Are you struggling to know who you are now that you are no longer married? Identity crises are common following the breakup of a marriage or any meaningful relationship. One of your key roles, a partner, has changed drastically or ended. Like all losses, you will experience a period of grief — even if the decision was a happy one that you made. 

Divorce is so much more than a legal process — it disrupts your sense of self, your daily life and can even change how others perceive you. Suddenly, you are no longer a wife, husband or life partner to the person you envisioned your future with. It can feel alienating and uncomfortable when you no longer have your “spouse” identity.

A 2015 study by ​​Anthony Papa and Nicole Lancaster concluded that those who tie their identities strongly to one specific relationship (their marriage, a job, someone they care about) will experience high levels of unresolved grief due to an identity crisis should that relationship end. The results showed that these types of individuals experienced only slightly less distress after a loss via divorce than those who had experienced a death of a loved one or a major job loss. That’s a heavy emotional burden — but have hope. 

Over the years, we’ve learned from various experts, like Anna Scott, how to shed former identities and nurture your core self. Here’s how.

1. Grieve your “spouse” identity

Like any loss, it’s healthy to appreciate all your spouse identity gave you but then let it go. Dwelling on what was holds you back. You still have unlimited possibilities and potential. You might find the love of your life and become someone’s life partner again. But to make room for them, you need to shed your former married self.

A study by Kenneth L. Dion, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, found that your name, sense of self and identity are closely related. That said, consider changing your name back to your maiden or former last name if that might help you adjust to your post-divorce life.

If a name change isn’t in your future, make sure all your accounts and other personal information reflect your new separated or single status. As much as you can ease into your non-married identity, the sooner you can move forward (and hopefully prevent awkward conversations about your prefix, etc.). 

2. Evaluate your other identities

Maybe you’re also a parent. You probably have a job title. You might be a sibling, friend, neighbor, foodie, traveler, blogger, advocate, or volunteer, too. But you are so much more than the identities attached to your core self — the unchanging being you have always been. 

Identities can come and go. From time to time (especially following a divorce when you’re figuring out what you want from relationships going forward) it’s wise to list out all your identities. Decide which ones are serving your best interests, which ones are challenging but necessary and which ones are no longer working for you.

3. Reconnect with your inner child or core self

No matter how many identities you assume and lose, your core self or inner child is constant. Think back to when you were a young child, happily playing make-believe or doing something simple where you were truly in the moment and perfectly content. How can you replicate or at least get close to that pure “you-ness” more in your daily life now? 

Maybe it’s starting up an old hobby you used to love. Or perhaps it’s taking 5 minutes to write down the things that you do just for you that bring you joy — and weaving them into your life. For some, it might be more major like moving to a city you’ve always felt more at home in or going back to school. Dream big. Even if you can’t act on it right now, it’s good to imagine limitless possibilities that tap into your deepest desires.

Credit: Leanne Dunn for Hello Divorce

4. Establish new goals for your future

The Institute for Family Studies looked into how one’s identity influences divorce decisions. Marriage counselors often see couples who are reluctant to end the marriage because of how that will affect their personal identity or public persona. The biggest factor for those resistant to divorce was that they perceived it as a failure or were worried others would perceive them this way. On the flip side, many participants in this study reported that marriage had changed their identity in a negative way, turning them from a happy, idealistic single person to a frustrated, disappointed married person.  

Now, it’s up to you. Who do you want to be? What kind of partner will you be happy with in the future? Don’t let others determine so much about your value, purpose and importance in the world. Only you can decide what you truly need. Setting goals for your new future can be hard at first when you’re still mourning your life with your spouse — but try. Even just one small goal to work toward is enough to give you motivation for your next chapter.

5. Nurture your personal growth

Life coach Anna Scott wrote a guest blog laying out three steps to expand and grow during challenging times. We addressed the first two steps already — discovery and claiming full responsibility. Finally, it’s time for expansion. 

​​“I wonder how life wants me to grow and expand?” Scott advises you to ask yourself. This stage of wonder nurtures your core self, allowing for personal growth. You need to force yourself into a new way of thinking. As we lose old identities we make room for new ones. 

So, what new identities will you try out next? The choice is yours. Instead of focusing on the loss, use your grieving to redirect yourself to all the new possibilities ahead of you.

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