We're accustomed to hearing information and advice about what we should do after divorce. But what about those things that are better avoided if we want to eventually find or create a better life after divorce?
Here are ten things people who thrive don't do:
People who thrive after divorce refuse to pretend they're okay.
It's partly a knee-jerk reaction and partly an effort to present our best selves to the world when we respond to "How are you?" with "Fine." Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, this response is sufficient and mostly accurate. Divorce is not one of those times.
During a divorce, most of us experience the extremes of emotions, all tumbling within our bruised hearts at any given moment. And it's easier to say, "Fine" than to admit to the paralyzing fear that we will never find love again. It's less scary to pretend to be okay than to confront the fear that we're really not coping very well. In a time when our esteem has already taken a beating, we want to appear as confident and capable. Even if it's just an illusion.
Pretending to be okay often feels like you're doing others a favor—yet you'e protecting them at the expense of yourself. The problem with pretending to be okay is that it prevents you from receiving the help you may need, and the limited vulnerability promotes loneliness as you avoid true intimacy with others. Those who thrive will admit to themselves and others when they're not okay. They will give themselves the time and space to heal, and they will accept assistance from others. Becoming okay often begins by accepting when you're not.
People who thrive after divorce don't take themselves too seriously.
Divorce is serious business. It has a significant and powerful effect on those affected, from a loss of vitality and financial security, to difficulty functioning and the stress of major loss and transition. It requires consistent effort and attention and money to survive the shift from married to single. And it's easy to become overburdened with the responsibilities, or to become consumed with the impact the split will have on the children.
Those who thrive after divorce don't neglect their duties or minimize the consequences of the end of the marriage, yet they also manage to find the comedy within the tragedy. Whether by taking advantage of a lighthearted moment or using dark humor to poke fun at a horrific situation, they allow the smiles to shine alongside their tears.
Humor not only allows for play and respite; refraining from taking yourself too seriously also helps you to forgive yourself for your stumbles and missteps as you learn how to be in this new and topsy-turvy world. When you can laugh at yourself, it's a great reminder that you have the power to interpret what happens to you.
People who thrive after divorce don't follow rigid rules.
"Don't date for at least a year after divorce." "You should always try for mediation instead of going to court." "Never talk about your divorce at work."
It seems the rules for how we are "supposed" to manage life after divorce are endless. There are rigid social guidelines for everything from how to leave your spouse to how (and when) to meet the next one. Some of the advice is good, some of it excellent. Much of it comes from years of experience and even research. Yet none of that matters if the advice isn't right for you.
Many of us seek guidance after divorce. Lost, confused and overwhelmed, we're looking for somebody to tell us exactly what to do and what steps to take to make it through. It's great to learn from others and gain from the shared wisdom of experience. And it's even better when you process that advice through your own beliefs and needs and shape it into something that makes sense for you. Those who thrive after divorce are open to counsel, yet they refuse to follow rules just for the sake of following rules. They listen, they learn, they reflect, and then they do what feels right for them.
Those who thrive after divorce don't neglect their duties or minimize the consequences of the end of the marriage, yet they also manage to find the comedy within the tragedy.
People who thrive after divorce refrain from becoming bound by their revenge fantasies.
Some ex-spouses are pretty terrible people, or at least they behave in some terrible ways before, during, and after divorce. And when we're hurt, it's tempting to strike back in anger and frustration. The mind becomes a fertile playground for revenge fantasies suitable for a Hollywood script.
The mental vengeance can feel purgative and empowering, restoring a sense of balance and fairness while releasing some of the vitriol. We want the ex to suffer so they can know the pain they inflicted on us. We want them to be miserable because it seems a fitting consequence for their malevolence. We scan their pictures with their new partner looking for signs of unhappiness, or carefully dissect their words looking for cracks in the happy façade.
Those who thrive after divorce are certainly no saints. Their minds still entertain these dark and vindictive thoughts. Yet they refrain from getting too caught up in their need for revenge or their desire to see consequences fall upon their ex. The thrivers understand that by giving to space to these negative thoughts, they are preventing themselves from moving forward. Instead of worrying about what their ex is doing, they strive to turn their energy toward creating a life they enjoy.
People who thrive after divorce avoid leaving their divorce unframed.
When divorce happens, it often feels messy and unrestrained. It presents as the disruption of everything normal and a destroyer of lives. It may have felt inevitable like a slowly rising tide, or it may have presented as a tsunami, wiping out your life in a single catastrophic event.
Regardless of the presentation, your early efforts are focused on survival, on simply making it through one day and on to the next. It's tempting to refrain from looking back upon the destruction of the divorce.
Yet that's exactly what those who thrive do. After they've made it through the survival stage, the thrivers consider the entire divorce experience and decide what purpose it will serve in their lives. They take that catastrophe and they frame it as an experience that has allowed them to learn, to grow, or to help others. They find the purpose within the pain and surround their experience with gratitude for its unexpected gifts.
People who thrive after divorce refuse to turn their narrative into a reality show.
In the world of television drama, conflict is celebrated, everyone is forced into a narrow mold of "hero" or "villain" and stories follow predictable arcs towards resolution. Life is not television.
We have become so accustomed to fictional and manipulated narratives that we often expect our lives to follow a similar path. We focus on the sordid details, welcoming the excitement and drama even as we realize that it makes us feel ill in the process. We all-too-easily cast our exes (and maybe their new partners) as narcissists or monsters. And we expect that life should be a series of events worthy of airtime.
Instead of seeking drama, those who thrive after divorce avoid the secret thrill that comes from digging into the dirt because they are well-aware of the negative after-effects. They recognize that their ex is human and fallible, and so are they. Resolution is viewed less as, "the end" and more as "the next step." In place of stirring up drama, they strive to find a place of detached compassion.
People who thrive after divorce don't treat their children as pawns or victims.
It can be tempting to use the children as an implement of control or power when your ex is being difficult or unreasonable. Within the court system, the kids are often treated like the fake rabbits used in dog racing, so that the parents keep shoveling money into their respective attorney's pockets. In the worst of cases, one parent badmouths the other in front of the kids in an attempt to win favor and turn the children against their parents.
On the other end of the spectrum, some families focus so much on the effect that the divorce has on the children that they unintentionally promote a feeling of victimhood in their offspring. The kids begin to feel as though they are broken and need to be protected. The parents, feeling guilty, overindulge and overprotect their kids.
In thriving families, the impact on the kids is mitigated wherever possible and it is also not magnified. The children are allowed to express their feelings and are also encouraged to not be limited by them. Those who thrive help their kids without enabling them and they accept the impact of the divorce without marinating in guilt.
People who thrive after divorce abstain from catastrophizing a bad day.
During a divorce, we are often living on the razor edge of a breakdown, and it doesn't take much to push us off the narrow edge of getting by and being okay-ish. Those are the bad days when the brunt of responsibility collides with a lack of rest and the seemingly insurmountable weight of grief.
Those who thrive experience those bad days just as frequently as anyone else. They have those moments when it all feels impossible and nothing seems like it's working in their favor. The difference is in the narrative surrounding the misery. People who are struggling often generalize their unhappiness, allowing a "bad day" to become a "bad life" like a newly-dyed burgundy sheet transferring its pigment to the rest of the laundry.
In contrast, those who thrive create boundaries around the terrible times. They may wither under the gloom of a bad day, but they also know that tomorrow may again bring the sun. They use language to communicate these walls, avoiding all-encompassing words such as "always" and "never" and clarifying that the current misery, no matter how bad, is always transitory.
People who thrive after divorce refrain from making the divorce the most important thing in their life.
The stress of divorce is ranked as higher than that of imprisonment, major injury, and even the loss of a family member. There is no doubt that a divorce is a major event in one's life, a dividing line between "before" and "after."
Divorce changes you. Its tears wash away any remaining naiveté you carried into adulthood. It forces you to summon courage you never knew you had and to face fears that always seemed too big to name. It allows doubt to creep in and makes you accept the harder truths of life and its inevitable loss.
Without a doubt, divorce has a major influence on you. Yet it does not have to define you. Those who thrive see their divorces as one of a series of events that have shaped them, helped them grow. They acknowledge its impact. Yet they also refuse to build a shrine around it, elevating its importance. The thrivers live with their eulogies in mind—focusing more on their life purpose and their lasting impact than on the series of milestones they have moved through.
People who thrive after divorce don't give up.
Even those who thrive don't thrive every day. They just refuse to give up.
Written by Lisa Arends
Lisa Arends is a divorcee working to inspire others to move forward, recenter, and repurpose their lives. She has written the "How-To-Thrive Guide." Learn more about "thriving" and be inspired by visiting LessonsFromTheEndOfAMarriage.com.