Giving Up the Wifestyle in Divorce
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No longer a wife, and now a single woman, finding a new personal identity is a challenge women face after divorce. They must learn to shed their wife-style” and learn who they are without it, according to mental health experts.
Women can find power in the label of wife,” according to Susan Shapiro Barash, a gender expert who teaches in special programs at Sarah Lawrence College. Being a wife is truly an imprimatur in our society,” Barash said, something men react to, and women identify with.”
Barash, who is the author of several books, including “Women of Divorce: Mothers, Daughters, Stepmothers “ The New Triangle”, “Second Wives: The Pitfalls and Rewards of Marrying Widowers and Divorced Men,” and “The New Wife: The Evolving Role of the American Wife,” said that the identity change is more of a women’s issue. She said men do have adjustments to make, but they don’t have as much difficulty making them as women do.
It’s not to say that they don’t suffer or feel the sense of loss, they just deal with is very differently,” Barash said. Women have a much longer internalized time-fame in which they are in pain, and the adjustment is slower.”
Barash said that until recently, a good number of women felt they were missing out if they weren’t married. Being a wife, almost as little as 40 years ago, was almost a position of authority in a patriarchal culture,” Barash said.
But times have changed, she said. No longer does a woman need to feel stigmatized or marginalized because she has lost the wife label and has become single. The gender roles that were traditionally assigned to men and women”, with men as bread-winners and women as support systems “ are no longer as relevant, Barash said. Women have their own earning power, and they are taking more control of their lives because of that, she said.
It’s a very complex new identity. But the good news is that our culture is much more open to divorce. Much more accustomed to it, for each year that passes,” Barash said.That is not to say that the transition from wife to a single woman is an easy one, Barash said. For so long you have been part of a couple… and being single is a different life,” Barash said. Waking up divorced, even if you want this divorce, it is a huge adjustment, and a difficult road to hoe.”
Some difficulties will arise as others respond to the change, too, Brash said. She said that, surprisingly, some women will still be dropped from their social networks because they are no longer married. She said that brings the opportunity to evaluate friendships and decide which are true. But the key to the adjustment from wife to a single woman comes from being ready for the journey, she said. The best way is to have full recognition of the amount of psychic and emotional energy you need to make the adjustment,” Barash said.
Society values marriage and married women, said BJ Gallagher, the author of “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women.” Therefore, it is difficult for women to release the moniker of wife and the status that comes with it, she said. The identity of a wife is one who is fulfilling a biological destiny, she said.
In our culture, and most others, men are valued for what they do for a living, while women are valued for who they are married to,” said Gallagher, who is also the author of “Yes Lives in the Land of No,”
www.yeslivesinthelandofno.com.The wife’s identity becomes entangled with her husband’s career, she said. And when the marriage ends, many women lose that sense of identity, along with their standard of living.
Friends may also disappear, Gallagher said, because they are uncomfortable being around a single unattached female. They may also fear that they will experience the same fate, and they don’t want to be near the divorced couple. So a newly divorced woman faces a lot of losses — income, status, friends, and a sense of security and belonging. It’s a tough transition for almost all women,” Gallagher said.
The only way to process the identity change from wife to a single woman is to own up to everything that led to the divorce, said Lauren Zander, a relationship expert, life coach and host of a Lifetime TV pilot “Love em or leave em.” The divorce didn’t happen quickly, she said, but it grew from damage to the marriage. That’s one of the only ways she can get back her power and not make the same mistakes. She has to own everything,” Zander said.
Zander is also the founder of The HandelGroup, www.handelgroup.com, and a visiting scholar who teaches a relationships course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.This can be a difficult process for a woman because women covet the identity of being a wife, she said. The identity of not being single is really very appealing to a woman, even if the marriage sucks,” Zander said.
She often tests the strength of her clients’ marriages by asking them two things about their anniversary celebrations and their sex lives. She asks clients what they are celebrating on their anniversaries “ she asks them to evaluate whether they are celebrating being in love and together with their spouses, or if they are celebrating not being alone. She questions the health of the clients’ sex lives to understand whether they are taking care of each other physically.
An active sex life often falls by the wayside in a marriage that is failing. She said women long to remain part of a marriage, and remain a wife, that they overlook it. What I think, being off the market, especially taking care of a household or children and taking care of your work, that identity is so fulfilling for a woman, or so purposeful, that she can stay very numb to the fact that she is not even in love with a guy, and not even sleeping with him,” Zander said.
Asking how often a couple has sex is like taking the temperature of the relationship, Zander said. And she faults wives who stay in sexless, passionless marriages just for sake of being a wife, marriage that is too much mother, not enough temptress,” Zander said. I think women are criminals because they are not so in love with their husbands as they are safe in their life,” she said.
So when divorce breaks up their marriages, women have to explore who they are beyond the wife-style, and they have to notice what they were ignoring, Zander said. For example, if they let their bodies and health go, they will need to find their way back to taking care of themselves. If they ignored their sex lives, they need to return to their sensual sides, Zander said.
So now the woman is single, and she’s back to square one, called seduction. And whatever she didn’t get the first round, now she even knows more about what she wants in the second round,” Zander said.
She will get nowhere in the second round, Zander said, until she acknowledges her place in the end of the marriage. The next thing for getting a woman getting over being scorned by a divorce is to help her figure out what she sourced herself, too,” Zander said.
For example, Zander said, if the husband cheated, then a wife must ask why it happened, and how she played a part. If the woman’s family has a history of strained or failed relationships, then she must explore what that family dynamic means and how she can change it. Women need to own their part in what happened in that divorce 100, even so much not to blame them. That’s the only way to get out of that prison. I even have some of them go and apologize and clean it all up,” Zander said. Then I have them go lose the weight and get all hot and sexy. If you feel good about yourself, you can attract anyone.”
TIPS FOR SHEDDING WIFESTYLE, EMBRACING SINGLEHOOD
Making the transition from wife to a single woman can be a difficult path. Relationship experts recommend looking at the process as a growth experience and embrace the changes coming ahead.Some ways to make the process more comfortable are:
1. Be prepared for the difficulty.
The road to a new identity once a marriage ends can take time, and mental and emotional energy, according to Susan Shapiro Barash, a gender expert and author of “The New Wife: The Evolving Role of the American Wife.”
2. Evaluate your friends.
Newly divorced or separated women should be ready for their friendships to shift.Some friend will provide support and solace, while others will socially drop the woman whose relationship has ended.Focusing on making new single friends or putting energy into maintaining the positive relationships with married friends.
3. Find a satisfying job.
Finding a job that provides personal fulfillment is one of the best ways to make the transition to a single life, said B.J. Gallagher, author of “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women.” Not only will she get an income boost, but she will make new friends and develop her own solid identity aside from her husband. She will find more structure to her days, and it will get her out of the house, Gallagher said.
4. Consider dating.
When they are comfortable, newly divorced women should consider joining the dating scene, Gallagher said. Attention from other men might shore up waning self-esteem.Some women may need more time to heal from the failed relationship and find that dating is too much, too soon, But there’s something to be said for getting right back on a horse again after you’ve been thrown,”Gallagher said. Find a new community for support:Lauren Zander, founder of The HandelGroup, www.handelgroup.com, and who teaches a relationships course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that the new identity of a single woman may mean a new group of friends.They might be mostly single friends, Zander said, or people with whom to share new activities.But it is essential that they are fun to be around.
5. Get out.
Get out into the world, Zander said. Volunteer, try new hobbies, take classes.Get out of the house and start socializing.
Make the changes you want to see in yourself, Zander said. Lose weight, exercise more, make healthy life choices, repair emotional issues.Becoming happy, confident and taking care of yourself is the key to building a new life, Zander said.