Recovering from a divorce or breakup is never easy. Try these 12 tips to shift your mindset from starting over to rocking on.
When a marriage finally ends and both husband and wife have signed divorce papers on the dotted line, something counter-intuitive happens.
There is feeling of soaring release, followed by a crash back down to Earth concluding in a hollow echoing sound of “Now what? I am ecstatic to be divorced — why do I feel so damn depressed?”
Starting from scratch in our 30s, 40s or 50s is not what any of us signed up for when we rented the beautiful catering hall and sent out wedding invitations. We mourned the demise of our relationship with our spouse as it was happening — during couples counseling sessions, while crying alone in bed at night when he or she moved into a separate bedroom, and through so many other difficult — if not brutal — times.
Then the divorce starts — and it takes more concentrated adrenaline, focus, and brain-power than most of us have ever before used in our lives. It isn’t until that process ends that anyone can afford to stand back and look at the wreckage of the dream we thought we were walking down the aisle toward.
Next to the word “surreal” in the dictionary, there could easily be a picture of a newly divorced mind’s inner workings.
This shock and awe doesn’t have to last forever. Here are 12 effective ways to shift your mind-set past the post-divorce blues.
1. Speak your truth.
In most unhealthy marriages, at some point one or both of you shut down. You stopped communicating what you really felt — about everything. Now is the time to start stretching those trust muscles. Trust yourself to know what you believe, feel what you feel, and express yourself openly with kindness.
2. Stop acting so surprised.
- When your ex sends you a nasty message about your parenting, is it really a surprise?
- When you realize that 25-year-old woman was just looking for a few free drinks for herself and friends, is it really surprise?
- When the guy who said he will never cheat on anyone again cheats on you, is it really a surprise?
You’ve been living in the real world for a while now. Stop feigning surprise and make decisions based on what you can most likely expect.
3. Figure out who you are — for now.
The idea that you should take time for yourself before you get involved with anyone else is a false premise (in my mostly-humble opinion).
Our personalities, interests, careers, needs, and wants stay in constant flux throughout our lifetime. Getting in touch with yourself is not a one shot deal, but rather a lifetime practice that you will need in times when you are single, and times when you are coupled. Look inward, but don’t keep your nose in there too long or you might get stuck.
4. If the idea excites you, try it!
A divorce is one of the single most frightening experiences anyone can endure, and you endured it! (If yours isn’t final, I promise that at some point it will actually be over, impossible as that may seem.) What could you possibly be afraid of now? There is a good chance that your marriage didn’t succeed because you entered it seeking to make the “right” choices, rather than the choices that spoke to the core of your soul.
So stop it. Stop looking for the safe, the secure and the correct life path and take on those challenges and opportunities that make you hum with satisfaction and pride.
5) Let it go.
There things about my former marriage that I could still complain about. I can pretty much guarantee that won’t change anything that’s happened — or improve my life in any way at all.
When I think of closure, I imagine my computer’s home screen with a zillion tabs open, making it difficult to find and access the specific tab I need most immediately. Many of these tabs are open only because I might forget them if I let them drop. When I think about it, I realize that if I never find that closed tab again, I didn’t need it in the first place. Start closing the tabs in your mind that relate to resentments from your marriage. If you really need them, you can access them later. Most likely, you’ll feel more streamlined and effective.
6) Own your mistakes. And stop owning the mistakes others attempt to cast off on you.
I’m sure you’ve heard that women apologize more often necessary. In working with divorcing individuals, I find the same is true of men.
Most people who have been on the receiving end of abuse or manipulation have apologized not only for their own less than ideal moments, but for those of their partner for the sake of keeping — or regaining — the peace. Owning responsibility for your errors is a crucial part of being a healthy person. Keep that up! But you don’t need to apologize for something that you did not do, say, cause, think, express, or manifest in any other way.
7) Release the idea of staying friends with those who have grown distant.
Unfortunately, this urban legend of divorce holds true: once their divorce is final, many people find themselves quickly and silently abandoned by friends they thought would stick by them until the end. I have yet to understand why, but humans are sometimes nasty animals and your time is far better spent seeking out people who get you than trying to understand those who dropped you when you needed them most.
Allow yourself to mourn the loss, which is often much more painful than the loss of the marriage itself, and accept that you have no power to change anyone else’s lack of empathy, humanity or reliability.
8) Find a virtual community.
It would be ideal if we could snap our fingers and find a local group of brand new friends with plenty of free time to hang out, bond, and play as we set out on the Yellow Brick Road of life as a divorced single. Unfortunately, real life makes it hard to find a new, solid group of local friends once your kids are past elementary school age without an extremely concerted effort.
In the more immediate present, make the most of social media and Internet-based opportunities to reconnect with old friends, meet and chat with others in the same life stage, and share discussions based around your interests. You will not only meet some amazing people you would otherwise never have encountered, you will likely think of new local connections as well.
9) Figure out what makes you laugh and do that.
For me, it is Louis CK, ridiculous YouTube videos, silly memes and — strange as it seems even to me — some of my kids’ favorite TV shows. You know what hits your personal funny bone. Watch, read or do it A LOT.
10) Cut the crap about being SO old.
If I hear one more person in their 40s or 50s tell me “I’m just soooo old now,” I may just flip my junk. We are not old people! Keep telling yourself that, and you will become so. Keep telling others you are, and they will believe so. I would prefer to stay young and be seen that way. Trite as it sounds, this one actually is a state of mind.
11) Date! Have sex! Get out there!
You may not ever want to get married again. You may not feel you can trust yourself, let alone anyone else, but so what? What’s the worst that could happen to you next? Another divorce? OK.
We end an unhealthy marriage so that we could lead a more healthy and satisfying life. We are social beings. Even introverts do best with at least some human contact — both physical and emotional — with others. I wish it were possible to find love and companionship without risking getting hurt, but I haven’t figured out how to make that so.
Men can hurt you. Women can hurt you. Children can hurt you. Lovers, friends, business associates, strangers — we are all walking potential land mines. Bummer, I know, but oh well. Staying alone in your shell is never going to change any of that or make it better, but finding some good friends — and maybe even a life partner — can sure make it all feel a lot more worthwhile.
12) Allow yourself your feelings. Just not 24/7/365.
A client recently told me her therapist reminds her frequently to “Stop being a Debbie Downer and be a Penny Positive instead!” I may appear cynical, but I almost tossed my non-fat latte.
Whether you were the one to file for divorce or the one who didn’t want it, no one gets through even the most amicable divorce unscathed emotionally. If you stuff down your despair all the time and for everyone, including yourself, you will leave your emotions with nowhere to go other than headed toward Complete Melt-Down Road.
Just don’t let yourself feel it all the time or you spiral down farther than you ever could have imagined it possible to go. When you find yourself over-thinking, over-napping, or over-Netflixing, accept your real need to rest your emotional energy, and give yourself reasonable parameters for how long you will let yourself veg out before you make yourself get up and do at least one productive activity.