I bet you never thought your marriage would end in divorce. Most couples never think it will happen to them. What many people don’t realize is that divorce is a loss, just the same as when a family member dies. It is the loss of the relationship and the dreams for the future, a loss of lifestyle, loss of identity as a couple and as an intact family. There have been so many times clients have told me they are “ok” with the divorce; they both agreed; they knew it would happen. These sentiments are all true, but it does not negate the real emotional toll divorce places on all family members.
People grieve in different ways. Some feel sad or depressed. They cry easily and don’t seem to get anything done. Some feel anxious and angry. They are unsettled, irritable, and easily distracted. They sometimes feel numb and like they are in a cloud, not able to really connect with others. Anger can wreak havoc on co-parenting relationships.. Co-parents become angry about small things, such as the other parent being late to an exchange, or they argue over costs for children’s expenses like clothing or money for school activities. Some are so hurt and angry that they disparage the other parent, often complaining to their children about the other parent, which of course results in the children feeling lost and confused.
If some of this sounds familiar, you may be asking yourself, “now what?” Your first step is to recognize when you are feeling sad, depressed, anxious, numb, or angry. You may feel these things at different times during a day, a week, or a month. Once you know what is happening, take a minute to reflect. Seriously, just a minute to take a deep breath and pay attention to what you feel. The more your recognize it, the less powerful it will be.
This is a huge change in your life and in your children’s lives. Expect it to take time to adjust. You will adjust. You won’t always feel badly. Here are some tips to help you. I have categorized these in four areas: logistics, support, self care, and seeking help. You will find that you will work on all of these things at different times. This list is fluid and not a step-by-step process. Some of you will find that straightening out the unknown, such as ironing out the logistics will help you feel more organized and calm. Others will find the logistics so daunting that you will need support. However it works for you is just fine. Although divorce is uncharted territory, you will land on your feet.
- How are finances split. What is your new budget?
- Will you be the one moving out? Where will you live?
- What is the placement schedule for your kids? (Placement schedule refers to how much time the child spends at either parent’s home). Write down the schedule on a calendar so both you and your children are aware of it.
- Find a good divorce attorney, one who will listen to your needs.
Find support. Who is in your support network, friends, family, clergy, or a therapist? Supportive people are willing to listen to you. Some may have advice for you, but what you really need now is just someone to listen without judgment or negativity about your ex-spouse or co-parent. If you find yourself with someone who is jumping on the bandwagon of disparaging the ex-spouse, you have not found a support person. Feeding into your resentment and hurt will not help you move forward in adjusting to the divorce. You don’t have to be perfect. There will be times when you just have to say something negative, but the people around you should listen, maybe even validate or support what you are saying; however, they should not feed your resentment.
You must take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. It’s true. It is so very important for you to find time to relax. If you are someone who doesn’t really know how to relax, make a list of what you find relaxing. Some people relax alone, and others are relaxed while in the company of others. The idea of relaxing is to escape from your worries, sadness, hurt or anger about the divorce. A word of caution, if hanging out with friends means you will be complaining about the divorce at length, or drinking to avoid your hurt, you are not relaxing.
Things to do:
- Read a book
- Long walks
- Watch at home, or go to the movies
- Listen to music
- Go out to dinner
- Have some friends over
- Game night
There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. Divorce is a big deal, a life changing event. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your attorney will be able to help you understand the legal parts of the divorce. Remember, you have never done this before so you will most definitely need legal advice. By the same token, you most likely have never experienced the emotional fall-out from a divorce, and so it is normal to seek help to adjust to this life change. Therapists love therapy, and we consider your willingness to seek help a strength. Sometimes, just a few sessions is all you need to begin to feel more confident and calm about your future.
At this time in your life, you might feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. You will be alright. Life will come into balance again. Day-by-day and bit-by-bit you will develop your new normal. After awhile, you will not feel so sad, hurt, anxious, or angry. Mourning the past will fall away leaving you free to move forward, creating a new life post-divorce for you and your children.