Have you ever said, “I really need to get away.” Behind this not uncommon expression is the implied recognition that travel, despite its sometimes stressful moments, can be therapeutic. My experience in recovering from three divorces is that travel is therapeutic for recovery from divorce in two seemingly contradictory ways. It gets you away from the scene of the stress caused by divorce, and it provides a better environment for self analysis and discovery. Because you must pay attention to getting there, getting back and dealing with unfamiliar situations, you cannot spend the whole time thinking about your divorce and your ex-spouse. On the other hand, you have time for reflection and introspection. Travel seems to provide a helpful balance of each.
Of course, this would also apply to the breakup of any long term relationship and the loss of a loved one by death.
Less obviously, if you have reached a point in your life that causes you to question the direction you are going in, travel can be therapeutic. It can result in recognition of a new direction, acceptance of the direction in which you are going.
While actually moving (a whole different subject for another blog post) does not always have positive results, traveling, a temporary moving away, does in my experience. For one thing, if you have gone through or are going through a divorce, it puts distance between you and your ex-spouse. I think that is a positive thing. You are not constantly reminded of her by locations and scenes that you were in together. Especially soon after separation, everything you see reminds you of him, bringing back unpleasant memories that make you angry and pleasant memories that make you sad.
Similarly, in other emotionally traumatic situations, getting away from the locale where it took place can give you a better perspective for dealing with it.
I’m confident that part of the therapeutic effect of travel is simply the association we all have with traveling to a desired locale. It lifts the spirits. It feels good, like you are doing something good for yourself, and you are. That makes you feel more worthy, important to one recovering from divorce or other traumatic experience, who often feels unworthy, undeserving of anything but misery.
Armed with this new feeling of relative well being, you feel safe to engage in some introspection, self analysis and planning for the future that back home seemed so bleak that you avoided thinking about it. This is a good time to try to gain some peace of mind by figuring out what your role was in the breakdown of the relationship (because believe me, you had a role), trying to see the conflicts from your ex-spouse’s point of view and beginning to forgive him and yourself for the failure of the marriage. If you are considering attempting a reconciliation, this would be a good time to decide whether that would be the best thing for you. If you lost a loved one, travel to somewhere you had not been with her, it can give you a better perspective on life without her.
I think there is a more subtle cause of the therapeutic effects of travel. You have the opportunity to observe, perhaps talk to different people, maybe even people of a different culture, if you have the time and money to travel abroad or to another part of the country (make no mistake about it; the east coast, south, midwest and west coast of the United States are different cultures). Observation of others not involved in your local community or culture, who are different from you, tends to make you more accepting of people, in my opinion. If you live near Canada or Mexico, go there if you can. It is a step, perhaps a tiny step, on the way to unconditional acceptance of people and the way they are, faults, failures and all.
The road to unconditional acceptance of people as they are is the same road that will take you to forgiveness of your spouse, dousing the fire of anger and hatred that poisons one’s mind and soul. Unconditional acceptance of people, not just your ex-spouse, as they are, results in a happier, more well adjusted person, whether you have been through a divorce or not.
Oddly, although travel is often stressful–you may feel the last thing you need is more stress–it seems that stress coming from a source other than your ex-spouse, is actually helpful to recovery.
You say: that would be nice, but I have children to take care of and no money. I can’t travel. If this is the case, you can find a way. There must be somebody in this world who would be willing to take care of your children for a week–in some cases their other parent. Likewise, if you feel you cannot afford to travel, you must know somebody who has a home, an apartment, or timeshare somewhere who would be willing to let you stay for free. It doesn’t have to be far away–just somewhere different where you have not been with your ex-spouse. Be sure you explain that you need alone time. You cannot accomplish what you need to while socializing. The place doesn’t have to be exotic or fancy. You don’t have to stay at a Ritz Carlton; it can be a hostel. The longer the better, but it doesn’t have to be a long time. Any time can help. If it is possible, I recommend at least a week; if not, however much time is possible, given your circumstances.