Take care of yourself. Even the most loving, respectful divorces are emotionally challenging.
In an attempt to feel better, some people may respond in unhealthy ways—drinking too much alcohol, eating a pint of ice cream every night in front of the TV, and other self-destructive behaviors.
Anything can become a crutch for the newly divorced, not just booze and food. Drugs, cigarettes, caffeine, sex, entering new relationships too soon—all are attractive stress-relievers. During a divorce, it’s not unusual for ex-smokers or the newly sober to return to bad habits, or start new ones.
While these vices may feel good in the moment, this behavior ultimately won't lead to where you want to be—feeling good about yourself and life. What you need is some TLC...and you don’t need someone else to give it to you.
Sure, you can take up yoga or go on spiritual retreats, or decide to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, as Cheryl Strayed recounted in “Wild.” But you don’t need such grand gestures to care for yourself.
“It’s important to remember that you deserve to do something special for yourself every day, even if only for 10 minutes. It can be as simple as taking a walk or reading a book with your favorite cup of tea. Give yourself permission,” writes Joan Winberg in Psychology Today.
Take care of your kids.
Not everyone has kids, but if you do, it’s natural to worry about how a divorce will impact them. It will affect them, but it doesn’t have to be negative. Studies indicate that it’s parental conflict—not divorce per se—that hurts children the most. This is why it's so important that you and your former spouse are on the same page regarding how to successfully co-parent in separate homes. Many couples have become creative in co-parenting children post-divorce.
For Toronto’s Brandie Weikle, that meant living next door to her former husband and embracing his new wife. “When a marriage ends, it can feel like you’re living a life you don’t recognize at all. But if you both operate under one principle—do what’s right for the kids—you’ll wind up with the next best thing: an amicable co-parenting situation where the kids feel secure and loved,” says Weikle, who celebrates and helps others in non-traditional situations on her blogs and podcasts on The New Family.
Take care of your finances.
Many people believe disruption can kick-start a career by emboldening people to challenge authority, take risks, and be open to improvising. That’s assuming you already have a career to kick-start. But if you’ve been out of the workplace for a while, or are underemployed, it can feel overwhelming. There are many places to turn for help, from career coaches to returnships, to programs like AARP’s Back to Work 50+.
“Women often don’t get paid the same as men for comparable work, and women’s careers are impacted by choosing to raise children—but these are facts, not obstacles to happiness,” writes Alison Patton, a family lawyer and mediator.
Women can either accept the reduction in their lifestyle, or boost their earnings by finding a better job, increasing their hours, or acquiring additional education and training, she notes.
Take care of your non-romantic relationships.
Too often, married people spend so much time with their spouse and kids that they forget to nurture other important relationships. In fact, one study calls marriage a “greedy institution,” finding that married couples spend less time than singles calling, writing, and visiting friends, neighbors, and extended family.
And sometimes, even the friendships you have tend to unravel once a couple splits. “Divorce often makes coupled friends uncomfortable for a variety of reasons: Your friends may feel uncomfortable taking sides, may see a new divorcee as a threat, or your divorce may make them feel uncomfortable about their own marriages,” writes psychologist Irene S. Levine.
It isn’t always easy to make new friends, she notes, and it might mean extending beyond your comfort zone, but it’s never too late to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors.
Take care of your community.
Being part of a village of people who care about you, and that you can care about, is an essential component of recovering from divorce. “Finding support is essential as you rediscover your sense of belonging and connection. It’s the first step you should take, in fact,” writes psychologist Andra Brosh.
Brosh suggests joining support groups, online forums, participating in community events and activities, and engaging with others who often struggle to be accepted, such as seniors, LGBT people, and those who are disabled.
While you may need more help from others than ever before, it’s equally important to be helpful to others as well. The intimacy and sense of purpose such interactions will build have the potential to be transformational.