Updated: Mar 14
How to rebuild your life and come out stronger
Photo Credit: Sasha Freemind on Unsplash
For many, an ugly word with dramatic connotations attached to it. A word that can elicit strong opinions from people whether they have experienced one firsthand or not.
If you are going through a divorce, you will feel the freefall of your entire world imploding. Every belief you had about love and relationships being ripped away from you.
No matter how long you were married, you entered the marriage with the intent to stay married forever.
And yet, here you are, having to look at each other and admit that you can no longer paper over the cracks. That the lack of oxygen in the relationship has finally suffocated it beyond revival.
If you have children, the guilt will be almost like a physical weight on your body. You will play awful movies in your head of your kids turning into depressed and anxious addicts because of the choices you have made.
Even if you weren’t the initiator of your separation, you will have guilt that you were not able to make it work out despite all of your efforts to keep the relationship alive.
When I was in the first few months of divorce, I had nothing to anchor to except the societal judgment that I’d been conditioned to hearing all my life. Labels like ‘broken home’, and ‘single mom’, reverberated through my head.
I went through my parents' divorce and I had made a solemn vow to myself that I would never do that to my own children. I felt like a failure, and I worried constantly that we would all end up screwed up because of this catastrophic experience.
Eight years after my divorce, we have a happy and thriving family. Yes, we live in two households but we still consider ourselves a family.
My two teens are doing well both at school and socially. They are well-rounded and have a great relationship with me and their dad.
My ex-husband and I are friends, and we’ve always been able to put the kids first when times were tough. It wasn’t easy; it required a particular game plan that I had to have blind faith in.
First and foremost, you are going to be alright.
Your children are going to be alright. Your ex is going to be alright. It comes down to the following fundamentals.
If you stick to this game plan, there’s an excellent chance that you will all make it out the other side into a new version of the family that you have today. Not better, not worse, just another version.
1. Develop Your Emotional Literacy
Research has proven that journaling can improve mental health. You can develop your emotional literacy by journaling or recording yourself speaking about how you are feeling each day. Think of it as a mini-therapy session.
Being emotionally literate will help you stay calm and rational during the initial stages of negotiating shared finances, custody and assets when tensions rise.
2. Be Alone
As painful as it is, being alone is an act of self-love right now, even though it doesn’t feel like it. Trying to fill the space with someone else to take away the pain may temporarily dull the ache, but it will only come back to haunt you.
The pain comes back even stronger than it was initially. Do yourself and the other person a favour by spending time with yourself first.
3. Stay Present
If you share custody of your children, be present when you have them. Let yourself fall apart and grieve when you have your time alone. When they are back, do your best to give them as much of your presence as you can.
I know it’s hard when you are feeling so down, but you will thank yourself for making the effort in the coming years as you see how you have helped your children thrive and become resilient.
4. Avoid Denial
Don’t drink or take drugs to try and numb the pain. The party always has to end; the hangover always has to come. There’s nothing quite like a hangover to induce a crippling trigger.
Drugs and alcohol are depressants. They will take any pain and grief you have and worsen it exponentially. When you are hungover, you are weakened emotionally. Try not to do this to yourself, even though the desire to numb and escape is very real.
5. Stay Above The Line
Never speak badly of your ex in front of your children. Your children do not want to hear anything negative about their parents.
If you are feeling negative thoughts or need to vent about your ex, call a trusted friend or family member, journal it out or tell your coach/therapist if you can afford to get professional support.
6. Be Aware Of Your Self-Talk
Don’t beat yourself up endlessly. Two people were in this relationship, and two people were responsible for how it played out. Regardless of why your marriage ended, trying to assign blame is a pointless and exhausting exercise.
There is no point in blaming yourself for being unable to make it work. There is even less point in blaming your ex. Start from today and focus on the future.
7. Reach For Help
Don’t be ashamed to reach out to a support group for help. Divorce is a time when you may feel like friends and family in your life who have never been there won’t get it. Only someone going through a divorce truly understands how it feels.
When you need that cognitive resonance, a support group can help. A quick google search will help you find a group close to you that you can join.
So many good books can provide an anchor when you feel adrift on choppy seas, especially if you are about to navigate co-parenting.
I highly recommend The Good Divorce by Constance R. Ahrons, and Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends by Bruce Fisher.
9. Good Food and Quality Sleep
This one is vital. It’s the old metaphor of putting your oxygen mask on first so that you can look after others.
You need to eat enough, sleep enough and get exercise every single day. In the early stages of divorce, these three things should be non-negotiable. Exercise can be as simple as a ten-minute walk around the block. Just make sure that you move every day.
Let Go Of Perfection
The chances are high that you will sometimes falter and fall prey to some self-defeating behaviours as a coping mechanism. I certainly did, which is why I can empathise and confidently give this advice, knowing that it is the best way to make it through with as little emotional damage as possible.
Although divorce is usually a word that evokes a negative thought response, there is certainly an option for divorce to be reframed and softened.
It’s entirely possible to manage the guilt, sadness and fear that overwhelms you in the beginning. If you are only just facing the first days, weeks or months of divorce, use these tips to help you find strength.
Know that you can survive this and that one day you will be able to look back with understanding and a new appreciation of all you have learnt through this experience.