4 Tips for Getting through Divorce

Divorce is painful.  Tbroken ringshere’s no getting around it.  Whether you were the one who initiated it or not, it is still likely be one of the most painful periods in your life.  These tips are for getting through the first month or two after it’s decided that you’re getting divorced.

1.   Be kind to yourself and don’t overdo

You’re getting divorced and it feels like a shock.  It seems like life is moving on, carrying your body along with it, but your brain and heart are stuck in limbo.  You’re still in shock over the realization that your marriage is over and the future you had imagined with your spouse will never happen.  Don’t make yourself do too much, i.e. work or social activities.  You may have to take some time off from work, ranging from days to weeks.  Each day you’ve accomplished something if you can get one thing done, whether it’s the grocery shopping or getting to one appointment, and that’s great.

2.  Lean on your support system

If they don’t already know, then tell your closest friends and relatives that you are getting a divorce and let them help you by taking care of some things that you can’t quite handle yet.  Get a therapist, or contact one you saw in the past.  Family can be wonderful, but the fact that they knew your soon-to-be ex can make them less than impartial and unfortunately some “helpful” remarks may even blame you.  Get a therapist in place, who can help you get through this in a non-judgmental way at the pace that you need.

3.  Stay in the present

It’s inevitable that you’ll be sad, after all you’re grieving over the end of your relationship.  There’s no pretending that it isn’t over or that you’re not devastated.  But try not to add anxiety to the mix.  There is nothing that causes anxiety more than jumping into the far-off future with thoughts like, “Will anyone ever love me?”, “Will I ever get married again?”, or “What’s my life going to look like?”  As soon as you start thinking like that you’re going to feel that tight vice-grip around your stomach and be overwhelmed by anxiety.   Stay in the present.  That means get yourself through the day.  Take things a day at a time and at the most, a week at a time.

All of those questions will get answered in the future.  There’s no use torturing yourself with them now when you can’t possibly answer them.  Just stick to the present day with questions like, “What am I going to have for dinner?” (By the way, almost everyone I’ve worked with in this situation has lost their appetite and had a period of barely eating.  This is completely normal as deep sadness tends to rob people of their appetites.  But this will most likely pass within a month.)

4.  Accept current reality but have goals

People often balk at the Buddhist tenet of practicing acceptance.  They mistakenly think it means to not have goals or want to achieve anything.  What it really means is that we have no choice but to accept what currently is, i.e. you are getting divorced.  But you can accept the present while still having goals for the future.  They are not incompatible.

Give some thought to what dreams you’ve had about your life and what you’ve wanted to achieve, even if they seem far-fetched.  Now is the time to start thinking of them seriously.  Your life is about to have a lot of space in it, which was once filled with a spouse, marital obligations, and possibly a home to maintain.  What are you going to fill that space with?  Don’t fill it with mediocrity or things that you are expected to do but feel uninspiring.

I’ve worked with people who have created entirely new and more fulfilling lives after divorce.  It usually helps to fill the emptiness with something creative.  Do you love to write, dance, or paint?  What have you always wanted to be or do or learn?  Perhaps you’ve wanted to learn to speak Italian or to cook French cuisine?  It’s your choice.  You’re at a point where life is giving you both the burden and the opportunity of recreating your life.

So these are a few points about how to survive divorce, which I hope will help you.  There is a lot more that I could add, but these are some basics to get you through that initial, “Oh my God, I’m getting divorced,” period.  You’re in a lot of pain and probably think it will never end.  But you’ll notice after a few weeks that you’ll feel a little better, then in a few weeks you’ll feel a little better still.  It happens little by little and it takes time.  There are no shortcuts, but you’ll get through it.  Then one day you’ll find that you’ve gotten through most of the day and you’ll realize, “Wow, I haven’t thought of him/her all day.”  You may even feel a little sad at this realization that the person who was once so important in your life is no longer in your thoughts, but that’s what will happen.  Life goes on and so will you.

Moving In Together Stirs Up Old Fears

If you’re divorced and have moved on to a new, meaningful relationship, the prospect of moving in together can stir up a lot of fear related to your past marriage and its demise.  Anyone who has gone through a divorce will tell you that it takes some time to get over it and move on (understatement of the year.)  If you didn’t leave in order to be with someone else, then you have to begin dating, and then you hopefully find a new, special person with whom you want to give love another chance.  That sounds pretty healthy and like it’s going in the right direction right?  Then why do you hit a wall of fear when it’s time to take the new relationship to the next, deeper level, such as moving in together?   Suddenly what seemed like a wonderful idea – spending more time with the person you love, sharing your life, and even building a new life together – has become terrifying.  Doubts now creep up everywhere, whereas before you decided to move in there were none.  You start to wonder if you really love this person.  Does he or she really love you?  Are your spending habits compatible?  Are your food habits too different?  What if you run out of things to talk about?   You may begin to act out in small ways that somehow delay moving in or you may get tense about things that should be fun, such as picking out furniture together.  But why?  A week ago, before you decided to move in together, everything was fine and you were thinking that this person was the one you wanted to have in your life for a long time.  “What’s really going on here?” you wonder in confusion and frustration.  Well a lot of fears related to your past marriage and resulting divorce have popped up because moving in together is the first step toward something more serious.  More serious as in may result in marriage again.  And, marriage again could result in divorce again.  Some of your fears may sound like this:  “Will I be able to handle it this time?  What if I screw up again?  Have I actually changed, or am I the same person who couldn’t make marriage work before?  My marriage failed, what makes me think this relationship won’t?”  (BTW, “failure” is not how I see divorce, but I’ve heard enough people use that word to describe their divorce to think that you may see it that way too.)

Well there is no guarantee that this relationship will work out better.  But the best chance you can give yourself and your new partner is to understand what happened in the old relationship.  That past relationship was created by two people and there’s no getting around that reality by thinking that your ex was the only one who made mistakes.  Frankly, most divorced people are able to see the truth in this.  But the effort you’ve made to understand how you contributed to the end of your marriage will only help your new relationship.  How?  Well this new relationship will push your buttons just like the old one did.  Why?  Because they are your buttons and any partner will unknowingly, and hopefully unintentionally, push them from time to time.  But if you know yourself enough and understand where and how you could have handled things differently, then you can feel more confident about not repeating the same mistakes.  That’s where therapy comes in.  Therapy isn’t about beating yourself up for past mistakes, but about understanding why you behaved in the way that you did, gaining some compassion for yourself, and learning how you can handle things differently.  So when it is time to move on to a new meaningful relationship, you may still have fears about your past marriage pop up, but you are able to honestly look at yourself and say that you now know better.  You can comfort and quiet your fears with some compassion and self-forgiveness that say, “I did the best that I knew how at the time, but now I know better.”  As the saying goes, “When you know better you do better.”  Will you go on to make some new mistakes in your new relationship?  Sure.  But they’ll be different because you’re now different.  You’ve learned, and that knowledge alone can calm those “moving in” fears when they come up, allowing you to more confidently enter a new, important stage in your life.

Did you experience this kind of fear when you moved on to a new relationship?