Whether your happily ever after was rudely interrupted or you made the decision that it wasn't the version you wanted, healing a broken heart isn't straightforward. Enter heartbreak hotel.
One of the most enduring psychological challenges many of us face is undoubtedly the fallout from a relationship that didn’t work out. Picking up the pieces after a marriage ends can take its toll. And in a world where it seems like you are surrounded by the happiest of happy couples, sometimes misery needs company – and a pick me up. That’s why retreats that specialise in helping the heartbroken navigate their new reality are on the rise.
Despite her own painful path from marriage through separation and then divorce, and from bankruptcy to thriving in life, Mel Murphy now enjoys a respectful friendship with her ex-husband and a shared co-parenting approach with their happy children. But her experience trying to navigate the process prompted her to become Ireland’s only professionally certified Divorce Coach and Separation Mentor.
Shed the shame
“Those first contacting me are feeling understandably overwhelmed, and unsure of the next steps to take as they go through the grief process of losing their dream of Happily Ever After.”
Mel says that the legal journey and grief over the loss of their relationship often leaves people emotionally drained. She says many of the men and women she works with are looking for something that can help them unwind while bonding with those going through similar situations.
“As divorce becomes less of a dirty word and more common in Ireland, more people are willing to ‘shed the shame’ and seek support communities, like- minded people who can empathise with their experiences and share tips. They are willing to step out and talk about it, be more authentic and vulnerable. We find even people who divorced years ago, are finding these Retreats a place to relieve their emotions and finally open up,” Mel explains.
Once the court process is over and the boxing gloves come off, people often feel a wave of emotion and exhaustion. They had been holding themselves together for so long in ‘fight or flight’ mode, and the emotions as they finally let go can be overwhelming, a grief for the loss of the dream of ‘happily ever after’, a real mix of emotions. Many experience post traumatic stress disorder. Giving them a chance to get away and recover can be priceless.”
Now Mel, along with fellow coach and yoga instructor Barbara Byrne, run bespoke divorce retreats. The next of which is running in Kerry this November.
“I kicked off the idea of Divorce Retreats in Ireland at the first ever Divorce in Ireland Summit I put on back in February with nine speakers after we realised many feel the need to find a safe space to examine the closure they need to continue with the next stage of their life after divorce.”
But can a weekend away really mend a broken heart? And how does it work anyway?
“During the retreat I take our men and women through a step by step process to help them plan out and rebuild their lives now that they are finally ‘free’. ” Mel tells us. “We look at where they want to go from here, how to recover financially, and how to navigate child access and build new routines. We look about To Date or Not to Date, and many other topics based on what they vote to discuss about that weekend. There is also plenty of one on one time to discuss more private matters they want to get off their shoulders.”
But often, as Mel explains, the retreat is about so much more than advice. “Between walks in nature, yoga, a beautiful location, support, and good community time people build lifelong friendships. It’s also a chance for people to connect and to stay in touch as they each go through different stages of the aftermath of a divorce”.
Emily experienced a similar retreat in Wales six months ago.
“It was like we were all ready to go bravely into this new single life but didn’t know how. Then there were some others that were further along the road who could tell us what had worked and not worked for them. It was really eye-opening. Plus, I didn’t feel like the only person in the world who got divorced anymore”.
When everyone around you seems to be in loving relationships, it can be lonely to feel like you are the odd one out. Emily says that she stayed in touch with her group. “We formed a WhatsApp group and some of us even go on single holidays together. The retreat helped me find a new kind of community”
Barbara Byrne, who runs the Irish retreats alongside Mel Murphy, found solace herself in spending time in nature. “It’s the gift of time just for you. We wanted to encourage and support men and women who have experienced the stress, pain and loss experienced before, during and after relationship breakdown, separation or divorce.
We have both been through the experience and understand the traumatic impact, which can leave you feeling lost, lonely and in a very different position to your friends and family. On the outside looking in and unsure of how to move forward in your life and how to live this life you are possibly unsure of.”
Mel believes that jumping back into dating after divorce isn’t easy. She says the important thing is to rebuild confidence again, before considering meeting Mr or Miss Right.
“Whether you are the one instigating the separation or not, you will need to cope with a lot of change- change in family dynamics, change in financial situation, change in relationships with family and friends, even a change in relationship with your children.
Any one change in these is difficult enough, for them to be happening at the same time is often overwhelming. The whole family unit will go through the Grief Cycle which comes from the grief of losing the Forever After Dream/ Perfect Family Dream- Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Each spouse and child will be at different stages of the grief cycle which can aggravate communication and it will be important to be very patient with each other.
Make a list of your ‘favourite things’ that keep you happy- from walk’n’talks in nature with friends, to tag rugby, bubble baths to fishing, baking bread to your favourite takeout, whatever helps you unwind and stay calm, and plan to fit thee into your weekly schedule to stay positive during this turbulent time.
Finally, whether you find a way to salvage your relationship, or choose to separate, taking time to understand your legal options, get your finances in order, work on your relationship with your partner and your children, and generally taking those first tentative steps to put your life in order will help make the process easier whichever direction you choose. Just know there is light at the end of the tunnel, ‘this too shall pass’, and life will go on for all of you in your ‘new normal’.”
This article was originally published in September 2022