Divorce is hard. It’s not a ‘ripping off the band-aid’ kind of hard, but more like a serious break to your ankle. There’s the initial very painful period, followed by a long time being in a cast and then there’s the rehab to gain back good movement and what’s now the new normal for being on your feet.
A divorce is so painful because it’s not just about the loss of relationship, but also a shared future. At one time you were filled with the excitement and anticipation of spending the rest of your life with your ex. What does the future look like now? Very different to how you’d imagined. We feel grief, disappointment and anxiety. There are lots of questions we suddenly have: Will I find someone else? Will I be able to parent well by myself? Will I be all alone? Everything can feel like it’s been thrown into chaos and the unknowns can be the hardest to deal with.
Getting over a divorce is not always a straight-forward path. It can be really difficult. But what you need to know and keep reminding yourself is that you can move on. You will move on, even though sometimes it’s only when we stare behind us that we can see that.
For Jessica Khan, the end of her marriage brought a lot of firsts. She had never lived alone, cooked for just herself or been to a bar alone. She says about her experience, “This was by far the hardest divorce piece for me to learn — aloneness. I have never loved being alone and never lived alone. All of this was so new. The first time my kids were with their dad for an entire weekend, I thought I might jump out of my skin. Nothing felt right. The first time I sat a bar by myself, I felt like everyone was staring — like there was a scarlet ‘D’ on my chest. It took a long time, but I have finally found a way to embrace being alone. It will never be my preference, but the dread is gone.”
Another way that Jessica recommends others might cope better is through ‘community’. For her it was starting a private divorce group on Facebook. “The intent was to surround myself with other women in my community who had been there and done that. I felt so isolated and alone. So few of my close friends were divorced. . . Some I have formed deep friendships with, and others I have yet to meet. One thing has remained consistent: What happens in the group stays in the group, no feeling is too much and as hard as it is, we never judge someone else’s story. We support, we suggest, we provide a virtual therapy session and we get it” says Jessica.
While people vary in how they cope after divorce – we are all individuals who come from different backgrounds and experiences – there are some key ways that are generally beneficial for everyone who has separated and going through a divorce.
Grieve – let yourself mourn. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. It’s also paramount to the healing process. Don’t shield yourself from feeling your grief. The pain of loss can be scary and intense, but you won’t be stuck in a dark place forever – no matter how strong your grief. It is the pain of your grief that will help you to eventually move on.
Recognise you anger but don’t let it become you. Although it’s natural to feel angry at your ex for rejecting you, if you let it consume your life it will infect all of your relationships. Uncontrolled anger is destructive and damaging, especially if children are involved. Anger is normal, but don’t it control you and prevent you from moving on to something better.
Avoid conflict. Arguments and power struggles with your ex are not going to be productive. It’s much better to end the conversation or phone call if it’s turning into a fight.
Therapy can be therapeutic. . . If you find that you’re withdrawing from day-to-day life and your depression isn’t lifting, it’s probably time to seek the help of a professional. Especially if you’re children are starting to feel the effects of your continued sadness, therapy is going to help them as well as you.
Get a makeover. I’m not sure a haircut is as good as a holiday – maybe you could eventually do both – but with all of the changes that feel out of your control, why not make a change that you can? It might be as big as changing cities, or it could be as simple as taking up a new sport. After 10 years of marriage, Carol Schaffer was shaken by her dissolved marriage, but for a year after her divorce she regularly hiked. Hiking was not an old hobby revived, but a new one created just because she said ‘yes’ when a group of friends invited her along one day. She says, “At first I could barely keep up. Eventually I could go for hours straight, traveling many miles, climbing, walking and navigating up and around big and small rocks. I night-hiked. I angry-hiked. I sad-hiked. Mostly I was just silent and focused on each step ahead. I gained toned legs and great cardio stamina walking those hills. What I left behind was my sense of failure and lack of confidence.”
Acceptance. It really is over. When you are able to finally accept that your marriage is over, you’re ready to move on. Although you may still feel all of those feelings you felt at the beginning of your separation, they are less intense and frequent. On your own strength you are beginning to forge a new path for the future.
Take care of yourself. Sounds like commonsense but is not always obvious in the chaos post-divorce. Get plenty of rest, minimise other sources of stress in your life, don’t resort to drugs, gambling or alcohol and reduce your workload if possible. Let yourself breathe.
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