By Jackie Pilossoph, Creator and Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling site, podcast and app, Love Essentially columnist and author.
From a recently separated reader: I’m going through a divorce after 21 years of marriage and want to know how to survive divorce. Will I survive? I felt strong until we sold our house and I actually moved out. I’m sick, sad, and very depressed. I don’t know who I am without him and I don’t know how to be single and independent. How will I survive?
Messages I receive like this one from people going through a divorce and wanting to know how to survive divorce are perhaps the most heartbreaking for me. I can only imagine this woman sitting at her computer feeling hopeless, tears in her eyes, typing this message and feeling lost.
My answer to the question, “Will I survive?” is HELL YES. Not surviving isn’t an option. Your loved ones (and kids if you have them) need you to pull it together and not only survive, but do more than survive. But even more so, you owe it to yourself to do more than survive. You deserve a happy life. You will have one if you make good choices from this point moving forward. (More on that in a minute.)
Before I answer the question, “How will I survive?” I want to address two issues:
1. Selling your house and moving out was probably one of the hardest parts of the divorce for two reasons:
One, it made going through a divorce real and your brain now had to process that this was actually happening. Two, you most likely had some beautiful, wonderful, joyful memories in the house and didn’t want to move out. It’s devastating. But here is some advice. Make sure that wherever you are moving, that it is a place where you feel warm and safe and comfortable. It can be the size of a shoebox if money is an issue, but it has to be a place you like and want to come home to. Do not settle or move in somewhere because you are feel desperate and are under the gun to find a place. And, make that place a home, whether it’s for you only or you and the kids. It might only be temporary, or you might be there for a long time. Regardless, make it a safe, warm and comfy home.
2. 21 years is a REALLY LONG time to be with someone, and I can understand your saying “I don’t know who I am without him.”
It can feel lonely, empty, isolating, and scary to be without him, when really, being a couple and being with him is all you really know. So, take some deep breaths (the kind you take in yoga), and connect with your strong, inner self, and your faith. You won’t always feel this way. I know it’s hard to imagine, but someday you will know who you are without him and life will be very very different. I promise that will happen. You have been forced out of your comfort zone, which in my opinion is something most people absolutely hate. But down the road, almost all grow to feel empowered and strong and wonderful about how they learned to handle things, how they never knew what they were capable of, and how things turned out.
In answer to, “How will I survive?” Here are 15 tips on how to survive divorce:
1. Allow yourself to grieve.
Cry, be angry, be sentimental, miss him, etc. Let yourself have fits and punch your pillow and scream and yell to your friends and family at times. Get it all out because going through a divorce is awful and tragic and unfair!!! BUT, PLEASE don’t let your kids see any of this.
2. Acknowledge that you are scared shitless.
Scared to be alone, scared of finances, scared of running your own household, scared of change. It’s OK to be scared. Everyone is.
3. Do things for yourself.
In other words, don’t stop living because you are going through a divorce. When I was first separated, my girlfriends from high school had planned a weekend trip to Las Vegas and I was going to cancel because my ex had just moved out two weeks earlier. I ended up going and it was wonderful. It was a temporary escape from the chaos and devastation of my new separation. I’m not telling you to hop on a plane, but treat yourself well. Go get a pedicure, go to a museum, cook something you love, go shopping, go see a concert. In other words, don’t feel guilty for doing for yourself. In fact, do one little thing for yourself every single day, no matter how small.
4. Talk to God.
He is listening. Talk to Him every day, even if only for 30 seconds. And always thank Him for the things you have.
5. Work out.
Even if it’s for 15 minutes, it is scientifically proven that physically activity will help you mentally. If you are having a bad day and you force yourself to hit the gym, your day will change. Almost guaranteed!
6. Connect with other divorced women.
When I was first going through a divorce, I didn’t know any other divorced women. I met a woman in a kickboxing class I was doing one day and she and I decided to meet for dinner. It was kind of awkward at first, but when we started talking, we never stopped. We found we had so much in common and could help and support each other. We ended up becoming great friends are still are!
7. Remember that it’s not YOU, it’s THEM.
I’m just going to be blunt here. Some women who you think are your friends will dump you. They don’t want to be friends with a divorced woman, either because they are scared it will happen to them, or they are afraid you will hit on their husband. It is beyond hurtful and mean, but realize that it’s not you, accept their decision and move on. The friends who stick by you will be your friends forever.
8. Enjoy your children.
Don’t let the divorce take away the joy you get out of your kids. When you are with them, try not to think about court dates and your ex’s new girlfriend, but rather these beautiful miracles that you have been blessed with. And, when they go to Dad’s house, don’t feel guilty if you enjoy the time alone. And, don’t fall apart because you now find yourself with all this time on your hands and you now feel lonely. Use the time to do things for yourself, to be productive, and to foster peace in your life.
9. Stop looking back.
Try not to think, ‘If only I would have done this…’ or ‘I wish I would have been a better wife’ or ‘I wish I wouldn’t have nagged him so much’ or ‘If only he never met her…’ It’s done. You cannot change what happened. But, you have a hell of a lot of control over what happens next.
10. Rediscover your passions/interests.
What did you do before you were married? What were you good at? What made you happy? This could lead to volunteer work, hobbies or a job. This is the time to figure out and shape what your life is going to be like moving forward. It takes time, and you might want to talk to a career counselor or divorce coach or job coach to help you figure things out.
11. Listen to others rather than talking all the time.
Divorced people like to vent. And vent and vent and vent. I was one of them. That’s OK. But listen to what others have to say, both about themselves and their own lives (everyone has problems.) But also, the ones who truly care about you and know you might have really good ideas for you. So, just listen sometimes.
12. Minimize contact with your ex.
Try not to bicker and argue and fight. Time away right now is good. You already did all that fighting before you decided to get divorced. Space with him is good right now unless it involves the kids or the divorce process.
13. Eat well.
The food you put in your body affects your mood. Some foods in a good way, some bad. Eat the good ones.
Life is still good! Look around and appreciate things. I saw a license plate the other day that read “I love Dan” and I thought that was really cute. I also saw a man having lunch with his toddler son and he was enjoying the kid so much he was beaming. It was adorable. Little things like this make people smile and laugh. There are countless beautiful things going on every second. They are there for your enjoyment. Take advantage!
15. There are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t.
Know the difference and be wise enough to focus on what you CAN control. I recently read this quote in a prayer book at my synagogue and it really made me think about a lot of things in my life. “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you.”
In closing, if you took a photo of yourself today, and then again in 3 months, 6 months, one year and 5 years, all of the photos would look very very different, and I bet that in each one, there will be more strength, happiness and peace. That’s what I wish for every divorced person.