagine a thread connecting my heart to someone else’s. The thread connecting me to my child might be thicker than the one connecting me to a coworker, but all of these threads weave together into a social fabric.
Our ancestors were great at weaving strong social fabric because they had to be. The survival of the tribe depended on it. In contrast, our modern world has made it easy, and even sometimes necessary, to live more independent and socially isolated lives (think of the constant competition for grades, jobs, etc.). Imagine living within a strong social fabric the way that our ancestors did. Losing a partner might make a hole in that fabric, but the other relationships could still provide support. Sadly, in today’s world, what I see in my clients is a great unravelling. They’re left not knowing what to do or how to move forward.
Science! ..and Magic!
Human beings have a biochemical need to spend time around other people – it’s a fact that has been scientifically proven. This change happens even when we’re in a group environment surrounded by strangers, like a sporting event or a concert or at church. But it’s strongest when we spend time with loved ones, and it has an incredible impact on our health and well-being. So, what is this magic? You might have heard of it: it’s called Oxytocin. Oxytocin makes us feel happy, it acts like a defender against depression, it can even help fight disease.
(One of my favourite authors – Susan Pinker – has written a book called The Village Effect. I’ve referenced this book a few times in the Your Family Village podcast because it speaks directly to what I’m talking about. I encourage everyone to read it.)
Building Your Family Village
Most of us don’t live in large groups the way our ancestors did. And I’m willing to bet that most of us are not about to move into a commune or a co-housing project. We’re probably going to continue living in a Nuclear Family structure, whether it’s alone or with our children, and maybe some day move in with a new partner. So what do we do? How do we deal with the loneliness? First: don’t despair! You can create an empowering life made vibrant by a strong social fabric. All you have to do is build your own family village, one heart connection at a time.
I’m going to tell you a story of one of my clients. Let’s call her Lisa. Lisa married young and dedicated her life to being a wife and mother. A few years into her marriage she learned that her husband and her best friend were having an affair. The revelation sent her into a devastating depression. At the time, she had two young children, had never gone to college, and she was financially dependent on her husband. She decided to stay with him and work on their marriage. Over time and with lots of healing, she came to forgive them both. Years later, she came home from a spa getaway weekend with her daughter to find a note on the kitchen table. Her husband had been seeing the other woman again, and he had left her.
When Lisa first came to see me for her divorce, the tears just gushed out of her. She was so incredibly sad. She was in disbelief, and she was angry at herself for not going back to school when her children were young. Since her children had grown and moved out, her whole life revolved around her husband. With the loss of her primary relationship, so too went her identity. Her whole world had fallen apart.
The 5-Part Plan: Part One
I see Lisa from time to time, and I can’t believe how stratospherically happy she is. It took her a couple of years to fully rebuild her life, and it started with reforging deep relationships with her children, her parents, and her closest friends. She started by reconnecting with people that she already knew. And that’s the ticket. Start by reconnecting with people you already know. It is the single most important thing you can do to build your own tribe, and it’s something that I’ve seen my clients do time and again to great success.
Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to hear the story of how you rebuilt your life after a crushing heartbreak. Or, if you are just starting out on your healing journey, let me know what you found helpful and how the Your Family Village community can help.