Life After Divorce
Divorce is a horrible process, and brings a few sayings to mind: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Not only is divorce expensive, emotionally damaging, and often embarrassing; but it is also one of the few times in life where everything is out of control and up in the air. You don’t know how much time you will have with your kids, you don’t know what your income is going to be, you might not know where you will be living, or what your expenses will be.
You might be confronted with the prospect of suddenly having to take on parenting responsibilities or a new job. And you are dealing with all of this chaos at the same time that you are dealing with the emotional processing of the death of a marriage.
Frequently, one person has been processing the end of the marriage for several years before finally filing for divorce, while the other person is somewhat blindsided and was not ready to get divorced. The person who has been processing it over several years now can’t get it done fast enough, and the blindsided person is struggling with being forced to process the death of the marriage while simultaneously being expected to make major financial and parenting decisions that will affect the rest of their life.
With the emotional stress of the divorce, you may find yourself misplacing your keys or your cell phone all the time. You may find that every single topic of discussion leads you back to your divorce and that you can’t stop talking about or thinking about it. You may find that you are doing everything to hold yourself together only to have emotional breakdowns at the worst possible times. You may feel completely insane and out of control. Guess what? That’s normal! Congratulations, you are a human being, as flawed as the rest of us. It is normal and healthy to be distraught and sad over the death of a marriage.
The negative feelings are a direct reflection of how much the marriage meant to you; and there is honor in that. Just don’t let it pull you under.
Also, just because the other person doesn’t seem to be hurting does not mean that the marriage meant nothing to them. They just likely processed the death of the marriage in a more subtle way over several years, and have come out on the other side of it… as you will. Typically, by the time you reach a year after your divorce, you will find you feel pretty good, that you have settled into your new life, and that you aren’t thinking about your divorce all the time. So, how do you get to the light at the end of this dark tunnel?
Here’s my advice...
1. Give Yourself a Break. Don’t beat yourself up for being sad or for feeling out of control. Schedule times (like your drive home from work, or a bath, etc.) to put on some music and to let it all out, screaming or crying or whatever you need to do. Schedule a specific time, like 15 minutes a day, when you are alone and out of the hearing of any children you may have, so you can have your mini break-down. Plan a pattern for it, like what songs you will listen to, how you will wind yourself down at the end, what environment you will be in when you do it. Keep to the pattern, and you will train yourself to be able to keep it together the rest of the time. If you don’t give yourself chances to break down and let it out, then it builds up, and tends to come out at the worst possible time such as in front of your children or during a presentation at work.
2. Plan For the Future. In every relationship, good or bad, there are compromises that people make. Maybe you couldn’t go on a vacation to a beach because your spouse hated beaches. Maybe you couldn’t have a dog because your spouse was allergic. Maybe you couldn’t visit family because your spouse didn’t get along with your family. Think about what those compromises were, and then make a plan or two about how you are going to celebrate once the divorce is over by doing one of those major things that you compromised on. Give yourself something to look forward to. And please, wait until the divorce is done, or you can run into arguments over inappropriate spending of money, or the new dog as “marital property” with post-divorce ownership to be determined.
3. Get a Support Group. Whether this is family, friends, a divorce support group, a counselor, or all of the above: get several different sets of people you can talk to about what you are going through, who are going to be patient with you and who are going to be supportive. Don’t rely on just one person, because you can overload that person. Spread it out strategically. Also, don’t use everyone you know. Select three to five people (I would count a support group as “one” of the three to five), and use them as your shoulders to cry on and your sounding board. Support groups and counselors are always good because they are removed from your everyday life, and are there for you for the purpose of supporting you through divorce.
4. During your divorce, think about what kind of person you want to be, and try to make decisions based upon that. Don’t aim to be vindictive and squabbling. Aim to be diplomatic, wise, creative, and problem solving. Try to make it so that when you look back at the choices you made, you can (mostly) be proud of how you did it. Divorce tends to bring out the best and worst in people. Try to aim for your best.
5. Take each day one at a time. Set small attainable goals and look for little things you can control or accomplish. You need to celebrate small accomplishments, since there are so many big things out of your control during the divorce process.
6. Increase your social network: challenge yourself to do new things. Take a cooking class or go on a singles water rafting trip. Do things you might never have done before. Go see a play or a concert. I’m not advising that you go spend a lot of money on new activities, but try to build in one new adventure a month. This will give you an escape from your every-day world, and new adventures to think about and talk about.
Hang in there. Lots of people go through this awful process and come out on the other side. You will too. Change is frightening, but look for the positives and make it a life change for the better. You have years of your life left. With the understanding that you won’t be sharing those years with your former spouse, what do you want those years to look like?