In the early days of separation and divorce you may find the idea of growing from your divorce difficult to believe. You may be in a state of depression or denial wondering how your life will carry on, much less that you will grow from this life change. It may be difficult to find the silver lining, yet the simple truth is that you can (and will) grow from this. You may or may not have had much of a choice in whether or not you are getting a divorce, but you DO have a choice whether to grow up or grow down through this process.
In a bad or difficult marriage it is easy to see how a person might grow from getting a divorce, but all divorces bring the opportunity for growth. Your divorce will likely change the way you view the world. Your life may be functioning completely different than before. Maybe you are having to look for a new career or add a part time job to make ends meet, or maybe you’ve been out of the workforce for years and your divorce is forcing you back in. Maybe you’ve had to move to an apartment or back in with your parents or a friend. Maybe your kids are at a new school as a result of your divorce. Maybe your entire social circle has now changed. It’s how you view these changes and react to your new normal, that promotes growth.
Growth from your divorce can appear in a number of ways. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Even something as simple as learning a new skill that your spouse had always managed like trimming the shrubs, or online bill pay. Spiritually your faith might deepen or may struggle as you get through some trying times. Emotional growth may take a bit longer. There may be some dark and difficult days before you start to grow emotionally, but slowly it will happen. Your priorities will change and grow. If you have shared custody with your children you will likely start to value your time together all that much more. Some things that were priorities during your marriage may no longer hold a significance to you.
Growth after divorce becomes a way to cope. Growth after divorce becomes a way to survive. Growth after divorce becomes empowerment. Growth after divorce becomes a new, better you.
Those married, and especially with children, might dream of having a quiet Saturday night to themselves, but for many divorcees, especially those newly divorced this new “free time” can be especially lonely. You might not be ready or wanting to jump into dating, but being home alone frequently can be rather lonely during those early days of divorce, whether the kid’s are at your ex’s house, grown, or you don’t have any. We put together a list of ideas to get you started to help pass the time.
- Exercise – Whether you prefer to exercise solo, or would like to make it a social activity by joining a gym or a running/swim/etc. there is no better time to get fit than on these lonely days. The endorphins will instantly boost your mood and you’ll gain extra side effects like weight loss, strength, and confidence!
- Reading – If you don’t already love to read, keep trying – surely there is something out there that will peak your interest to keep reading! Join a book club if you want to make it a social activity. Not sure where to find one look online or start one – ask friends and neighbors with similar interests if they would like to join. You can rotate the meeting space/host each month to keep it fun and interesting!
- Explore your town – play tourist in your own town, get lost in a bookstore, see when museums and arboretums have free admission days. Check into free classes and groups at your local library, many offer events like adult coloring night, crafts, and cooking. In addition to children’s activities, Community Education through the school districts also offer adult activities.
- Cook – try new recipes, or maybe just save them on Pinterest for another day. If cooking for one person doesn’t interest you, perhaps make a monthly standing date with a parent/friend/sibling where you have them over for dinner and conversation. If baking is more your style, but you don’t want all of the sweet temptations around, take the treats to a nursing home, shelter, police precinct, etc.
- Start a new hobby – maybe you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since high school art class, or dusted off that old sewing machine great Aunt Edna passed down to you years ago, but find something that peaks your interest. All the better if you’ve never done it before. Now days you can find a video tutorial for just about anything on the internet, which even makes home projects that you may have never considered DIYing possible. Hobbies like painting or sewing are difficult to start and stop when the kids are around, so those perfect projects for these lonely days.
- Part time job – if you could use the extra cash there is no shame in getting a part-time gig. Even if you don’t necessarily need the money and are just looking to fill the time, find something you enjoy doing and set the money aside for a vacation! Even direct sales can provide a fun, no pressure, no schedule way to earn some extra cash and socialization too!
- Volunteer – The options for volunteering are endless so find something that you are passionate about and look into how you can help.
Like the idea of being more social and meeting new friends, but not sure where to start? Websites like MeetUp.com are a great way to find local interest groups. Do you have activities that have helped you through your newly found free time? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!
Nearly every celebrity seems to have a divorce under their belt, but what about our local public figures – our children’s teachers, our mayors, city councilmen – how does the pubic feel about “those” public figures when they are facing divorce? About midway through the year I had noticed my daughter’s teacher’s name on Facebook (we have mutual friends) going from FIRST MARRIED to FIRST MARRIED MAIDEN, and I thought a divorce must be imminent. Admittedly my first thought was how a divorce might affect her teaching abilities for MY child. Selfish? Perhaps. Or are those type of reactions expected with public careers? Her private life is certainly none of my business, but is it easy to check your feelings at the door? Certainly not. The University of Minnesota is currently doing a study on the impact of divorce on a person’s career. Those results will be interesting to see, especially as there are careers can have a big impact on the public sector.
Some may say that their divorce was the best thing that ever happened to their career. Perhaps work was a necessary distraction as their marriage crumbled at home. But on the other hand some people admit that they simply could not focus at work with their marriage on the rocks. Sometimes people can attribute their careers to actually being the CAUSE of their divorce. A husband that travels all week, a wife who tends bar on the weekends, a stay at home parent who never gets a break, and more often than not, simply the demands and stress of a person’s career can tear apart a marriage. Some careers are statistically at a higher risk for divorce, almost as if divorce is beyond their control.
A few months later as school was coming to a close I noticed my daughter’s teachers name on social media is now: FIRST MAIDEN. Admittedly, my feelings changed from worrying about the affect her divorce would have on my own daughter to feeling horribly sympathetic towards her and her own children. As I leaned more I realized her husband holds a local political office and I began to wonder about the effects the divorce may have on his political career. It’s important to remember that everyone is human, divorce does not define a person, and even if you feel like your divorce is in the spotlight, remember that this too shall pass. Please share your thoughts about public divorces in the comment section below.
2016 is well underway and many will look at the new year as a new beginning. While it’s important to have a positive outlook on the year ahead, sometimes the changing of the calendar year can create a false sense of promise. Pressure to set unrealistic goals such as being healed from your divorce this year, or that you will fall in love this year. Sometimes while going through the difficult path of grieving your divorce it may be helpful to consider that January 1st
is nothing more than the day after December 31st
. The changing of the year will bring a bit more healing and personal growth as each day passes, however it is imperative to understand that things can’t, and won’t, change overnight, which is why creating realistic expectations of the new year is essential to your healing.
All the talk about new year’s resolutions, goals, “new year, new you,” that come with the month of January can leave you feeling overwhelmed, which creating realistic expectations, even if that means lowering or having no expectations at all can be a healthier way to navigate the healing process. Setting lower expectations allows you to be gentler on yourself. Creating a sense of balance in your life can be far more important than checking something off of an overwhelming, or unrealistic, to-do list.
As you gradually adjust to your new normal, you may feel that everything in your world is now different, yourself included. You will have days of triumph, days of defeat, and plenty of temporary setbacks throughout the year ahead, but it’s crucial to remember that these temporary setbacks are just that – temporary. They happen to everyone and are a normal part of the process of healing from your divorce. It’s natural to have days where you hope and pray for everything to go back to the way things once were, but it is unrealistic to expect for that to actually happen.
As you begin to accept your new normal, it might require a new approach to life, and maybe your biggest goal for 2016 will be to learn that approach and how to navigate it. Find the joy in life, which is more important than checking something off of a list. Reconnect with old friends, find new hobbies, look for the joy in everyday, but don’t feel the pressure to have a timeline on your healing, your happiness, your life, or finding new love.
Your divorce probably has you feeling like everything is beyond your control. Now imagine the lack of control your children are feeling. Yesterday they had a family with two parents living under the same roof, and today their family life as they knew it is torn apart. Your children may not have any idea how things got to this point, much less have the ability to change things. While it is seemingly impossible to feel in control right now, as a parent it is your role to support your children and help them to cope with the stress of the divorce. Focusing on these four components should help to lessen the stress on your children: patience, reassurance, structure, and stability.
Patience. Have the patience to answer your child’s never ending questions they may have about the divorce. Offer them a listening ear and time to vent. Patience is tricky, especially when you are going through such a stressful time in your life. This is why it becomes so incredibly important for you to take care of yourself so that you can be the best parent you can be. Do whatever you can not to take your own stress out on your children. Even if it’s as simple as locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to cool off – do it.
Reassurance. Reassure your children that they are still loved by both parents, and that they did not cause this. Reassure them that it is ok to have fun and enjoy their time with each parent by not acting jealous or getting upset. Do not put your child in a situation where they are forced to pick a side, which will only cause them more stress. Reassure them that you will get through this together, and that this is not the end of their family, but rather the beginning of a different type of family for them.
Structure. By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind your children they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. This is where parenting plans come into play and are so important to maintaining structure. A toddler may not know what day of the week it is, but something as simple as a color coded weekly calendar showing them what days they go to moms house at what days they go to dads house can help them to understand their routine. A preteen or teen may benefit more from an electronic calendar, where they know exactly who is picking them up from school and activities each day. Find what works best for maintaining structure in your family and stick to it.
Stability. It is important to maintain structure in order to provide stability for your children. If one parent has bailed on picking up the kids for the past two weeks, that child no longer has the stability in their life to help them cope with the stress of divorce. Parents in this situation will often stop telling their children when the other parent is going to pick them up because they hate to see them get disappointed. When this happens the parenting plan needs to be addressed and reevaluated. Not only is it stressful on the parent when the other doesn’t follow through, but it is incredibly stressful on children.
All of these points go hand in hand with one another. The more stability and structure you have, the more reassured your child will be. Divorce may be uncharted territory, but you can successfully navigate this unsettling time—and help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.
On lists of life stressors, divorce is usually ranked among the top two or three most emotionally challenging events. The process itself is experienced as highly stressful by many people, and from what we know about recovery from profound loss, it takes at least a year to begin to regain equilibrium. In other words, the stress caused by a divorce does not usually just go away when the decree is signed. Especially in situations in which there has been a high level of tension and acrimony during the divorce process, it can be very difficult to shift from conflict mode to co-parenting mode if there are children in the family.
New sources of stress can arise post-decree, e.g. introducing children to new significant others, a parent’s decision to move, loss of a job, children struggling to adapt to the new normal. It is normal for these kinds of change to create uncertainty and distress.
When contemplating a divorce, many people turn to divorce professionals for ideas, advocacy and support. This can lessen feelings of isolation and uncertainty during a time of crisis. However, after the decree has been submitted to the court, people may feel they are on their own to pick themselves up and commence with the rest of their lives.
It has been my experience that specific post-decree support provided by neutral coaches and neutral child specialists can be an invaluable resource for families defining their new normal after a divorce. In the context of voluntary post decree alternative dispute resolution, resources can be shared, support given, and skills developed for effective co-parenting. Parenting and relationship plans can be created (if not completed during the divorce itself) or revised by joint agreement. In the context of voluntary alternative dispute resolution, children can be safely included in this process, e.g. to check in about their adjustment to new schedules and routines. It has been suggested that follow up care like this should be offered to all divorcing couples, though not all may need it.
This is not a replacement for psychotherapy. Individual therapy can enhance personal growth, provide support and help adults and children heal emotionally. Couples therapy specific to the end of marriage can help resolve lingering emotional issues and conflict. Family therapy may be valuable, especially if relationship repair between parents and children is needed. It is also not a replacement for support groups or resources like Daisy Camp. However, post-decree consultation with neutral experts who specialize in helping family members make the healthiest possible adjustment to a divorce can be a focused and powerful kind of support during a challenging time of transition.
Divorce is unfair in that is often asks people to make some of the most important decisions in their lives at a time when they may be impaired by many emotions, including grief.
Many clients experiencing divorce have described the process as feeling like dealing with a death. It is true that no person dies, and therefore the analogy of death is not perfect, but a marriage dies and some amount of grief would seem quite natural. In addition, grieving the loss of a marriage can be complicated because there is less of a support network. As a culture, we have learned how to help people grieve death. However, the people in your support network may not know how to help you grieve the loss of your marriage, and that can cause them to respond with either anger or avoidance instead.
One of the significant trends in our society is an increased understanding of the role of hospice when someone in approaching death. Hospice occurs after all efforts to preserve life have been exhausted. At that time, the focus of the medical team and support personnel turns away from finding a medical “solution” and toward providing comfort and care and preparation for what lies ahead.
It may seem odd, to think about hospice for a dying marriage, but many of the same principles may apply. If all efforts to save the marriage have been exhausted, it may be best for the legal team, as well as friends and family, to switch to providing comfort, and, perhaps, to finding time to grieve.
Giving divorcing clients time to grieve, and providing resources to help them with the grief, (including options such as coaching, or divorce closure counseling), could help people make better decisions when they are ready to focus on divorce details.
If you are facing divorce, and feel like you need time to grieve, it is important to select a divorce team that understands why this is important, and to fully explore your divorce options so that your emotional health can be taken into account. To learn more, go to www.collaborativelaw.org
Divorce brings up many feelings, including feeling helpless. Sometimes you feel like your life is spinning out of your own control and you are left helpless. There is a quote by Aung San Suu Kyi that reads, “When you feel helpless, help someone.” So what does that mean? We have all experienced times in our life where we feel like the world is against and nothing is going right, divorce being one of them. The easiest way to get out of feeling this way: if you are feeling helpless, help someone. It helps us realize that we are all in this together, and we all have real life problems. In fact, it often helps us realize our problems are not nearly as big as someone else’s are. This is not to say that your problems are not important, but we are all fighting our own battles and you never know what the next person is battling.
Not sure where to start? Strapped for time and/or cash? Whether it’s finding a cause that you are passionate about and seeing where you can best share your time and talents, or simply random acts of kindness, no gesture is too small. See if there is a committee at church where you can lend a helping hand, register for a 5K which supports a cause that you care about, ask an elderly neighbor what they could use a hand with over the weekend, etc.
If you have children, of any age, but especially teenagers (good grief!), chances are they too are feeling like their lives are suddenly beyond their control, as they likely are. Help them find something they can control, because when you feel helpless, helping someone else is very empowering. Check into age appropriate volunteer opportunities at a local shelter to serve meals to the homeless, packing meals for children overseas, collecting coats and blankets and dropping them off for the homeless; the opportunities to help people are endless. Teaching your child that giving back to others will not only empower them in an otherwise helpless situation, but also helping others becomes a life lesson they will remember for years to come. As Ghandi stated, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Start with yourself and then with your children.
No one imagines they will find themselves single, divorced, and living in a 4 bedroom house in the suburbs alone, and then it happens. So what do you do when you wake up and realize that your life is not at all what you ever imagined it would be? How do you “cope” and “mourn” the loss of the life you had been planning for yourself?
First, remember you are not alone. You are never alone in this. Lean on your friends, family, and a good support group – whether it’s a support group you created with a network of friends and family, or a more formal divorce support group in your area. There are so many resource out there, find people/places/networks that you feel comfortable with. Seek out professional counseling or therapy, sometimes just talking about these hopes and dreams that could have/should have/would have been to a neutral party can be such a relief.
Know that it is ok to mourn this loss. For you it may be the loss of the “perfect family” you had envisioned – whether you never had kids and always wanted them, or had 1 or 2 and had wanted more. Maybe for someone else who is forced to go back to work because of the divorce, it may be the loss of being able to stay at home with the children. Perhaps it’s the loss of a certain lifestyle one may have gotten used to or thought they would attain someday, whether financially or within a certain social circle. Maybe divorce forced you to move to new area and you are mourning the loss of being close to your friends, in a certain school district for your children, or even simply mourning the loss of your home. It’s not irrational to mourn these things, whether they are lifestyles and material items you no longer have, or were simply hopes for the future – it is ok.
Take comfort in knowing that you never know what the future has in store for you. Maybe you always wanted kids and suddenly find yourself dating someone with children that you simply adore (young or old). Think you’re too old for that reality? Maybe you will remarry and have pile of grandchildren in your future. Maybe having to go back to work will one day lead to a promotion that allows you to take your children on trips of a lifetime and provide for their college education. There is a quote by Joseph Campbell that reads, “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Remember that.
The longer I work as a neutral child specialist
, the more important I realize it is to help divorcing parents have meaningful conversations about the possibility that one or both of them will enter into new significant relationships while their children are growing up. New significant relationships usually generate a range of emotions and reactions in all family members, some of which are unanticipated. It’s not uncommon for families to re-engage with me when a parent remarries or re-partners to help ensure that children’s best interests are kept at the center of a new family dynamic.
New relationships introduce another element of change and uncertainty into co-parenting. Parenting arrangements for the holidays that were working well may suddenly be called into question. Boundaries may need new clarification, e.g. who is welcome to attend parent-teacher conferences or take children to their swim meets. Advance planning and discussions that normalize potential co-parenting road bumps can help parents stay centered on what’s best for their children.
Here are five basic considerations regarding new significant relationships:
- Give yourself sufficient time to heal. Divorce is a major life crisis. Entering into a new relationship too quickly increases the likelihood that you will not have had time to master the emotional and relational lessons to be learned from your marriage so that you can be truly ready for a new significant attachment.
- Give your children sufficient time to heal. Children are deeply affected by a divorce. Many children tell me the news felt like a bad dream, and what helps them adjust is getting used to the “new normal” over time. Adding additional changes too quickly can negatively impact children’s energy, focus, emotional stability and resilience.
- Inform your co-parent before introducing a new significant other to your children. This is not only a courtesy between parents, but it also helps keeps children out of the middle when they know the new relationship is not a secret.
- If you are co-parenting, any new partner or spouse will need to understand and honor the fact that you have a preexisting lifelong co-parenting relationship. It can be a big red flag if a new person seems threatened by or not accepting of your co-parenting relationship.
- Children may experience insecurity, jealousy or other worries regarding new adults and children who are increasingly present during their time with a parent. This can be especially challenging if step-children get to spend more actual time with this parent than do his or her own children. Parents need to stay attuned to their children’s cues about needing attention, and plan dates and special time with them.
When co-parents are prepared to communicate effectively and work cooperatively on behalf of their children, the introduction of new mature significant others to children who are emotionally ready for this change can be a positive experience for all family members.