I have had friends and clients go through divorce. For some, they are so excited and pumped it is kinda bizarre to watch. For most, it can be challenging and traumatic. In fact, last month I attended an excellent divorce training titled “The Trauma of Divorce”. Very enlightening.Yes, divorce is terribly difficult, but it is an incredibly rich time of learning, growth and change. Knowing what to expect empowers.
Here are some recommendations for adjusting that my clients have used to help them through that first year:
1.Expect to be overwhelmed by the newness of every experience.
Depending on how long you have been married, many experiences will feel different and awkward. Expect this. For example, when you attend a party or an event that is typically coupled, without the presence of a partner, it may feel uncomfortable. Holidays may seem new with new traditions to make happen.
Know this going into it and give yourself permission to notice the feelings that this brings up. Do you feel like people are staring at you? (They probably aren’t.) Are other people acting weird around you? (They might be, because they don’t know what to say.) This awkwardness will pass. Noticing the feelings and honoring them within you will enable you to walk through these situations with strength and poise. You can do it.
2. Watch out for the idealizing of other ideal families or “marrieds”.
One of my clients was at an amusement theme park with her kids by herself. It was the first “new family” outing without her spouse. She reported that it was hard seeing all of the two-parent households laughing and appearing so happy with their children. Despite this, she and her kids had a blast together.
It is expected to be feeling that loss. However, a lot of what you see on the outside has nothing to do with what is really going on in these people’s lives. Family units come in all kinds of numbers. The important thing is that you love each other and that you live your life in truth and to the best of your abilities. Anytime we compare our insides with what we see “out there,” it can be unnecessarily torturous. Stop yourself if you start down this road of thinking.
3. Don’t buy into any negative stigma.
There is still a negative stigma around divorce. I am a child of divorce. I remember being stigmatized for that. Some friends’ parents wouldn’t let their kids come over to my house anymore because my parents were divorced. I was deemed a child from “a broken home.” Interestingly, these children could play at other homes where the parents were violent alcoholics who bullied and harmed their children. However, they happened to be married so they were viewed as acceptable. In addition, I have seen couples married for 30, 40, 50+ years who can’t stand each other and are miserable together, but everyone claps and coos at their anniversary parties. Hmm…. See what I mean? Society’s values are often not foolproof.
There is still something of a societal stigma attached to divorce. It is ridiculous. Try to detach.
4. As you make decisions on your behavior every day, focus on your kids or the next best action for you in the long run and short run.
If you have kids, do what is best for them in any interaction with your ex. If you don’t have kids, still keep focused on the short-term and long-term benefits of your decisions. Is it worth it to make that last snide remark? Probably not. Practice detachment from angry, inappropriate stuff. Try to do unto your ex as you would want to be done unto you. That way, you don’t have to add shame and guilt about your actions to the pile of stuff you are already dealing with. Make yourself proud.
5. Expect to go through periods of good, capable, “up-to-the-task” days, then suddenly switch to periods of intense paralysis.
When paralysis hits, you will be unmotivated, you may put things off, you may not be able to make a decision. This is OK.
I have had so many clients and friends describe these strong feelings of not being able to do anything for significant periods of time after their divorce. One client described just staring for days on end at the boxes she needed to pack. So many people have described this to me that it must be a stage of the grief that occurs. If you find that this happens, don’t panic. You will get done what needs to get done. You are just going through something. Relax. Go with it. See if it passes. It probably will.
6. Get support.
Last but definitely not least, you have to get support. Repeat. You have to get support. If you weren’t in counseling or therapy before the divorce, now could be a good time to start. Build your support network through friends, church, synagogues or support groups. For many, divorce really is as traumatic as death, only without the societal recognition that a funeral might have. You may feel very alone. It is temporary and you will get through this and eventually thrive.
Log onto some great blogs and connect with others to inspire you. I love this one for single moms called Single Mom Nation. There is tons of stuff out there for people needing direction on the divorce process. Here is a Top 10 List for Divorce info.
In addition, there are so many upsides to being by yourself. New life. Starting over. Your rules. Wahoo! Try to keep your eyes open for these gratefulness opportunities and enjoy the upsides. Game on.