I need to first say, before you read anything at all, that this is a time to be kind to yourself. Right now, the war and violence you may be wagging against yourself psychologically is only making things worse. You need time, space, and ground. Above all else, be kind to yourself. There is going to be a time to reflect on the past and what happened, but it’s not now. In order for your life to improve and for this to be transformative in a life giving way, responsibility must be taken for your part, even if it was only a small part. That reflection and responsibility is going to be much smoother and deeper when you have a sense of distance, space and ground from the intensity of this transition. Be kind to yourself. Be asking yourself, “What am I experiencing emotionally and physically right now?”
Going through a divorce may end up being the hardest thing that you’ve ever done - but, depending on your circumstances, and if you do your work, it may be one of the most life giving. Not only are you losing someone you believed was your best friend, your whole life is going to change. You’ll likely have to move out of your home and the financial changes can be significant.
Just because it is hard, doesn't mean that it is impossible. Here are some tips for getting through a divorce.
Make sure that you are taking good care of yourself. You may be emotional and feel like a wreck but now is the time to focus on yourself. I encourage you to be selfish. You deserve to be selfish, even more so with some circumstance. If you want to sleep in on the weekends, go for it. Want to go out and let off some steam, now is the time to do it!
However, you also need to make sure that you are sleeping enough. This may be one of the best times to begin a daily meditation (HeadSpace) practice or journaling. This is one the best thing that I’ve ever done and recommend it to most of my clients. You also need to eat healthy and get plenty of exercise to help you through this difficult time. You may even lose some weight and feel better about yourself in the process! Be aware of the revenge-bod though, that’s just passive aggression.
Those routines and preferences you had before the divorce that kept you together - keep doing them! They kept you together then, they’re still keeping you together now. They just have more to keep together now - so keep going.
Get the help that you need. Though many people don't like therapy, it can be really helpful. I’m obviously biased - but there are mountains of research that support this. This time is extremely challenging and it might be very helpful just to talk through your emotions without judgment. Your therapist may also be able to give you the tools that you need to begin this journey.
The task of looking for a therapist can be daunting. Not a month goes by where I have someone tell me that no-one would call them back. Ask a friend who’s been to therapy if they could recommend someone, or their therapist could recommend someone. If you reach out to somewhere but they’re full, ask them for referrals to people who are available. This is the soft ethic responsibility of therapists to do-no-harm. If needed, reach out to me if you think we wont be a fit but need a referral.
Get the support of your family and friends. Who will be there for you more than your family and friends? No one. If you have drifted apart while you were busy trying to save your marriage, now is the time to reconnect. Besides you have more time to spend with those that love you no matter what. It’s so sad, but this is also a time when you’ll painfully find out who your friends are. The loss of community can be just as hard as the divorce itself. For some, continuing to converse and support you may be very challenging for them and there own relationship, so they may leave you in silence. For others, they may not agree with divorce and not be willing to engage in the complexity of relationships. It’s through our person that we experience things, so sit with them, but there position may have nothing to do with you.
Take time to grieve the end of your marriage. Divorce is essentially a loss so you need to give yourself time to go through the grieving process. You may also be feeling better one minute and in tears the next. This is completely normal and you have to allow yourself time to go through it. Definitely go out and have fun, but honor the hard times as well. Turn towards what you’re experiencing as you ask yourself, “What am I experiencing right now?” Grieve can be an unwelcome guest, but you need to honor what you’re experiencing or the results could be so much worse. There is a space now, a loss of something that once was. It’s through grief that we begin to come to terms with this absence. Trust me, by choosing to be with the feelings and grieve, it could save you thousands of dollars in therapy.
The old saying, one day at a time, really applies. For some people, or some moments, you may need to focus on getting through just this moment. You need time to heal and get over your divorce. It will get easier every day, though don't be discouraged if you have a bad day. If you’re still breathing, you’re gonna make it through this.
Evaluate what went wrong. I do not recommend this phase until you have a sense of distance from your partner, ground or support, and space. But, this is absolutely necessary. In order to move on, you need to do some soul searching to figure out your impact on the situation and what you could have done differently. What of this is me? What is that about? You owe it to yourself and any other relationships that you may move into so you won't make the same mistakes more than once!
”When we truly see the heart and personhood of another in empathy and understanding, we’re unable to be with them in harm or judgement. Only love.”
Once you finish thinking about what happened, it is time to find a way to forgive yourself. Anne Lamott defined forgiveness so well, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” It happened, to accept this on a deep existential level is to also begin to accept yourself and what you’re experiencing. Even if you were the main reason that your marriage ended, you are going to have to find a way to forgive yourself. You can't carry the guilt with you the rest of your life. Instead, once you figure out what happened and what you should have done, it is time to move on.
Just like you have to forgive yourself, you are also going to have to forgive your ex-spouse. You made mistakes but so did he or she. In order to heal, you are going to have to forgive your ex. If not, you may never be able to move on. It is important to remember that, even though you forgive them, it doesn't mean that you want to get back together. You don't even have to like them or even get along with them (unless there are children involved). This step may take some time, perhaps over a year, it all depends on how much ground you can cultivate and find for yourself. When we truly see the heart and personhood of another in empathy and understanding, we’re unable to be with them in harm or judgement. To turn towards another, is to also turn towards that which we experience within ourselves in relation to them - so care for yourself first.
One of the best things that you can do is to avoid making any big decisions at this time in your life. Many people try to make decisions when they are not in the best frame of mind. Even though you may not want to wait to move across the country, give yourself a few months (or a year) until you feel more ready to make a big change. You’re certainly going to have moments of intense emotions - just begin by naming them and naming what physical sensations coincides with them and keep breathing.
You may also benefit from going to a support group. No matter how much your family and friends want to help, they may not understand the emotions that come along with a divorce. For this reason alone, you might want to reach out and join a support group. You will meet others who will feel your pain, as well as some that will show you that there is a way through it! I highly recommend attending a group that is run by a licensed mental health professional (LMHC, LMHCA, LICSW, Psychologist, etc).
Go consult with a lawyer. You may need a lawyer to help you through your divorce. Keep in mind that some people use the law as a weapon and as a means to get even or get back. The thing with this approach is you’re doing it because you’re angry and hurt, and when it’s all done and settled, you’re still angry and hurt, it’s just cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars. That’s money you could’ve used for a vacation or some therapy. Keep this in mind. You may also want to consider a “Limited License Legal Technician”, it may do the trick and is much cheaper than a lawyer. Most self represented individuals in law cases get steamrolled by lawyers, but there are those out there who can help. He or she will work with you to make sure that you’re aware of what’s on the table and what’s realistic, and whether its worth it emotionally. Lawyers are especially helpful in hostile divorces. I had one experience where one partner, metaphorically, brought a battleship to a water-gun fight. Don’t be that person, be kind to yourself and give yourself space. Protect yourself, but this is not a time to continue to passively get back at your spouse.
Your Relationship with Social Media. This is a great opportunity to rethink your relationship with social media. The research is dense, social media and mental health don’t exactly have a positive correlation - AT ALL. As much as you may need more support, this is another chance to see what’s going on for you. This is a time that’s highly identity / sense-of-self forming. I talked about this dynamic in my living with depression blog. What is it that I choose to base my identity off of? What feels true to me in this moment as I’m dealing with the reality of what is or what other people “like“? This is such a temptation in today’s age.
Anything you say is a reflection of you and how you’re doing and handling this life transition. If you feel a strong impulse, maybe do some reading on “The Three Faces of Victim” by Lynne Forrest. As painful as it is, be careful what you say publicly, share it with your (more objective) support and therapist first. Be careful with the victim position. You’ll certainly hurt and cut the other, but half that blood is your, cause that sword is double sided.
Divorce can be devastating, whether you were expecting it or not. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, though it may take you awhile to get there! In fact, you have to give yourself time to grieve. You lost your marriage and partner and that will cause tears, anger, and even frustration. Feel it all. You may even be feeling better about the divorce, only to end up in tears. This is normal and you need to allow yourself to go through the process.
However, you also need to figure out what went wrong in your marriage. It wasn't all full you or your-ex, so you are going to have to forgive yourself and him or her, in order to move on. This is never easy but, if you don't, you may never find yourself in a healthy relationship.
There is nothing wrong with getting help if you need it. Seeing a therapist is a great way to talk through your emotions without worrying about getting judged. Your therapist may also give you tools to help you deal with your emotions. If you don't feel comfortable seeing a therapist, a support group may be just as helpful. By surrounding yourself with people who have gone through the whole process, you will be able to see that you are not alone. You may also get to meet some who seem to be adjusting well and that may give you the encouragement to keep going!
My name is Caleb Dodson I’m a private psychotherapist in the Fremont Neighborhood of Seattle, WA and I’m most passionate about bringing kindness to and excavating a sense of humanity in the most challenging experiences to bring about a more full life.