Learning how to function after a divorce is a long-term process with both positive and negative outcomes. It is helpful not to view your divorce as a complete "failure," but as a legitimate solution to some marital and family distress that most likely became unhealthy or intolerable. There is an abundance of valuable divorce research and guidance available to assist you. And, in spite of the many nightmare divorce stories, there are undoubtedly helpful ways to adjust and move forward post-divorce.
1. Accept The End of the Marriage
Accept that you are not, and will no longer be, married to your ex-spouse. It's time to develop a new identity that is not tied to your ex. Holding on to a lingering attachment will only produce more stress.
2. Have a "Functional" Post-Divorce Relationship with Your Ex
Make peace with your ex. It’s time to forgive. Separate your role as a parent with the role as a "spouse." It is time to negotiate some new boundaries.
3. Take the Time to Grieve
Let yourself go through the grief process. The end of this process should have an "acceptance" phase. Do not get stuck on long-term self-blame, guilt or anger.
4. Get an Attitude Adjustment
Work hard to develop a realistic understanding about what happened. Each individual must understand their own contribution to the dysfunctional behavior pattern that led to the outcome of the marriage. Accepting responsibility leads to empowerment to do something about it.
5. Firm up Your Social Support System
Find alternative sources of support. It is best to avoid another intimate relationship while you are healing. It is detrimental to become dependent on the children to meet your emotional needs. Get support from a therapist if your alternatives are limited.
6. Learn to Co-Parent
Co-parent with direct communication. Compartmentalize your emotions so you are not tempted to behave poorly toward the parent of your child. Avoid overdependence on or competition for the children.
7. Help Your Children Get Though This Time
Parents should discuss the reasons for separation and divorce with children in age-appropriate ways that do not place blame on anyone in particular. Encourage children to express their emotions about it. If you have a child that tends to internalize, a therapist that works specifically with children can be valuable. Children will require even more emotional support from you, which is often hard to give during this time. It is inappropriate to suddenly burden your children with adult responsibilities.
8. Take Advantage of Opportunities for Learning and Personal Growth
Often in therapy when helping people post-divorce, there is a goal to help the individual develop feelings of capability and competence as a "single" person, especially after a long-term marriage. You need to find new sources of meaning in your life and create a "new beginning."
9. Learn to Handle the Legal Process
The legal process often worsens the pain of divorce. Although it is tempting, do not use legal process punitively. Learn to be satisfied with terms of divorce.
10. Take care of yourself physically
Eating poorly, not exercising, sleeping excessively, etc., can all contribute to your stress level and negative emotions. Physical activity is especially important to activate the natural "feel good" chemicals in your brain called endorphins.
For all of these tips, a competant therapist can help guide the process. An objective third party would be most instrumental in helping you sort through various aspects of a post-divorce life. Some issues to bring to therapy might be your grief, figuring out your contribution to the demise of the marriage, developing boundaries with the ex or co-parenting. It would be beneficial to explore how the divorce might relate to your family of origin or early childhood experiences. It is also incredibly important to learn how to avoid another inappropriate or poor choice in a partner again.
If you would like to learn more about how to manage the challenges of divorce, contact Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT at firstname.lastname@example.org.