Divorce is a stressful, major life event that can flip your life upside down.
Not only do you have to contend with the legal and financial aspects of the divorce process itself, but you also have to come to grips with the reality that your marriage is ending and "life as you know it" is changing in every possible way.
It's normal to feel out of control while going through a divorce or separation. But there are some things you can do when dealing with the emotional turmoil of divorce and self-care is critical to your mental health.
The death of a loved one. A divorce. Or the significant loss of personal property.
At one time or another, we will all be faced with a tragedy.
So given tragedy is inevitable, do you think it's possible to suffer a shattering loss or struggle with a major life crisis and bounce back with resilience?
Or do you think once a major tragedy befalls you, you're doomed to live a life of misery and despair?
Before I answer that question, let me share with you the stories of Ellen and Cheryl...
One Way of How to Handle a Divorce: Ellen's Story
Ellen and Cheryl both went through difficult divorces. The kind of loss that most people would qualify as major life trauma.
After she divorced, Ellen fell into a deep depression. She barely left the house, had no friends and never dated again.
Ellen refused to acknowledge the emotional pain she was in and was always quick to blame someone else for her troubles.
She also refused to seek help.
At first, Ellen got a lot of attention. "Poor Ellen," people would say. "She and Dan seemed like such a happy couple!"
But after a while, the sympathy stopped. And people started to avoid her.
After 20 years of listening to the same story, they were tired of hearing about her divorce. So they moved on.
But Ellen didn't. She never recovered from her divorce and is stuck in her same depressed state to this day.
An Entirely Different Way of Coping with a Divorce: Cheryl's Story
Like Ellen, Cheryl was also devastated by her divorce.
In the months following it, she spent most of her time in bed, curled up under the blankets reading self-help books on how to get over a divorce.
And in those books Cheryl found support and encouragement. She learned she wasn't alone. And that it was possible to recover from such a devastating tragedy.
With the support of family and friends, Cheryl sought the help of a therapist. And she worked hard to eliminate negative self-talk, gave herself time to heal, focused on her own personal development and refused to let her divorce define her.
A few years later, Cheryl entered a new relationship - with Joe.
She is now happily remarried, has great relationships with her friends and family and enjoys what she does for a living.
Cheryl has successfully completed the healing process and has moved forward after divorce.
Based on the stories above, I hope it's become clear that it is possible to suffer a shattering loss or experience a major life crisis like divorce and still bounce back with resilience.
One good way is by practicing self-care both during and after divorce!
Let's hear what our panel of experts have to say about this subject...
Question: What are some self-care strategies for how to cope with divorce?
Divorce Mediator / Director of Mediation & Negotiation Services, MWI
When on a plane, you often hear the following, "In case of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks above your seat will deploy. Please make sure to secure your mask before assisting your child or other passengers."
I understand this to mean help yourself first so that you can help others.
The same applies to divorce.
You need to take care of yourself before you can engage in effective parenting and take care of your children.
So, how can you take care of yourself during divorce and afterwards?
Perhaps you already have an answer. Perhaps not. Here are a few suggestions:
Find someone to talk to.
This may be a close friend, family member, co-worker, or mental health professional, but not a child. You want someone who will listen, not stir the pot or say things to make the situation more confrontational.
Make time for yourself.
Maybe this is a long uninterrupted shower, or a run, walk or hike. Perhaps it’s trying something new like kayaking or visiting a national park. Or reading a book or catching up on a television program. The choices are endless.
Just smile again and read this quote that I share with my divorce mediation clients:
Divorce is the starting point for a brand new life. Don’t lose the chance to redesign it the way you want. - Rossana Condoleo
When in the throes of a divorce or separation, the big question is often, "How am I going to get through this?" Three words come to mind: Time. Attitude. And Support.
Oh, that dreaded four letter word – TIME.
Divorce is a process and it’s going to take time.
I saw a quote on Pinterest that said, "Progress: you might not be where you want to be but you’re not where you used to be."
Give yourself time to grieve and grow. Don’t rush the process.
Also, having the right attitude is important.
I remember when I was going through my own divorce reading this quote by motivational speaker Brian Tracy – "Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation."
Starting to appreciate what I had and not thinking about what I lost made all the difference for me.
Finally, a good support network will work wonders.
Family and friends will want to be there for you and you will lean on them but after a while that may start to put a strain on those relationships.
There are many divorce support groups available that can help you cope.
They offer an opportunity to make new friends and socialize with people who understand what you’re going through. A word of advice about support groups: they each have their own dynamic so if you don’t fit in the first group you find, look for another one.
Nobody says getting divorced is easy, but if you give yourself the time, have the right attitude and get good support, the transition can be much smoother than you think.
Self-care is really important especially during any transition in our lives.
And even more so when there’s an end of a relationship because attachment bonds are so powerful and when they get pulled apart, they can be a really important time for increasing self-care.
So think about self-care strategies on four levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
Physically - what are you doing to take care of yourself and making sure you are nourished and there may be a need for either getting either bodywork done or eating well, exercising, etc.
And emotionally - having people to talk to is so important.
I think surrounding oneself with people who love you is vital. Having a good three or four people that you know you could call at any point and they are willing to talk, even if it’s just the same material over and over.
It’s good to have a couple of people who you know you can count on.
And then mentally - getting engaged back in life and really just tracking how much time you spend thinking about the process of divorcing which really consumes somebody. So kind of taking a little break.
It’s okay to still enjoy life, even if you are grieving or mourning the loss of a relationship.
Or even if you are angry about it ending, that you also have some time to focus on other things in life.
Danielle Adinolfi, MFT
Marriage & Family Therapist
Losing a marriage can feel eerily similar to losing a loved one. The life you had is no longer, and things will have to drastically change to accommodate the loss.
Allow yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship by following a few suggestions:
1. Build your support network:
Express your feelings around your divorce to your friends and family. The more people you have helping you, the more supported you will feel.
2. Take care of your health:
Think about eating healthily, sleeping, talking to a therapist, spending time outdoors, and not using substances to numb your emotions.
3. Take time for yourself:
Don't rush into another relationship. Time is an excellent healing source, so take however much time you need.
Don't force yourself to move on too quickly, no matter what advice anyone gives you.
Farrah Walker, MS, LMFT
Marriage & Family Therapist
Divorce is difficult regardless of who initiates the process.
The process of recovering from divorce is different for everyone, but often the things necessary for a healthy recovery process are the same for all parties.
Below are some helpful tips for how to get through a divorce:
1. Access and utilize your support system.
One of the most common mistakes is to isolate because some may feel alone, are afraid of being judged or may even feel some embarrassment or shame.
Spending time with people who are loving and supportive is important when going through a painful life event.
2. Practice good self-care.
Self-care has to be a lifestyle - not a choice.
The stress of divorce may often lead to unhealthy coping strategies such as excessive eating, drinking, substance use, shopping or gambling. Exercise may serve as a healthy way to manage the stress of divorce. Journaling, eating well and practicing mindfulness are great ways to find balance during what can be a time of extreme distress.
Engaging in healthy activities can decrease the negative side effects of stress and lead to a healthier healing process.
3. Therapy helps.
Divorce counseling is a great way to process the complex emotions associated with divorce.
Therapists are trained to be empathetic and offer invaluable insight throughout the process. In addition, talking with an unbiased third party could be beneficial to the process.
When selecting a therapist, be sure to find a person you feel is a good fit. Having a counselor you feel comfortable with is essential in ensuring the therapy is effective.
Going through a divorce is one of the most challenging life transitions there is. Regardless of who initiated the divorce both people will be on a roller coaster of strong emotions for a while.
The end of a marriage is like a death and it needs to be mourned.
Making self-care a priority during your divorce will make this transition easier.
Ask for support when coping with a divorce.
This process can feel very lonely and shameful. It can feel tempting to shut everyone out. Don’t! Let your loved ones provide support. Make time for friends and family.
Ask for help.
If you have children, becoming a single parent is one of the most stressful parts of life post-divorce. Needing help doesn’t mean that you made the wrong choice or are failing as a divorced parent. Create a list of “go to” people that can help with the children when needed.
Take time to care for yourself if you're struggling with divorce.
We all know the recommended things we should do to feel better. Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, take time to relax. We have all heard them because they work. You don’t have to do everything at once, just start by implementing small daily habits.
Take the time to do things you enjoy. Don’t know what that is? Start experimenting. Try new things and repeat the ones you had fun doing.
Deal with your emotions when coping through divorce.
The grief/anger/hurt/betrayal you feel is real. Give yourself time to process these feelings.
Take the time to analyze yourself.
It’s easy to blame your partner for the demise of your marriage, however, as the saying goes, "it takes two to tango." It’s important to understand what role you played in your marriage not working out. This will help you not make the same mistakes twice. A professional therapist is a great resource to do this with.
First, no one ever walks into a marriage wanting divorce, so realize your situation is very common. Being hurt, feeling shame and/or guilt, being afraid and having anxiety is also very normal.
Taking care of yourself in three areas (Head, Heart and Spirit) can help you turn coping into contentment.
All strategies mentioned below are scientifically proven to increase happiness:
Head: Taking care of your mind leads to emotional stability with many benefits.
To improve your state of mind, get outside of your own head - expel the negative thoughts by creating friendships or writing.
Heart: This is about loving you and taking care of you.
Do this by 1) creating limits - know when to say no to keep yourself away from negative situations. And 2) exercise. Scientific studies have proven that exercise is better than any anti-depressant.
Spirit: Reconnect with you by doing the things you love.
Find a new, or take up and old hobby. Find peace through meditation or sitting quietly. Or volunteer to help others. All will help you reconnect with you.
Practicing self-care during this healing process can help you achieve a deep inner strength. To practice self-care means to genuinely listen to your needs.
Do you need to cry because you are hurting? Do it.
It doesn’t matter if it is the 1st, 10th or 100th time you are crying about the divorce – give yourself permission to experience this emotion (and though it will feel like this pain will NEVER go away, you will find that at some point you will experience this loss in a much different way).
Do you need to unplug from friends and family and watch bad TV all weekend by yourself? Do it!
We all know that too much isolating is unhealthy and counterproductive, but acknowledging and feeling this pain becomes a great step in the healing process.
In fact, giving yourself permission to feel sad can be empowering.
Laura Alper, MSW, LCSW
For how to cope with a divorce, I highly recommend therapy and attending a support group.
Another good tool is bibliotherapy – the practice of healing through reading. There are countless self-help books that can serve as a recovery "bible."
Getting a life or wellness coach can help you establish goals and provide a way to monitor your progress toward them. Eating healthy and exercising lays the foundation for a healthy lifestyle within which you can recover from this blow.
It is critical not to make impulsive decisions, especially during this major life transition.
I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing moderation, whether that’s with dating, drinking or other potentially harmful behaviors.
Meditating may help you find a center during this turbulent time. Learning to meditate can be accomplished through audiotapes, classes or communities.
During this time of challenge, it is key to practice mindfulness, patience, and moderation.
Ruth Field, LCSW
It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. Especially when you’re going through any type of major life stress – and divorce is certainly one of those times!
It’s easy to get depleted by events, people, and even your own emotions.
The Antidote to Depletion is Replenishing.
I advise everyone to keep a running list of their own personal replenishers to use before, during, and after difficult moments.
Step 1: Find a time when you are reasonably relaxed and ready to reflect.
Grab your phone, tablet, computer, or even pen and paper – use whatever works best for you.
Remember you’re making a list of ideas, which will always be a working document subject to revisions and editing.
Step 2: Think about your 5 senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
Start with sight and ask yourself what experience reliably brings on the “ahhhh” response for you.
What do you love looking at? Is there an image that evokes love, calm, joy, peace, and serenity every time you see it? It could be photos of loved ones, the ocean at sunset, flowers; it doesn’t matter as long as you love looking at it.
Note it on your replenisher list.
Step 3: Smell
Is there a fragrance you love? It could be perfume, candles, body lotion, essential oils, or the scent of chocolate chip cookies baking.
Add your choices to your list.
Step 4: Taste
Do you have a favorite food or beverage that always evokes pleasure? People have mentioned mint chocolate chip ice cream, cotton candy, hot cocoa, watermelon. I do not recommend alcoholic beverages here or overindulging in anything. We’re just looking to get to “ahhhh.”
Add these to your list.
Step 5: Touch
It could be fabric, something in nature, your favorite sofa, petting your dog, getting a massage.
List the things you love to feel that induce relaxation.
Step 6: Hearing
Suggestions include certain kinds of music, instruments, bird song, wind chimes, waves, water fountain sounds. Some have listed the sound of their best friend’s voice.
Add your favorites to your list.
Step 7: Add activities that combine more than one sense.
Include some that are free and can be accessed quickly (taking a candlelight bubble bath, sipping a cup of tea while listening to Mozart, talking with a friend) and some that cost money and may need a specific time (a massage, manicure, pedicure, or yoga class).
You now have a good start on your personal replenisher system. As you try different ideas, be sure to delete, add, and modify as needed.
Give yourself permission to grieve, but do so in a contained way so it does not feel all-consuming.
Try to give yourself 20 minutes per day (at the same time per day) to “step in” to the grief. You can journal about it, talk about it, daydream. After that 20 minutes, “step-out” of the grief and force yourself to focus on another activity.
Allow yourself to actually feel the feelings instead of numbing yourself through food, Facebook feeds, or over-busying yourself.
When you numb your feelings, you numb all feelings and thus don’t allow yourself to eventually feel the positive feelings of hopefulness, joy or gratitude. Let yourself feel the feeling, knowing it is temporary.
Build your strongest support team possible.
Rally up your troops of people with whom you can be completely raw and vulnerable throughout the process of divorce and post-divorce. This team can consist of friends, family, in-person divorce support groups, online discussion boards, a religious group/clergy member, a pet, and/or a therapist or counselor.
Recognize and work through your divorce shame.
Due to the shame we place on ourselves through the divorce, we often create an “I’m a failure” narrative rather than see this divorce as an opportunity for positive transformation.
Brene Brown, shame researcher, found that in order to reduce shame, we must eliminate the secrecy, judgment and silence around it by talking openly about the divorce and giving ourselves empathy and self-compassion.
Work on acceptance and forgiveness.
Each day, try to spend a few moments reciting or remembering the Serenity Prayer/Serenity Challenge as divorce can bring difficulty in coping with lack of control of the past, the current circumstances, the future and the other person involved:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Sasha Taskier, AMFT
Marriage & Family Therapist
I try to help my clients think about divorce through a lens of loss. Divorce, whether you're the one who initiated the decision or not, can be an earth shattering, confusing, maddening experience that rocks you.
The process can be long and arduous, and often, it requires a mourning period. You need time to cry, scream, take stock and lick your wounds.
Unfortunately, just as with grief, there is no clear road map; you may find yourself riding waves of emotions, seemingly without any sense of agency.
My advice: It's time to give yourself a giant dose of self-compassion.
You are not going to be your best self at moments and you are weathering a transition that may force you to re-examine so many aspects of your life. Simple things, like your daily routine, can be torn down and much of this process necessitates a new approach.
So, be gentle.
Be forgiving of yourself and others. You are doing the best you can, with the tools you have that day.
The people in your life may know what you're going through, but they aren't inside your head. They might be insensitive at times, and you might feel let down - but, chances are, they are trying to help in the ways they know how.
Just like there is no road map for you, there is no road map for them either.
Seek support - whether through family, friends, or a professional therapist.
It's ok to ask for help, to say, "I feel like a mess today" or "I'm having a really hard time with (insert activity.)" (Another topic to consider is if your children also need support - and how to provide that at a time you are not at your best.)
Savor moments that you feel good, because they might feel rare (for a period of time.)
Take a dance class, go to the movies, have a night with friends, or if you can, treat yourself to a weekend away.
Mostly, remember that these feelings are temporary.
It will get better, and with time and patience, you will begin to feel like yourself again. In the meantime, treat yourself like you would treat your best friend who is going through a difficult time.
Make sure you have a support network that helps you in ways that are meaningful to you.
Family, friends, clergy, therapists or mental health professionals, support groups, anything that both gives you a sympathetic ear and even sound advice can make the process very different from that of people who go through this alone.
The divorce process may feel (and be) lengthy, but this is going to be one part of your life and will end. Try to keep your sights on the horizon and the rest of your life that you will live after all is said and done.
It could be anything from stepping outside for a 20 minute walk, yoga, cycling/spinning, swimming, dance class, pilates, jogging etc.
The importance isn't necessarily to get into shape, it's about dedicating a time every day for you. It's easy to reject/neglect our bodies while going through any trauma and/or loss because our focus is on how to survive the unwanted change, and divorce is, in my opinion, a combination of both trauma and loss.
Applied knowledge is power so the more you can educate yourself on divorce, the more one can self-advocate for what they deserve/need/want through the divorce process.
The more you know, the more confident one may feel. Feeling secure in a divorce is important and this is one way to gain security.
Don't lose focus, but also know when to step away.
Understanding that this process can be highly emotional and daunting, it's easy to be fully consumed, which can negatively affect other facets of one's life.
Set certain dates/times to dedicate to the process and also set times to focus on other important things - family life, children and parenting, friends, self-care, work and/or community. Finding balance is key.
Divorce is a transition that can wreak havoc on your family and your emotions and internal world.
It is, much like death, a very, very significant loss in your life and needs to be treated as such. You are especially vulnerable to the challenges without healthy coping mechanisms and a recovery plan.
Here are my top 3 recommendations for how to deal with a divorce:
1.) Process your emotions.
Quite simply, don't hold everything inside of you and "pretend" you're unaffected.
Divorce is loss, and loss means you have to grieve.
Grieving means identifying the thoughts, feelings, and words you didn't express, and communicating these (obviously, I'd recommend doing this in therapy). I tell clients all the time - you have to go THROUGH the pain, you cannot go AROUND the pain.
Although challenging, leaning into grieving will help you recover more quickly.
2.) Make self-care a priority.
There are TONS of ways to take care of yourself.
I educate clients on 7 types of self-care; they include everything from health & wellness, to spirituality, to social activities, to mastery tasks. Self-care is crucial for self-esteem and mood boosts and even the tiniest bit is better than nothing.
Remember who you are and what makes you feel good, and begin by just doing a little bit of that on a weekly basis.
3.) Learn what didn't work and how to fix it.
At a certain point, healthy recovery includes being able to understand and highlight the ways in which you contributed to the downward spiral of the relationship.
This is the less emotional, more "personal responsibility" part of therapy typically.
Whether it's picking the wrong partner, communication errors, unrealistic expectations, and more - it takes two to tango and you likely played a part. No blame game here - just realistic exploration of what you can do better to find a more fulfilling relationship in the future.
Philip Leverette, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
When a couple is going through a divorce, a large number of important decisions need to be considered in order to complete the process.
Because the majority of these considerations affect a future time and place, many couples and individuals get caught up in a waiting game. Thoughts like, "when the divorce is finalized…" or "next year after the divorce…" keep people feeling paralyzed and out of control.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that the time you spend going through the divorce process doesn’t need to be spent waiting for that future time.
When your mind isn’t required to focus on the divorce, don’t. Grieve appropriately as you need to. Spend time reconnecting with loved ones so that you’ll have a support network in place, both now and post-divorce.
Most importantly, spend time re-connecting with yourself.
Figure out what you want your future to look like and start working to get there now!
If you’re feeling frozen that’s a good sign that you need support. Focusing on you is a good beginning.
The divorce process is not a sprint. There is a tendency to feel anxiety and make rash decisions at the beginning of the divorce process. Often times, these decisions are dictated by our emotions, rather than the rational part.
For this reason, the best way to handle a divorce is to slow the process as much as you can/need.
Take a moment (or moments) to think about your own needs and wants. Let these thoughts guide you to make decisions that you will be happy with 5 months or 5 years down the road.
Research your options.
Many people believe a lawyer and litigation is the only way to handle a divorce. However, this is not the case!
There are other avenues a couple can take that are less emotionally and financially draining than litigation. It may take some time to find the right process for you, but the result could save you time, money, and peace of mind.
Be kind to yourself.
Make sure you are taking time for self-care.
Choosing to divorce is a major life decision. Even if you are the one initiating the divorce, or striving to keep the relationship intact, this is a loss. It is the end of the marriage, which includes not only the relationship, but rituals, ideals, and the life you shared with your partner.
Taking time for yourself to grieve this loss is especially important and healthy!
When going through a divorce, good self-care is absolutely critical.
Usually during this experience, people are faced with an onslaught of logistical and emotional issues that require a lot of attention and change rapidly; and this is on top of dealing with all the other regular parts of their lives (jobs, child care, home care, etc.)!
As such, self-care can feel selfish, overly indulgent or downright impossible.
However, it’s important to think about how taking care of yourself enables you to do all the things you need to do and be present in the ways that really matter.
It’s kind of like being on the airplane when they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before you take care of anyone else. Self-care is different for everyone, but making time for the things that help you “breathe” will ensure that you are able to function at your best.
Lora Schatz, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Utilize your resources:
Going through a divorce is an isolating event.
Turn to the people you care about and ask for assistance.
Reach out to your friends, family, therapist, mediator and divorce lawyer. Additionally, if someone offers to pick your child up at school, say yes. If a friend invites you out to dinner, say yes. Let people support you during this difficult time.
Learn to be flexible and adaptable in the face of adversity.
Have empathy, kindness and compassion for yourself.
Accept your grief, anxiety and anger, but also create room for the good. Life is about learning how to move gracefully through difficult experiences while balancing our emotions.
Resist the blame game:
It is normal and natural to feel angry, hurt, betrayed and abandoned in the face of divorce.
However, blaming someone else delays healing and recovery.
Create space in your day to experience all of your feelings, including a focus on what is going right. Intentionally turn your attention towards positive things in order to let the light in.
You are in charge of your own emotional well-being.
Sadly, while it takes two people to marry, it only takes one to get a divorce.
So, what do you do if you find yourself on the receiving end of a separation or divorce?
How can you possibly get over this heartbreak when you don't want to divorce in the first place?
There's a very good chance that one day in the future, you’ll see that this was not just a tragic ending, but also a new beginning. But for now, while you’re still reeling from the unwelcome news, here are some helpful tips for how to get through divorce when it's unwanted.
Step 1 for How to Deal with Divorce: Take Time to Grieve
Chances are, you’re experiencing a whirlwind of emotions.
Hurt. Anger. Despair. Rejection.
And above all, grief.
Grief over the loss of your marriage and the end of life as you once knew it to be.
So the first step when it comes to how to deal with divorce when you don't want it is allowing yourself to feel these emotions. Instead of doing everything you can to avoid them.
You can’t begin the healing process or move forward until you do.
Step 2 for How to Handle a Divorce: Mediation!
Even though you may not have had a say in the actual decision to divorce, you do have a choice in how to handle your divorce proceedings.
And how stressful you make things on yourself and your children.
Step 3 for How to Survive an Unwanted Divorce: Get Re-acquainted with Yourself
It can be impossible to see yourself as anything but the other half of a couple.
But because your identity is evolving now, it’s time to get acquainted with yourself again - as an individual.
Remember who you were before you got married and what made you happy.
Re-discover yourself - what's most important to you and who you truly are at your core. Start doing things that feed your soul and keep you true to you.
Step 4: for How to Get Through a Divorce: Surround Yourself with Positive People
For many individuals coping with an unwanted divorce, the loneliness can be overwhelming.
No matter how isolated you may feel, remember that you’re not alone!
Get in touch with old friends, or make some new ones. Make plans to spend time with parents or other family.
Surround yourself with positive people and you’ll begin to see your own attitude shift.
Step 5: If You're Struggling with Divorce, Seek Professional Support
It’s great to have a support system of friends and family to lean on when you’re struggling, but that may not be enough when it comes to dealing with an unwanted divorce.
If you find yourself having an especially hard time letting go of the anger, resentment or profound sadness you may be feeling or you just can’t seem to move forward, you may have situational depression.
Working with an individual counselor or coach can help.
Step 6 for How to Cope with a Divorce: Take Care of Yourself
It might be tempting to just want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and pretend the divorce isn’t happening.
But you're smart enough to know that won’t solve or change anything.
So as difficult as it might seem, you need to focus on taking care of yourself – physically, financially, and emotionally.
Step 7 for Coping Through Divorce: Give it Some Time
It may not feel like it now, but there's some truth in that old adage “time heals all wounds.”
In time, you’ll begin to realize that dealing with separation and divorce become easier and all of the negative feelings that once held you in their grip will begin to lessen.
"We must let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." - Joseph Campbell
Getting through your divorce may very well be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. So take a deep breath, consider the tips shared above, and remember - while you may not be able to control your circumstances, you can control how to react to them.
When your husband wants a divorce, (or wife), you can let the divorce define you or you can use the pain of your divorce as a catalyst to a new, fulfilling and happy life.
The choice is yours.
More Expert Tips on Coping with an Unwanted Divorce
If your spouse has decided to divorce you, he or she has probably been thinking about it and has been moving through emotional stages of preparation for it for months or even years.
You have not.
When you lose your spouse and your marriage, that’s a big loss, even if your marriage has been unhappy for a long time.
You are likely to experience all of the emotions associated with any loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and maybe, someday, acceptance. Those feelings will not come in any fixed sequence. For many people, divorce is an emotional roller coaster.
Here are my best tips on how to cope with a divorce you don't want:
While you are in turmoil or feeling very sad, it is not a good time to make big decisions, so don’t get pushed into things. Also don’t be mean or vengeful — that seldom helps anyone.
If you have children, do keep their needs high on your priority list. Also take good care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, practice yoga, meditate, and seek care from friends, a therapist, and/or your faith community.
Give yourself time - time to grieve, time to explore your options, time to think well about what will be best for your children, time to plan well for your own future.
When you are ready, or sooner if circumstances require it, work with a professional family mediator to develop first an interim agreement and then a final Property Settlement Agreement.
Also have faith. Divorce is not death. You may have a happy future ahead of you. It just takes time to get there.
Separation in general is one of the most difficult experiences in someone’s life, but dealing with unwanted divorce can be traumatic.
When a spouse initiates the separation, it drastically changes the dynamic of a relationship, and what used to be a partnership, now becomes a power struggle.
You might feel helpless and lonely as everything that used to be familiar, becomes foreign and out of control. But here are a few tips that can be used to make this new reality a bit less overwhelming:
Engage in mindfulness.
A lot of your struggles might be related to the fear of the unknown and the lack of future hopes. Try as much as possible to focus on the here and now, as the only thing you can manage is the present moment.
Practice radical acceptance.
Focus on accepting reality as it is, even if you don’t approve of it. Changing reality requires first accepting it.
By accepting what you cannot change, you will be encouraged to focus on the things you can change. And ultimately, acceptance is the stage you will aim for as you navigate the grief process.
Involve friends/family support.
Going through a divorce when it's unwanted will probably make you feel very isolated as the person you trusted the most is no longer on your side. Therefore, friends and family will a tremendous resource you will want to engage to feel less lonely, and cared for.
Be attuned to your emotions.
Pain cannot be avoided in these circumstances, but remember that rejecting reality turns your pain into suffering.
If you focus on your vulnerable emotions, and mindfully accept them, they will be easier to tolerate, and eventually replaced overtime by less painful feelings.
Engage in self-care.
When things feel out of control, one thing that will make you feel more empowered is focusing on yourself and doing good things to yourself.
Whether it is exercise, taking a walk or spending some time at the spa, anything hat focuses on pleasurable activities will be encouraged to ease the pain of an unwanted situation.
And finally, use professional resources.
Individual therapy or support groups are a wonderful way to normalize your experience and help you to not feel alone in the process.
My first tip is not to rush into the legal process, unless you have to.
Your spouse is already well into the grieving process and has probably been preparing for the legal process for some time.
They're emotionally ready for this. You're not and this puts you at a disadvantage. You need to level the playing field and one way to do that is by giving yourself time.
If your spouse is pushing to move forward with the legal process, you can say to them that you're not ready and ask that they consider delaying for a few months.
If your spouse is unwilling to wait and wants to move ahead or if you need to file to protect yourself, then you will need to find an attorney to represent you.
When things are moving fast then trying to save money by doing this yourself (such as using an online service, a mediated divorce or even un-bundled or a la carte legal services) is likely to end up costing you in the long run.
*Indicators of needing to file to protect yourself include the presence domestic abuse, the need for access to marital funds, your spouse attempting to hide money or to use marital assets for non-marital purposes and your spouse removing you from health insurance coverage.
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
Faculty, The Family Institute at Northwestern and The Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis
One major problem in getting over a divorce is coping with the feelings of hurt, shame, and rage that get triggered by your ex at times when you have to continue to work with him or her, over concrete issues like money and child rearing.
The best tip I can give for such situations is to try to recast the relationship in your mind as a "business relationship."
Everyone knows that in business, we must deal with people who would not be our friends outside of work, but we can still work with them on shared tasks. In the same way, former spouses do not need to be over their negative images of each other, but they do need to focus on their shared goals—often the well-being of their children.
Focusing on shared goals can help you develop a working relationship with your ex that will not only allow productive problem-solving, but, may over time, allow those hurt feelings to recede into the past.
An "unwanted divorce," is like being jilted or rejected in an earlier relationship, only worse, because it comes when you thought you were past that and often when you had had many years together.
In the long run, the best way to get over the hurt is described in the country and western song, I Got a New Girlfriend, in which the jilted singer is initially devastated, but then finds happiness with a new partner.
Now you don’t need to rush into another relationship, but it will help to find alternative satisfactions, a sort of "virtual new girlfriend." And before that happens, one thing that helps people who have been rejected is to mull over the sad truth that you will be happier when you are with someone who wants to be with you, someone who loves and admires you, rather than someone who sees you as fatally flawed or inferior.
Over time and with the help of supportive friends - and possibly a new love interest - you may come to see that you "dodged a bullet."
Divorce itself can be both devastating and traumatizing, even if it is deeply desired by both people in the marriage. When one person doesn’t want the divorce or is conflicted about it, the emotional toll can become compounded.
Here are three tips for how to survive a divorce you don't want:
When our hearts are broken, our instinct is to protect ourselves by closing off to prevent further injury. We become angry and fearful, and we may lash out or shut down, which only makes us feel more helpless and more in pain.
This is the opposite of what is needed to maintain connections to people who can support us, grieve as much as needed, and move forward as peacefully as possible.
Discover your wholeness outside the relationship.
Let go of the need cling to the illusion of control by blaming yourself or your spouse. See what aspects of this unwanted situation you can find gratitude in.
For example, there may be places in this relationship where you lost sight of who you are and what you really want out of life.
The ending of the relationship may be an opportunity to rediscover who you are outside the context of the other person.
Give yourself everything you thought you needed from your spouse.
Don’t allow the divorce to lead you to believe you are somehow messed up or unworthy of love.
Don’t use it to come up with examples of all the ways you’re not kind, lovable, and desirable. Use it instead as an opportunity to come to a new understanding with yourself that your essence is innately lovable.
Demonstrate this to yourself on a daily basis by learning to love yourself without condition and engaging in a process of radical non-judgment and self-discovery.
Grieving and giving yourself time is a huge part of this process, but it's possible that your husband or wife (divorce initiator) isn't allowing you to grieve as they want to move the divorce along as quickly as they can.
If you are the non initiator in this type of situation, it is very important to get professional help (support groups, therapy, bio-feedback). It will allow you to grieve, to accept the fact that divorce is real and move forward.
It is also very helpful to analyze what had happened during your marriage that brought your spouse to such a painful decision.
Changing your surroundings can also be helpful.
It's common to want to keep the house/apartment as divorce is extremely overwhelming as is. However, moving out, renting a new place or just redecorating an old place could mean a new fresh beginning in your life.
When I was going through my own divorce many years ago, I didn't know how to deal with the profound sadness, anger and fear I felt every day for months.
For a while, I just gave myself permission to feel that way. And to grieve.
I allowed myself to experience those feelings instead of trying to sweep them under the rug or pretend I didn't feel them.
I saw a therapist for a while because it was a safe place to say out loud what I was feeling. Somehow, doing that helped me let some of the negative emotions go and slowly, I began to feel better.
I read books on how to get over a divorce and cope with infidelity. I also took my dog "kids" out for long walks, spent a lot of time with my parents and surrounded myself with close friends. I made myself get out of the house, even when I didn't want to.
I didn't rush myself to "get over it," and I didn't rush into another relationship. But I did make every effort to helpmyself, boost my energy and not let my divorce ruin the rest of my life.
My best advice when coping with a divorce is to give yourself a break and be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself. And at the same time, don't let yourself become a victim to your circumstances.
You are in charge of your own happiness so do everything you can to help yourself reflect, heal, forgive and move forward. If you don't, you may never get to experience all the wonderful opportunities that are waiting for you on the other side!
Read on because below, I've shared 25 sure-fire ways for how to deal with divorce stress, boost your energy and get yourself through this significant life transition in the healthiest way you can.
How to Cope with Divorce: 25 Sure-Fire Ways
1.) How to Get Over a Divorce: Decide (& Commit) to Recovering from It:
If you make a conscious choice to let go of the pain of your divorce, to heal your heart and move forward, and to take responsibility for your own life, you will!
Thoughts are very powerful!
Be kind to yourself, be your own best friend, get in the driver’s seat of your life and live intentionally!
2.) How to Deal with Divorce: Get Inspired.
Select the quotes that resonate the most with you.
Write each on a Post-It note and place in various locations where you will see them throughout the day as reminders such as: bathroom mirror, nightstand, fridge, check book, car dashboard, underwear drawer, etc.
Here are some of my favorites…
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger
“Live with no excuses and Love with no regrets. When life gives you a 100 reasons to cry, show life that YOU have a 1000 reasons to Smile.” - Author Unknown
“Look at life through a windshield, not the rear-view mirror.” - Byrd Baggett
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” - C.S. Lewis
“If I'm being rejected from one thing, it's really just the path redirecting me elsewhere to where I'm supposed to be.” - Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
“Are your painful experiences stumbling blocks or stepping stones?” - Bruce D. Schneider
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” - Maria Robinson
"Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness." - Thich Nhat Han
"No one is in charge of your happiness but you.” - Author Unknown
3.) When You're Struggling with Divorce, Let the Music Move ‘Ya!
Turn on your favorite music and sing!
Close the curtains and dance!
Go ahead and bust a move!
Whenever you feel at your worst, turn on the stereo or your iPod, crank up the volume and sing. On the top of your lungs.
Belt out the words to the songs to help you use your anger to shift out of feeling sorry for yourself. Sing them and feel strong and ready to kick some ass.
And equipped to get the ultimate revenge which is moving forward and creating an amazing new life for yourself.
Sunshine produces vitamin D/melatonin, which is a mood booster. If you can get to a park or a place in nature, even better.
Here are some ideas...
Go for a walk
Plant some flowers
Ride a bike
Pull up a patch of grass and enjoy the natural beauty around you!
9.) To Help Deal with The Stress of Divorce, Take a Break from “Bad News”
Ever notice that the news is filled with ten times more tragic, awful news than it is with upbeat, happy news?
Think about it, how often do we get to read about a new puppy being born?
Instead, it’s all doom and gloom.
When this type of negative exposure goes into our mind, it really pulls our energy down. To counter this, don’t watch the news or read the newspaper first thing in the morning or last thing before bed in the evening.
Or better yet, take a break from the news altogether.
10.) Walk a Dog:
If you don't have your own dog, offer to walk a neighbor's pup.
Or even better yet, sign up at the local shelter to walk the adorable pooches who have no one to love them.
Not drinking enough water could cause dehydration, which negatively impacts mood. When you drink water it helps wash away the toxins that are accumulating inside your body.
14.) How to Deal with Divorce? Exercise
Exercise is good for you and it makes you feel good.
Go for a jog around the block, hike through a park with your kids, sign-up for a yoga class, just get out there and move!
15.) Coping with Divorce Grief is Easier when You Get Enough Sleep
OK, I know this may be a tall order based on your situation, but getting a good night’s sleep (7-8 hours per night) does wonders for your health, energy and overall well-being.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try some lavender oil to help you get sleepy.
16.) For Help Dealing with The Stress of Divorce, Schedule a Personal Spa and Relaxation Day
Pamper yourself with a massage, pedicure, and/or haircut.
Or, turn your own bathroom into a personal spa by dimming the lights, lighting candles, put on some relaxing music and soaking in a warm bubble bath. Don’t forget to unplug the phone!
Include as many of these ideas as you like or have time for.
17.) Unleash Your Creativity - It Can Help You Deal with a Divorce
Bake and decorate a cake, plant a garden, paint a picture.
Learn a new craft (check your local craft store for ideas). Pick up that guitar, practice and write a song - it doesn't have to be good. Just doing these things will make you feel good.
And if you keep doing them you'll naturally get better.
18.) Wanna Know How to Deal with a Divorce? Reach Out!
Connect with friends and family (the supportive ones only!)
Send an e-mail to someone you’ve not heard from in a while.
Invite a friend to lunch.
See your old friends.
It's easy to get into a rut during a stressful divorce where each day looks like the one before between work, caring for the kids, housework, dealing with the divorce process, sleep and back to work again routine that leaves you no time at all to be the fun-loving, outgoing person you once were.
Spending time with friends who knew the “old” you might bring out that side of your character. You’ll come away feeling younger, more positive and more excited by life than you were before you met up.
Go on, invite them out for coffee and catch up on each other's lives.
19.) If You're Coping with a Divorce, Have Faith
Reconnect or Connect to your spirituality. Go to church or temple.
Or, if you’re spiritual but not religious, try meditation.
20.) Wake-up Call
Change the way you wake up in the morning. If you usually wake up to a loud beeping alarm clock, change it to something peaceful like birds chirping or ocean waves.
Or something fun and inspirational like your favorite song.
21.) Meditate Daily
Take the time to engage in the practice of quieting your mind.
Focus on your breath/breathing.
Take a few deep breaths, and relax and don’t get hung up on finding the ultimate time and place to meditate.
If you set 10 minutes as your goal, commit to it.
Accept distractions as normal, simply refocus your attention back to a mantra, candle or feeling of your breath.
Be kind to yourself - if your mind wanders, don’t judge harshly. Just accept and refocus. Start with a beginner’s mind and be open to whatever happens next.
Don’t give up.
22.) Dealing with Divorce Emotions? Practice Gratitude
Write a Gratitude List – a list of everything good in your life.
Sometimes, when you’re so wrapped up in focusing on the bad, you forget all the little things that are actually good in the world.
Write down all the things you’re grateful for, no matter how small - from waking up and seeing your children's beautiful faces to the smell of fresh cut grass in the local park.
This is a great way to cheer yourself up and if you do it regularly, it can give you a whole new way of experiencing your life.
Clean out a drawer, closet, desk or room you’ve filled up with stuff.
Having a clean desk/room/closet feels like a clean start. I feel instantly lighter after cleaning out my perpetually cluttered closet.
Getting rid of clutter rids your living space of negative trapped energy and allows new positive energy to flow into all aspects of your life.
Force yourself to smile even if you don't feel like it.
“Just fake it ‘til you make it.”
This tricks your brain into thinking that you’re happy. And then you will be!
25.) The Best Way of Coping with Divorce is to Choose Happy!
Happiness is a choice and it is one that only you can make.
You have the choice whether to spend this day, which you will never live through again, in a state of happiness or unhappiness.
Choose to spend it as happily as you possibly can.
Remember that no one can make you happy except you!
We are a husband and wife, divorce mediator and divorce coach, and we specialize in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. We're passionate about helping families avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation. And our comprehensive, flat-fee mediation services provide an ideal divorce solution! Divorce isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be a disaster. Let us help!