Woman's hand on a window thinking about why divorce hurts

Why Divorce Hurts

I think if you ask a woman why divorce hurts so much, she’d probably ask you in return, “Um, how much time do you have?” But there’s also the chance that she might recoil from you—unless you’re her close friend or a family member and you have a large tub of ice cream nearby—because of how intimate the answer is.

Divorce hits us at the core of who we are, in the most deeply personal ways. Prepared or not, whether we’re the initiator or not, it pulls the rug out from under us, out from under our sense of possibility, our hopes, our dreams for ourselves, our children, and our union, our own potential and the potential of our coupledom.

Divorce yanks away our identity. It drops us off the edge of what we know, and for a while, it feels like we’re going to keep falling, getting more and more lost in loss. It upends reality in all the public and practical ways, too, certainly. But that stuff is more tangible; you can define it or at least see the general shape of it. We can put more of those things on a to-do list.

It’s in the loss of the unseen—the spirit of the relationship—where self-doubt, hopelessness, and a surreal alienation from who we thought we were creep in and blind us for a while.

As if that fog wasn’t difficult enough to navigate, there are also all the little things that were unique to the two of you hiding in it. If the saying “the devil is in the details” has relevance in any life event, it’s in divorce. Those little day-to-day grace moments that were the divine of the relationship—the comfort and bliss of it—become swift, devilishly sharp memories that tunnel so quickly out of the pigeon holes we put them in. They fly at us unexpectedly, just when we think we might be okay, and they burrow in, becoming a lump in our throats.

As you’re doing dishes at the sink, suddenly you feel the weight of his* hands on your hips as he comes up to stand behind you, and your head leans back to rest on a chest that isn’t there. You’re hanging up a coat and from the cold scent of the fabric rushes a memory of him coming in from pruning trees in the backyard, tracking mulch and leaving piles of branches everywhere but delighted to see you. You open your arms for the hug that doesn’t come. You bend down to pet the cat and say something to her with his inflection, and it levels you and leaves you on the floor with her while she licks your tears. All you can do is curl up in a ball as you hear him in your mind, discussing the state of her tummy.

Maybe you wake from a nightmare and all you want is the rumble of his voice under your cheek, telling you it’s just a dream. But all that’s there are clammy sheets, too much quiet, too little air, and an aching solitude you didn’t have in mind when you said you needed “me time.”

And that’s really it. When we’re honest with ourselves, we know why divorce hurts: it comes the loss of a really wonderful dream that you had, not just about your own potential but the potential of your union, the possibility of joy and hope. We have that in common, but the intimacy of it is particular to each of us. If you’re reading this, you are likely still living in your pain and feeling vulnerable, but this is, after all, a shared experience. That’s why we’re all here—so that we know we’re not alone.

“Sometimes, we outlaw our own grief, failing to give value to our feelings; seeing the tears as intruders that must be defended against. But grief is not on a timetable and doesn’t always run on schedule. Sometimes it even leaves the station, only to double back and park again. And stay,” writes Jonathan Trotter, a contributor at The Gottman Institute.

“…So please allow grief, in your own heart and in the hearts of others. Don’t send it underground. If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief, you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief. If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.”

If I am honest, even though I had released and let go of my Ex, there was for a while a tiny ember of hope glowing that we’d have another chance—that I would have a chance to do things differently. That ember was still there because of regret.

There are a million reasons for regret. There’s the regret of disappearing from the “we” to avoid the “I.” There may be regret for not being anywhere close to our best selves for a good chunk of the relationship; for being too frequently sad, angry, or hopeless during periods of our togetherness and letting him carry all of that too often. Some of us make the mistake of making our partnership the main source of our sense of accomplishment and pride and allowing ourselves to shrink into that and stay stuck there.

Sometimes we let fear stop us from finding our courage and reaching for something meaningful that’s just ours. Without realizing I was doing it, I wrapped more than a little of my identity around my Ex; I’d been chosen by a good man, and I half consciously made that my mantra for when I didn’t feel good about myself. I left him alone in the midst of us a lot; when I released us from our partnership (and then panicked), we remained friends, but even so, he took off like a wild creature finally freed.

It isn’t just that we can lose our identity in marriage (in any long-term relationship) and have to face choking fear and bewilderment when we start to find our way back to ourselves. The sharpest facet of that pain is the realization that no one took it from us; we gave it up. We fail ourselves as much as we fail our partners. It is the regret of that realization that’s another reason why divorce hurts. That and our own conscience. We can try to ignore it, but while ignorance may be bliss, it’s a mindless bliss. It isn’t until we truly understand this that we can forgive ourselves for giving up on ourselves, even temporarily.

You sit with the grief for a while. Sometimes it consumes you. And then you sit with the nothingness for a while, and it’s terrifying. And finally, when you get through the self-recognition, the ownership and the elusive self-forgiveness, you begin to see your sense of vulnerability ebbing away.

You realize that hope, like love, never really dies. They just change form, and it continue to do so. From the ashes of the hope you had for the relationship and all its potential, you have the hope that, now that it’s over, it might be reborn because you have yourself back and are strong enough to do things well this time, and then it changes form again and now you know that your hope for yourself isn’t fragile at all.

So remember, grief, hope, love—they are never really gone. They change form, and so do you. You may not get to do things differently with him, but you do get a chance to do things differently for yourself—be a different woman. However you created that chance, you did, so blot your face, lift your eyes, and go and meet yourself.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

A woman looking out at a window thinking about her unwanted divorce

What to Do If You Are Dealing with an Unwanted Divorce

Your husband took you by surprise—but not the good kind. You never saw the end of your marriage coming. For many of us, that’s how it happens. One night you’re looking at Airbnb’s for a trip to Mexico with “Suzy and Ed,” your long-time married friends, your parallel soulmates whom you always travel with now that you’re reaching a certain age. You were picturing the guys playing golf together, while you and Suzy visited local markets. And then that word: divorce. Worse yet, maybe he told you there’s someone else.

You deserve so much—happiness and love and respect. Loyalty too. Deep down, you know this. But being served with divorce papers was never on the list of things you deserved.

If this is you, or close enough (maybe there is no third party to the story, as far as you know), then you are a woman facing an unwanted divorce. Below are ten things you should know.

Take your time as you read them over, and before you take action, give yourself permission to cry and mourn and hold space for your feelings. Start your divorce recovery journey in the place that feels right to you. And above all, be kind to yourself. Dealing with an unwanted divorce may feel impossible, but we promise you’ll get through this.

1. Understand that he’s* known he was going to leave you for a while

He’s been preparing for this divorce much longer than you have—he will be pulled together and clear-headed, ready for what comes next after he’s gotten the news off his chest. And in return, he’ll want you to fall in line, play your part, and sign the papers so he can officially call game over and move forward.

2. And because he’s had time to prepare, you’ll need a script to lean on

Here’s a good place to start: “You’ve been preparing for this for a while, but I’ve just been hit with the news. I need time to process what you are saying and what this means. I need to get educated.”

Prepare for him to react, for eyerolling, and more while you make it clear: “We are not operating by your clock anymore.”

3. Then find safe ground

This means find your people and get educated. Yes, it’s only natural to call your mother, brother, and best friend. But after sharing the shock you’re feeling, recognize you need more than empathy and verbal support. You need expert feedback on your situation. You need the what to do, how to do it, and above all, how to do it healthily feedback.

So that one day, one fine day, you can say you are recovered and healed from the complete devastation you are feeling now.

Our best suggestion is, of course, to meet with a divorce coach. You’ll want to hear how you can most efficiently get educated on what your life choices are right now and how you will take care of yourself. The right coach will help you understand what to do with all the outrage, anger, rejection, and grief you have over your unwanted divorce AND how to handle the aspects of it that are more business transaction than emotions. The business transaction of divorce, the legal and financial angles to the divorce, must be dealt with smartly and separately so you can protect yourself from being hurt again.

4. Be prepared, some people aren’t going to understand why you can’t just move on

This is especially true when it’s clear your husband started everything, or was maybe two-timing you, and you so clearly deserve more. Remember what we said about the clock above? Well, similarly, you are not healing or getting “back out there,” dating or otherwise, based on anyone else’s sense of urgency. This time is about you and how you choose to help yourself cope and heal.


Read “How Long Does it Take to Get Over a Divorce and 4 Signs You are on Your Way”


5. Find your tribe

Find women who understand you, who inspire you, who lift you up. Surround yourself with women who make you laugh and women who remind you of who you really are. If this is a support group, that’s great, but make sure that support group is facilitated by a pro who helps steer the conversation to a new, empowered and take-charge kind of place. A healthy divorce support group for you is one that teaches you things and, when you leave, has you feeling more positive and lighter.

6. No matter how blindsided you are, recognize there was something wrong in your relationship

You knew it on some level. Trying to second, third, or quadruple guess what exactly it was is a waste of energy right now because it was probably a lot of things. When a person gets to the point of leaving you, it was a process, not a single action or moment.

It could have been a slow or fast burn, but trying to fix it now is not going to work. It’s not all his fault or her fault. Your coming to terms with what you did will be the work of the next stage in your divorce recovery. But not now. Right now, you’ve got to get educated on what your rights are and what you’re entitled to. You must be treated fairly in this business negotiation.

7. Here’s what not to do: stalk him

You have to treat your Ex like an addiction. You cannot be with him more than you absolutely have to. Because whenever you are with him, your heart at varying degrees wants to go backward, to “return to the familiar.” You can’t afford to keep going backward, living in the past. You need to learn what steps to take and accept that they will be hard, but you need to learn how to fix your broken heart.

8. Do not compare your divorce to others

With an unwanted divorce, your recovery process is not the same as another woman who chose to leave her husband. She might be feeling excited and empowered, finally free, which bears no resemblance to your great sense of loss, disappointment, betrayal, and rejection. Your experiences are different. Your divorce recovery is probably going to take longer, but it will happen if you do things to support yourself and not go backwards too much.

9. You are human

You’re made of flesh and blood. And sometimes, the pain you feel will appear unbearable. And because of this sometimes you will fail, you will fall, and you will cry. But you progress every time you get back up and dry your face, all the times you pick your kids up from school, show up for work, or drive by to check in on your mom. That’s you compartmentalizing. Managing that makes you a master. Take stock of what you can do in spite of what you’ve been through!

10. You were part of a team before, but there was something flawed

Now you are no longer a team but a woman at a choice point, staring at a fork in the road. You must decide how you will meet the change that is coming toward you.

You may be going through an unwanted divorce, yes, but you can choose to consider it a foe or meet it as a friend. You can focus on the facts of what has happened to you and how they were not fair, or you can get curious about what’s in front of you. Get in the driver’s seat of your own life—it’s the only way you can see better.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

A woman starting out the window thinking of divorce facts

6 Crazy Facts That Increase Your Risk of Divorce

We romanticize our relationships, ignoring all the divorce facts and advice out there in favor of writing our own story. That story is the one you pull out when a friend, family member, or coworker asks you that dreaded question: what happened?

It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer because relationships are not linear, they are like constellations or whole galaxies, full of black holes that will pull you in and tear you apart if you let them, the gravity of every moment creating patterns and paths that the two of you unconsciously follow. We spend a lot of time thinking about divorce, attempting to unravel it all, before we pull the trigger.

But if you’re anything like me—a chronic planner, a person who arms herself with research and divorce facts in an attempt to make sense of her world—then it might help to know that even in the unique intricacies of a marriage there are common reasons for divorce.

Let’s stop the romanticizing. There is comfort in knowing that, sometimes, we are more alike than we are different. Below are 6 interesting facts that have been known to increase your chance of divorce.

Spending a lot on an engagement ring and wedding

A diamond is forever, and a fairy tale wedding ensures a happy ending—this is what we tell ourselves, and what the world reflects back at us. But high spending on weddings and engagement rings has been tied to shorter marriages. Women, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely to divorce someone when they spend over $20,000 on a wedding versus $5,000 to $10,000. Financial stress is one of the more common reasons for divorce, regardless of how large or extravagant your wedding is, so maybe this divorce fact isn’t too surprising.

It’s okay to be flashy, but sometimes we have to question our motives. Do we want a marriage, or do we want a wedding? There’s nothing wrong with wanting your wedding to be special, but it probably shouldn’t, arguably, be the best or happiest day of your life. You have a long road ahead of you, both in life and in marriage.

The same research that ties wedding and engagement expenses to a likelihood of divorce also ties higher wedding attendance and a honeymoon to longer marriages. It’s a point worth lingering on. These divorce facts are telling us to pay attention—to focus on people and connection instead of an entire industry that exists to commodify love and marriage even at our own detriment.

Getting married or moving in together at a young age

You either grow together or you grow apart. So maybe it’s not too surprising that the younger two people are when they get married to or move in with their spouse, the more likely they are to get divorced. Most of us begin our early adulthoods full of lofty goals and dreams—we’re shaped, in part, by our achievements and failures, by the setbacks we experience and the ways in which we embrace change.

You might have a partner who enjoys watching you grow throughout all of this, or you might have a partner who resents that growth. But you’re becoming a new, better version of yourself, ideally, and if you find yourself in the latter situation, it’s likely a sign that your time with that partner has reached its end. You’re different people now than you were when your relationship began, and that’s okay. It’s natural and normal. It’s healthy.

Working with people of the opposite sex

The fact of the matter is that it’s hard to meet new people as an adult, and since we spend most of our time at our workplace, it’s one of the few places we might regularly interact with people outside of our marriage. If you work with people of the opposite sex, then you might have a higher risk of divorce than those who don’t.

Sometimes close proximity breeds intimacy. You have shared experiences. You go from those coworkers who always sit next to each other at meetings to eating lunch together to grabbing a drink after your shift, and then suddenly this person has become a regular fixture of your life, someone you look forward to seeing. A boundary may have been crossed, even inadvertently, and if you don’t set new ones, you might find yourself feeling distant from your partner as you grow closer to someone else.

Being close to other people who are recently divorced

Fear keeps us from doing many things in life, including leaving our marriages behind. If you have people in your life who’ve recently gone through or are currently going through a divorce, you might find yourself looking inward at your own relationship. They did it, we might think to ourselves, so why can’t I?

We live vicariously through the divorces of others. But it becomes a problem when we refuse to live out our own experiences in spite of this, stubbornly assuming we have all the answers or that we can learn from someone else’s mistakes. The facts of someone else’s marriage will not change the facts of ours. On the other hand, the divorce of a friend, family member, or coworker can make us feel brave and give ourselves permission to take a leap we may have been considering for far too long.


Wondering how long it takes to get over a divorce? Read on to learn more about the signs that mean you’re on your way.


Living near a lot of conservative or evangelical Protestants

It might surprise you that married couples living in a highly conservative or religious area are more likely to get divorced—after all, both Christians and conservatives are known for upholding institutions like marriage. But this divorce fact holds true whether or not the couple themselves is religious or not.

The beliefs and behaviors of those living around them become cultural and systematic, like roots digging themselves into the land. Abstinence-only sexual education is likely to be taught in schools, early marriage is heavily promoted, and there’s a strong push for starting a family sooner rather than later. These regions tend not to value higher education, too, and so income levels become stagnant and job training is limited. None of these values is inherently wrong, but the result is a lot of pressure and stress on what is likely a young marriage.

Marrying someone with a big age difference

Our values and goals often depend on where we’re at in life, in age and maturity and experience. Being close in age means we have shared the universal experiences specific to certain generations (music, movies, societal expectations, and historical events, etc.). You share a common language, and there’s a comfort in that.

When you marry someone much older or younger than you, there can be the feeling of always being two steps behind or never quite being on the same page. One of you is travel weary while the other is itching for an adventure. One of you has already had kids and a family while the other may still be hoping to start one. One of you is looking to begin a new venture (go back to school, change careers, start a business, etc.) while the other is looking to settle down. Even if you truly connect with your partner one-on-one, you may feel like a fish out of water when surrounded by their friends and family members.

Divorce facts aside, none of us wants to be reduced to numbers and statistics. The best part of writing your own story is that you are in control of it—you get to decide how it ends, and what’s best for you and your family. Don’t isolate yourself during this difficult time. Put yourself out there and get the support you need. Find a therapist or work with a divorce coach so you can separate fact from fiction and clearly see the options laid out before you.

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce. Schedule your free consultation with SAS. Tell us confidentially what’s going on and we’ll give you black & white feedback, resources and suggestions for your next healthiest steps (regardless of your working further with us or not). Everyone deserves to know what is possible for HER.

This article was authored for the all-women website SAS for Women by Melanie Figueroa, a writer and content editor who loves discussing women’s issues and creativity. 

Man thinking about why women leave men

Why Women Leave Men

If we’re trying to understand why women leave men they love—often digging up their roots after years of emotional cultivation—maybe we should first ask what we’re seeking from a long-term, committed relationship to begin with.

Both women and men seek marriage and other forms of partnership. The search isn’t exclusive to those of us with two X chromosomes, as if we were anglers trying to coax a wily trout who’d rather not be hooked to bite our line. We are attracted to stability and certainty, and when we find it, the relationship can benefit not only our mental health but our physical health as well. In a recent report, Harvard Health Publishing cited a 2010 survey of 127,000 American adults that found married people, overall, are healthier when compared to the unmarried, divorced, or widowed. “People living with unmarried partners tend to fare better than those living alone,” the report said, “but men living with their wives have the best health of all.”

The long-haul nature of marriage gives both people time to get used to each other’s responses to life’s smaller hiccups and larger catastrophes. Ideally, we already know each other by the time we get married or buy a house together. It’s one of the most important bets we ever place—predicting a future based on someone else. But within the (presumably) lifetime scope that marriage offers, we have time to understand each other and respond symbiotically. In other words, we learn to make choices that benefit both ourselves and our partners.

That healthy emotional ecosystem is what we’re trying to create when we enter into a marriage or long-term partnership. Like any good ecosystem, it takes time, cooperation, and the health of all its life forms. So why do women uproot themselves from relationships they’ve invested so much of themselves in?

Women leave when the emotional ecosystem they’re living in stops supporting their growth or, from a lack of satisfaction or unhealthy communication patterns, when both they and their partner begin to toxify the relationship’s soil. We can outgrow relationships or, more alarmingly, the partner we thought was compatible can turn out to be a kind of invasive species, choking out our nutrients to benefit themselves exclusively.

In asking the question of why women leave men, we hear a lot of different answers. From the women I spoke to in person to the perspectives I found online, the answers ranged from the clear-cut to the complex. But generally, they all funneled down into a few categories.

The invasive partner

This is the kind of relationship that might have us wishing we would have never trusted the person with our well-being, and the sooner we can pull up and move to new ground, the better. (Although, it’s important to note that people don’t always set out to do harm or suffocate but do so from a lack of self-awareness: their behavior isn’t always malicious.)

These women give answers like, “he started controlling me through finances,” “he was cruel,” or “he told me I’m not smart enough.” Often the attempts to cut or burn are less obvious, too. An insecure spouse can use passive aggressive behaviors (a raised eyebrow, a smirk, a tone, sarcasm, etc.) just as easily as a fist, and these methods are much more difficult to detect. They wound while avoiding responsibility or visibility, which makes them harder to fight and harder to get protection from.

This might be a good time to point out that men are not always the “invasive plant” in this scenario. Women can be as well, and a good example of how we can inadvertently allow a strength to create a weakness is in our well-touted ability to talk (women are said to speak up to 13,000 more words than men every day). It stands to reason that some of us could learn to listen better. (For those of you who have trouble using your voice or standing up for yourself, please ignore this). Women often speak of wanting to be seen and heard, but do we want to hear men on their terms? Self-expression is critical and our ability to speak our minds is something to be proud of and foster in our children, but we do need to take care not to drown our men in words—or to use language as a weapon.

Growing too far afield

Sometimes we start branching out in a new direction in our work, a new project, or in our own self-development. It may also be the most positive reason women leave men, not only because we’ve already got some forward momentum going and something to look forward to, but because it’s no one’s fault. This makes it easier on both people—the person leaving the partnership doesn’t feel as guilty and the person remaining might be less likely to have the “I wasn’t good enough” blues playing in their head.

Growing big or growing up while our partner does not

Women who leave for this reason give answers like, “I got too successful in my career and my husband couldn’t handle it” or simply “I was too happy for him to be around me.” Or, sometimes, “I got tired of working the same number of hours at my job and then coming home and being the only one who was taking care of the household chores.”

If our partner isn’t listening to our requests for help around the house, with the kids—basically, if they don’t want to contribute equally whether it’s financial or not and we keep reaching for our best selves (as well we should)—eventually we will outgrow them.

The emotional ecosystem stops supporting our growth

Simply put, things stagnate, dry up, or through the accumulation of too many disappointments and miscommunications, we toxify the soil. For a while, this is avoidable, especially if both partners are willing to work on communication. But we can and do reach a critical mass, and women—who are twice as likely to file for divorce as men—often decide enough is enough.

These women give answers like “he took me for granted,” “there wasn’t any romance anymore,” or “he cheated.”

I was part of a conversation recently where a group of women were advising one friend on how to decide whether or not to leave her man. They told her to make a list of pros and cons, and if the cons list was longer, she should leave him.

We hear gardeners talk about soil ratios for certain plants—likewise, some of us thrive in different environments. We have our own styles of communication and our own ideas about the life we want to lead. Relationships are about balance. You will have both positive and negative interactions with your partner, and even the latter can be healthy as long as they don’t begin to overshadow the rest of your relationship to the point that you can’t remember the last time you laid eyes on the sun.

So, make your pros and cons list, do some research, listen to your man, go to counseling, or talk to a divorce coach to find out what you’re in for before you act. If relationships are like a garden, then pay attention to how you feel being planted in that soil. Are you wilting? Are you stretching your face towards the sun? It may be time to let go of the past, of what your relationship could or should be, and focus on what’s right in front of you. Divorce is a big decision, but you may find that it’s the right one for you and your family. Life after divorce, women often find, is better than they could have imagined.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms, one step at a time.” ~ SAS for Women.

Getting through divorce

Seven Ways to Keep Your Sanity as You Get Through a Divorce

Getting through a divorce with our sanity intact is a real challenge. We have to grapple as much with what’s going on in our minds—with our beliefs about ourselves—as we do with what’s coming at us from the outside. It’s no wonder that divorce is typically ranked as one of the top three most stressful life events, possibly because it so often involves many of the other stressful events in life: loss of income, change of residence, changing jobs, loss of our friends and social network, worry over the health of a loved one…the list goes on.

And that’s what’s outside. Inside, the “I’m not enough” voice, the “I failed” voice, the ones that tell us that we can’t provide, that our children will be harmed, that we won’t experience love or passion again—they’re loud and they are on repeat.

A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in October 2019 cites that young adults of divorced parents experience more depression, loneliness, childhood trauma, attachment avoidance, attachment anxiety, chronic stress, and less paternal care. But while concern for children of divorce is justified and should be addressed, there’s good reason to be concerned for ourselves, as well.

“Divorce can exact a greater, and in many cases longer-lasting emotional and physical toll on the former spouses than virtually any other life stress, including widowhood,” writes New York Times reporter Jane Brody.

The research supports what we instinctively know: we need to get our feet under us. If marriage is a ballet, then divorce is an entire production of unrehearsed spins—no one auditions for this swirl of bewilderment, fear, anger, and hurt.

So, making a list of what you will need to get through your divorce is a great idea, but in the meantime, let’s loan you one.

1. Find one foundational thing

Dancers have a technique called “spotting” they use to keep their balance in the midst of a turn, so that even while spinning over and over again, they keep dizziness at bay and come back to center. Like spotting, your “One Thing” needs to be simple because you’ll need to be able to come back to it quickly and often, especially when your stress levels ratchet up. It’s a practice, a part of your routine, an affirmation, an essential oil, a green drink, a talisman—whatever you need it to be. It’s healthy, and it stays on repeat. It will probably become a long-term ally, even after you’ve gotten through your divorce. But until you do, it’s simple. It helps you find stillness in the middle of the tailspin, and it stays.

2. Get an objective third party to help you

Whether it’s a divorce coach, a therapist, or someone else, it’s a person who is not part of your village of friends and family, and that person is a professional.

A therapist can help sort through the past; a divorce coach can help navigate into the future. Or vice versa. Either way, they are trained and experienced in helping to redirect our thoughts and get us through the chaos of divorce without bias or judgement.

3. Listen to the uncomfortable truths

Relationships, for the most part, are two-way streets, and we need to own our side of the road. (Unless you are extricating yourself from an abusive marriage—in that case, this does not apply. Get yourself out. You can deal with this later, if you’re able and in a safe enough place externally and internally to do it. There is a huge difference between conflict in a balanced partnership, which is more like a verbal sparring match between two equal participants, and abuse, which is one person battering another.)

Your village—the friends you’re able to keep through this change, your community members, your family, your kids—all of them may tell you things you may not want to hear about how you contributed to the marriage’s end. Therapists and divorce coaches will too, although they will most likely say it in a way that’s easier for you to digest, not to mention deal with the fall-out if you get angry or feel remorseful.

Maybe you weren’t present in your marriage. Maybe you drank too much. Maybe you cheated. Whatever it is—and it’s likely more than one thing—if you don’t accept your own contribution and learn from it, you will be missing a huge learning opportunity and you will likely repeat the same mistakes.

As a former co-worker of mine put it, quoting Einstein, “Doing the same thing over and over again the same way and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.” Why would we want to get through a divorce only to be the same person with the same behaviors?

4. Expand your village

Support groups are available everywhere and get as specialized as you want. Ask around, look on-line, and on bulletin boards at the grocery store or at the library. Exercise caution. If you choose a group that’s linked to social media, make sure your Ex and anyone the two of you have in common doesn’t get too much information about what you’re doing. As you likely lost some friends you had in common with your Ex, how you are making new ones is none of their business. And the more resources you have, the better equipped you’ll be to get through it.

5. Exercise

For me, working out consistently was my “One Thing,” and it continues to be, along with a couple other practices. I know, I know, everyone says it. But you need endorphins to combat the grief, anxiety, and stress, and you have a much better chance at feeling mentally strong if you’re increasing your physical endurance. Improving your looks is just a side benefit…although it is delightful to see the expression on your Ex’s face when they see you a few weeks, months, or years later. If this is an ending, you may as well be happy.

6. Find low-cost ways to boost your earning

Providing for yourself and your family looks different now, and if you’ve never done this before, it will be particularly intimidating. This is where a divorce coach can help.

  1. Temp agencies like Kelly Services offer training for their employees and function like an agent. They find temporary positions that often turn permanent; you just have to be available and have a means of transportation. But in the meantime, you can log into their site and learn different computer programs that make you more valuable to employers.
  2. Learn a language. You can probably YouTube your way into being multilingual.
  3. Find out how to do a side business.
  4. In order to put a side business together, you may need free legal or tax advice. Agencies who might be able to direct you to CPA’s or attorneys doing pro bono work include Area Agencies on Aging, community mental health facilities, Safe Place, homeless shelters, and senior centers.
  5. Airbnb just may be the stay-at-home mom goldmine of the future. Renting your place out, even for just one week out of the year in some areas, can add thousands to your annual income.

7. Avoid turning comfort into vice

When asked how she got through her divorce, a friend of mine said, “I drank a lot of coffee, smoked a lot of cigarettes, gained a lot of weight, and had a lot of sex.” We all love our comfort foods, our rebellious little habits, the lover we find on Tinder, the totally unnecessary stilettos with the tassel on the back, or a good Scotch or microbrew. When we’re in the thick of divorce and losing the person we looked to for love, the things that we can now look forward to become more important. But, they can also become more important than they should be. Most of them are expensive and all can be addictive. So, lean on your crutch if you need to, but keep in mind that a crutch is meant to be temporary. The longer you use it, the harder it will be to give it up. As we get through divorce, the idea is to walk (or dance) without it.

Divorce is a messy whirlwind of change, of belly-dropping fears, and it makes demands on your abilities you never planned for. You can do this. You can get through your divorce. You may not have auditioned for it, but even across its slick surfaces and on the precarious tip of a toe, you can do it with grace and you can do it with your sanity intact.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark), her new guy and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms, one step at a time.” ~ SAS for Women.

Divorce Support Chat Rooms as suggested by a woman with a computer

Get the Support You Deserve But Exercise Caution with Divorce Support Chat Rooms

There are so many reasons women turn to divorce support chat rooms. Divorce feels isolating. It can feel terrifying to open up to others, but when it’s the right person, it can also feel like taking a deep breath after a long time spent underwater.

It’s natural for women to seek out the solace of other women. You may have more friends and family than you can count or you may have come out of your marriage realizing just how many people you’ve left behind—either way, entering a divorce support chat room offers the chance to tap into a community of people who understand exactly what you’re going through.

But as with most things on the internet and in life, there are two sides to every story. Exercising caution in these chat rooms is crucial.

Reaching out to others from behind a screen feels safe

When you talk about your divorce with friends and family, it’s not always easy to be that honest. You might be afraid, rightfully so, that your loved ones will judge you or your Ex, who may still be a big part of your life, especially if you have children. Your friends and family will often have opinions you never asked for and questions you can’t even begin to answer. Did you decide this together? Have you tried everything to save your marriage? What exactly? Aren’t you mad? I know in my marriage I just had to …

Your loved ones are (usually) well-meaning, but their entire perspective is limited by which aspects of your relationship you chose to show the outside world. And as we know, that’s not the full picture of your marriage. But beyond that, you won’t have the answers, or maybe, you’ll have too many answers. And as well, it’s hard for your friends and family, who are not experts to hold back on their own stories, judgement or agendas.

If you are dealing with divorce and feeling frustrated or disappointed by friends and family (especially as you approach the holidays, maybe with dread!), you might prepare a script for yourself — one that blocks their questioning, but kindly: “You know, Karen, thank you for your interest in hearing what’s going on. Let me assure you, I’m working on myself right now and if I think of a way you can be of help I will let you know. How are your cats?” You can redirect the conversation away from your divorce. You don’t owe anyone anything, after all. Or, you can simply go online.

Divorce support chat rooms feel private and safe. By definition a “chat room” is a space on the internet that allows users to communicate with each other, typically limiting the conversation to a particular theme. Search Facebook for divorce support groups for women and countless choices will appear in front of you. Most, if not all, are not public. You have to request to join the group, and once accepted, it feels comforting to see other women posting about their own divorces—their stories might not be the same as yours, but you can see glimpses of yourself in them anyway.

Places like Reddit Divorce are full of people anonymously asking others for divorce advice, too, and because those responding are strangers, it can feel like the conversations are more honest than those you might have with someone who actually knows you in “real life.”

But do you want to simply chat about your pain? And take in the anguish of others? Do your homework to find out which type of online support you really want.  Perhaps what you are looking for is something that allows you to share but also provides traction or structure to move forward and do SOMETHING with your pain so you get to a better place. This action could be doing something with your emotions or taking critical legal, financial, or practical steps. For especially these reasons, it’s important to research what kind of online divorce support group is best for you.

The downside of easy access

Not all divorce support chat rooms and groups are the same. Many are unmoderated. Others are facilitated by professionals from large organizations with a standard set of materials to work from, leaving little room for addressing the specific needs of individuals. And other groups have their own personality, combining educational steps, guidance and support.

One problem with online divorce support chat rooms is that many of the conversations you have aren’t guided. They are full of other people who are struggling and hurting just like you—people who might not be in the right headspace to offer you the kind of advice that will help you move forward with your divorce recovery.

Women first enter these groups to vent, but the venting can quickly turn into endlessly reliving of your trauma and that of others. Instead of feeling better about your situation, you end up spinning and wallowing, comparing your marriage to others and searching for meaning and connections. Does it really matter who’s at fault? Is that a riddle you can even solve?

What if instead of looking for answers that still won’t change your reality, you worked on finding yourself? You need a professional to facilitate your conversations and direct your energy so that you can release it and reach a better place.

You can revisit and tell your story until you turn blue in the face and grow sick of hearing your own voice, but if the person you’re speaking to can’t tell you which direction and steps are right for you specifically — “right” meaning healthy and smart — then you aren’t getting the help you need. And you may only be reinforcing your spin cycle or your painful status quo of knowing and doing what you already know.

Putting an end to conversations that go nowhere

An expert, like a therapist or a divorce coach, is trained to guide you through conversations with specific goals in mind. If you need true and lasting divorce support, be selective about whom you reach out to.

When you’re looking for a divorce support chat room or group, do your research. Be aware that there are people out there who lead programs without proper training. The group you participate in should not simply be an endless series of conversations where each person takes her turn to complain about her life and funnel negative, contagious energy. Are you learning and growing? Chances are great that this group format is not serving you and is a waste of your time. Ask yourself, do you have a lot of energy to spare right now?

Getting support when you need it is good and positive and necessary. When we bottle up our emotions, they weigh us down. The world feels heavier and darker, and we can get lost in our own sadness, unable to see a way out. But if the support you’re getting isn’t the right kind, then conversations move sideways instead of forward. They feel circular, and progress is halted.

Believe us when we say that you have so much life left to live—your best memories are not behind you. They are in front of you! Now is the time to step outside yourself. Indulge in some self-care. Take up kickboxing or find a local hiking group. Find your way back to an old hobby or explore new ones. If you are recreating after divorce, join a productive women’s divorce support group to find other people ready to heal and move forward. If you are in the confusing state of not knowing if you should divorce, or are beginning the process, find the right group that focuses on the legal, financial and emotional needs you have in this stage. It’s healthy and natural to reach out to others, even in a divorce support chat room, but the wrong kind of help can lead you to the wrong place. You need a leader to guide you, as you create a genuine vision of what healing looks like for you and the concrete actions steps you must take to get there.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms, one step at a time.” ~ SAS for Women.

divorced women share survive holidays

Divorced Women Share 14 Secrets to Surviving the Holidays

The holidays can feel anything but “holy” or “holly-filled” this time of year if you are reverberating from divorce. If you are thinking about divorce, for example, you could be feeling schizophrenic right now, or like a fraud, trying to honor the hallowed rituals at the same time you are feeling fragmented and splintered about your future. If you are dealing with divorce, you are coping with some of the cruel realities of what change genuinely means now for your life (and your children’s). And if you are recovering from divorce, well, let’s face it. It’s a whole new game and you are probably looking at some time alone. All alone.

To help lessen the impact of the season and its expectations, we’ve turned to thoughtful, divorced women who are survivors. We’ve asked them, what suggestions and ideas might they share with you for coping with the holidays? What we’ve learned is that these other women who have come before you — those who have experienced the pain and isolation of living outside the conventional norms — want you to not suffer as deeply. What follows are 14 secrets divorced women want you to know about surviving and indeed, repurposing the holidays.

The reality is, we could all use a little help.

1. Don’t deny reality

“The holidays are a construct! They are celebrated by what seems to be EVERYONE. But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not feeling it because of your divorce or something else. Don’t participate if you’re not into them this year. Give yourself a pass to hang out and do anything you want if you’re alone. Ignore the holidays if you wish. Or go all out if you want. Don’t stop with the tree, hang a holiday light from every inch of your house. Inside and out! The point is, you have a choice and don’t go along with something that’s not comfortable. The holidays will come again. And you may want to lead the Macy’s Day Parade next year.”

June B., Minneapolis, Minnesota

2. Give yourself permission to do it your way—or not at all

“If this is your first (or second or whatever number) solo holiday, my best advice is to be gentle with yourself. Be grateful for what remains and then seek out others. Accept invitations that you historically would have turned down for whatever reason. Try to cultivate a new tradition for yourself and your children that is uniquely your own. Reach out, it gets better…I’m told.”

Susan, Boston, Massachusetts

“If you are in the throes of divorce, instead of trying to figure out how to do the holiday cards like you always have—with you, your spouse, and your children—give yourself permission to skip the holiday cards altogether this year. Or if that’s just not possible (you are too committed to the tradition), create a card that focuses on your children. That’s right—nix you and Mr. X from the photo!”

Molly K., Geneva, New York

3. Make a plan well in advance

“If you don’t have children or they’re not with you this upcoming holiday, make a plan right now on how you will spend that day. Brainstorm ideas. Maybe you are going to connect with long lost friends and have a meal, or go away on a trip or a retreat, or spend the day hiking, or go to a movie marathon. That’s what I did ten years ago, on December 25. That was my first Christmas alone, I mean utterly alone. And somehow sitting in a warm, dark movie theater with strangers — the theater was packed! — and getting caught up in a 4-hour epic drama transported me. It transported me out of my own drama, giving me a sense of warmth and community on a day that could have gone done as one of the worst in my life.”

Liza Caldwell, SAS for Women Cofounder

4. Love yourself this holiday season

“I bought myself a new bed with a good quality mattress and some new bed linens that cater only to my taste. The linens are a very feminine design and are superb to the touch. This new bed gives me good quality sleep and a better mood in the morning as a result. Instead of being upset that I sleep alone, I feel like a queen in a queen-sized bed on my own. This has worked so well that I’ve asked myself what else can I do to love myself. So I’ve changed my diet a little. First, I realized that I get more pleasure cooking for myself than I do eating out. I try to really listen to what I would like to eat and not compromise. I buy ingredients that I didn’t used to buy. They are ones that give me pleasure, like very fresh fish or a mango for breakfast.”

Eva, Moscow, Russia

“At 2:30 am, I admitted it was insomnia and I opened up a free app on my phone called Insight Timer for a guided yoga nidra session. The app offers lots of approaches to stress, insomnia, and more. I don’t know if I was conscious for the whole thing or not but I had an awesome sleep in the time I had left. I plan to listen to it again while awake in the daytime to learn about relaxing while awake and to think about regular breaks from constant focus on how much I have to do in too little time. I would like to reduce the mental energy I spend on problems and share my time with increased experience of what’s good and right.”

Susan W., Bethesda, Maryland


Looking for more suggestions from smart, divorced women? Check out this post on how to cope with divorce like a modern woman.


5. Let your boundaries be known

“By you and others. If you expect to see family, your Ex, or friends (the ones you are still in contact with), share your preferences. Let them know if there are gatherings you will not be attending this year or topics you’d rather not get involved with. If you worry you’ll see your Ex at a gathering, find out for sure and ask for understanding if you are going to beg out of attending this year. This helps manage your friends’ and family’s expectations and may also help ensure their good time lest they be worried about you.”

Alice, San Diego, California

6. Practice your script

“The holidays are a time when you are bumping into well meaning and not so well meaning acquaintances, friends, and family. Practice your lines so you are not taken unawares when people ask you about your divorce—the elephant in the room. I used to get caught off guard and didn’t know when to shut up, always regretting that I said too much when people asked me how was I doing. Now I know it doesn’t help anyone to talk about my feelings indiscriminately. In fact, few people are deserving of knowing what I’m really feeling, especially this time of year. So I keep it neutral. Why ruin their rum punch?

‘Thank you for asking about me. I am doing okay and doing what I must to take care of myself and work on my healing. How’s your puppy?’”

Bernadette, Athens, Georgia

7. Be careful with the rum punch

“Holiday parties and alcohol could be the perfect opportunity to forget your misery. But not really. As tempting as it is to numb your feeling with the spiked eggnog or oddly available drug, remember your emotions are just under your skin and you are still healing, if not hurting. It won’t take much for your emotions to be triggered and for your wounds or anger or hollowness to come bubbling out. Spare yourself and others any unpleasant outbursts or regrettable performances, and save the over indulging for a getaway with your best friends. Ask a friend to accompany you to a party and to take you home if you start acting a little vulnerable. Protect yourself.”

Janet, Boca Raton, Florida

8. Volunteer

“If you don’t have children or you don’t have your children for the holiday, maybe you’re feeling lonely? A good way to get out there and enjoy the holidays is to volunteer. Do it early because places book up! You may also meet some really great people.”

Alina, New York City, New York

“Perhaps volunteer time at a food shelter or church to pass out holiday meals or anything else they need your services for. I have found it to be very humbling and rewarding, and it helps to put the holidays in true perspective. One time I did this with a girlfriend, and after the event, we came home for a glass of wine—okay, bottles, wink, wink. We had goodies prepared for ourselves and had a lovely time reflecting on how blessed we really are.”

Lori, California

9. Focus on your children

“If you have children, you can’t simply write off the holidays. That would be tough on them. But be mindful that you may not have the capacity or resources to do everything you’ve done in the past. Nor should you try to compensate for the divorce by spoiling them with presents. Instead, give your children genuine time with you! Pick the most important rituals you want to focus on—cookie making or holiday decorating or caroling or visiting family and friends. Don’t try to do everything. By striving to stay present with your children, you may find you’ll experience the magic through their eyes, and you will savor some of the joy that is there for you too.”

Pam, Galveston, Texas

10. Get rid of old traditions

“I always hated how we had to get dressed up in fancy party dress every year to attend my in-laws New Year’s dinner. My children were too young to really participate and behave well. And there was always so much pressure and so many eyes on me it seemed, as their mother, to make sure the kids kept it together. Well, guess what? That’s on my Ex now. This year, for Thanksgiving, I am inviting my family, friends, and children to join me in wearing their ugliest Thanksgiving Sweaters, and we’re going to watch football. I am going to show my kids there are many ways of being together. The important thing is being together.”

Kendall, Cleveland, Ohio

11. Create new rituals

“I make an event of watching films that I always liked for the holidays and any day for that matter. These films are ones I couldn’t indulge in before as my husband didn’t like them. In my case, these are French comedies or Woody Allen films. And these are just for me!”

Eva, Moscow, Russia

“The holidays can become redundant, boring, and stiff. I think they are supposed to serve as a comfort, a ritual for celebrating, but I know the holidays can draw attention to what is missing or who is missing. To me that’s one of the biggest reasons for trying to do things differently. To be really conscious of what we love most about the holidays. I try to involve those aspects into plans. For me, as a single person, it’s all about who I will be with. I call those people up a month before a certain holiday, and I say, ‘What are we going to do to remind ourselves we are alive?” I’d rather eat Stouffer’s frozen lasagna from a microwave then spend a holiday faking it anymore.”

Maria, Portland, Oregon

“… For me, as a single person, it’s all about who I will be with. I call those people up a month before a certain holiday, and I say, ‘What are we going to do to remind ourselves we are alive?” I’d rather eat Stouffer’s frozen lasagna from a microwave then spend a holiday faking it anymore.”

Maria, Portland, Oregon

“Organize a ‘SisStar-Giving’ amongst other ladies who may be recently divorced or may not have children, friends, or family locally. To remove the stress of over-planning and being overwhelmed with meal preparation, you can provide one main dish (you can’t go wrong with wings) and ask each guest to bring the dish that people always ask them to make. To guide the menu, you can suggest some categories like appetizers or desserts. There’s bound to be a ‘mixologist’ in the crew. That one may opt to bring wine or other beverages. You could theme it as Jeans & Tee regarding dress code to make it as casual as possible, and look up party games to play. Crank up a mobile device with some good tunes, and you have a night to remember. Keep it simple by not going over the top, but one must have a ‘Thankful Circle’ in which everyone shares at least one thing SHE IS absolutely thankful for.”

Queen V, South Carolina

12. Be present and open

“I always hear advice for divorced women with kids. Sometimes it’s a little lonely and scary for someone who is in their mid/late 30s with no children. We may have expected to have children by this point in our lives and we don’t. To women like me, I say, ‘Give yourself permission to smile and enjoy the people who love you in your life. You are worth it.’”

Alina, New York City, New York

“I was getting concerned about my birthday on Dec 30th. This will be my first birthday after being separated. I was wavering between ‘doing something unusual’ or ‘sulking and doing nothing.’ By accident or by will of the Universe, ladies from work suggested we all go to the ballet on Dec 30th and have a dinner afterwards. I feel so happy and am so much looking forward to my birthday now.”

Eva, Moscow, Russia

13. Have a Plan B and a Plan C

“One of my biggest coping mechanisms, now that I am my own team, is to always have a plan, but if that plan doesn’t work, to be able to resort to a Plan B or a Plan C. Life is always shifting. I know I can dream about my ideal scenario and do everything to make it happen, but if something goes wrong, it’s a great comfort to have a Plan B and C so I am not left out in the cold.

For example, a friend of mine who can be a little whifty said I could bring my kids over to her house on Christmas afternoon, that her brother was coming over to give the kids a pony ride. I thought this sounded amazing and so different from what my kids have done in the past, but I worry. I’m not in control of the event so it might fizzle out and not happen. I’m not going to mention it to my kids until the day of and make it a surprise if it comes about, and if not, I’ve already looked online and found that there will be caroling in the town square at 5pm. We’ll go there. And if not, then we’ll go ice skating (Plan C) at the civic center which I’ve already confirmed is open on Christmas Day.”

Mary Beth, Addison, Wisconsin

“Plan ahead for the time when your children will not be with you. Having a fun plan for myself, such as time with friends, helped me feel loved during the holidays in a new way and helped with the intense feelings of missing my children.”

Laura, Middlebury, Vermont

14. As with everything, we promise it will get easier

“Getting divorced has been MAJOR! It’s meant losing friends who I thought were my besties. Losing possessions. Losing a way of being—not just losing my Ex. There are so many new and good things that have happened as a result of this ‘loss vacuum,’ but I’ve also learned something about me. I’ve been adapting. I’ve been learning and adapting and that makes this major change easier bit by bit.”

Jenny, Kansas City, Missouri

“The first time you do something new, like experience a holiday as a single person, it can summon up all the grief you’ve ever felt about the changes you’ve lived through. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. Be kind to yourself, too, though and remember, it will get easier. Your past is there, yes, but so is your future, a future for you to shape. Consciously. And that includes holidays you can and will experience the way you choose. You are not on autopilot anymore. And there’s something about that that is THRILLING!”

Mel, Garden City, New York

Thank you to all the divorced women in our community who cared enough about other women to share their ideas and secrets for surviving and repurposing the holidays.

If you needed this, know that every single one of the women above have experienced the gamut of feelings you’re going through, even if the geographic location or specifics of each of their stories are uniquely her own. And know as well that these women offering counsel are still here, they are still surviving and, yes, sometimes, more than they ever thought possible, they are thriving. We hope you find comfort in this, too. For this holiday season, and all days in your new chapter, find your old and new people who understand you. But above all, follow your own path as you continue onward in your divorce recovery. And as always, always, be kind to yourself. With all you’ve been through, you deserve it.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

“Divorce can be on your terms.” ~ SAS for Women.

Being nice when the Ex has a new girlfriend

Playing Nice with Your Ex’s New Girlfriend

When I was little, I used to take the goldfish bowl on our coffee table and wind that sucker down the length of the hall like a bowler on a bender. Off it would fly, water everywhere, mother rabid with exasperation, me laughing (and then crying from the butt swat), and the poor goldfish gasping on the olive shag carpet until my mother finally gave it to someone whose life lacked a two-year-old.

That’s a bit what divorce is like. There you are, swimming laps around your life. Maybe you’re bored and a little tired, but you’ve got your pink castle, plastic plants, and most of all, the guppy who shares your bowl. He may hang out in the tiki house too often and he makes an unholy mess of your carefully arranged blue gravel, but his presence reminds you that you are a cute and loveable fish. You know who you are partly because he is there. And suddenly (even though you know in your heart that it wasn’t really sudden), everything you know is gone and you can’t breathe from the shock and terror of it.

When this cataclysmic upending of your world happens, one of a million horrible-wonderful thoughts you have (in a span of minutes) is that it CANNOT get worse. Well, hello. It can. The universe may not always wear pigtails, but it can add insult to injury any old time it feels like it. For in swoops a seagull, freshly preened and glossy. Yes, this bird has absolutely no place in the living room or anywhere near your pink castle. But there it is.

Where did this bird come from? Back in your bowl, breathing again but still stupefied, you watch helplessly as she lands on the coffee table, and then takes a beady look at your guppy guy like he’s king salmon. Then swoosh, she scoops him up out of the bowl you’ve shared for as long as you can remember and off she flies. With him! And not only is he not afraid or even looking back at you, he jumps right into her snappy yellow bill and appears to enjoy it, immensely.

Your Ex has a new girlfriend, and the seagull is her. Two months after you’ve left the home you bought together 10 years earlier, where you harvested apples and got engaged and made up rich inner lives for your cats, he’s got a freaking girlfriend. She flew in and helped herself to your (Ex) husband and made herself right at home where she didn’t belong—with the person in your life who was closest to you, who listened to your dreams in the middle of the night, and who told you that you are beautiful, that he’d love you forever.

I know the whole goldfish bowl metaphor is oversimplified, and depending on what stage of divorce you’re in, it may even seem glib. But here’s the thing…

It’s temporary

I would not have been able to be glib about giving up my partner—about the dissolution of what I thought was my whole life’s context—two months or even a year later. I can now. You need to know that the ragged terror, the horrible grief, the jealousy, the rage—they really do end. The paralysis, the apathy, the sense that we disappear when our marriage does—all of that is temporary.

Meanwhile, nutso is the new normal for a while. You’re bouncing from bowl to shag carpet, or to just shagging, and back again, and that is not only normal, it’s ok. But when your Ex has a new girlfriend, jealousy can make the shag rug feel like broken glass, though. A friend of mine who’d been married since she was 18 and was, after 37 years, happily divorcing, told me, “You are going to have a different, really intense emotion every five seconds. You’ll go from great to bawling and screaming, and then you’ll be great again. It’s ok. It’ll pass.” But even though this friend was happy to be divorcing, she still hated her husband’s new girlfriend. She knew it wasn’t rational, but she couldn’t help it. I’m guessing this is also normal, but who wants to stay in this phase forever? We want to let our Ex go. For me, that meant letting it out.

Let it out

Let it out, girl, but do it in private. Publicly, fake it ’til you make it, as the saying goes. “You are becoming the version of yourself you want to be,” as a dear friend of mine puts it. Until then, cry in the shower. Scream in the car, in an empty lot. Punch the crap out of your mattress when the kids are at school. Write in your journal about getting her in a headlock and shaving off patches of her hair. Work out hard (I highly recommend cardio kickboxing). It’s a simple matter of pride: keep it civil on social media (or stay off of it), keep it to yourself at work as much as you can, and DON’T do what a friend of mine did, which was to go to the house they still co-owned to pick up some clothes and detour into the bedroom long enough to sprinkle toilet water on their red-clad pillows.

Yep. She did that. She wasn’t proud of it; that was NOT the version of herself she wanted to be. It was a tantrum. It was juvenile, more than a little disgusting, and definitely not playing nice with her Ex’s girlfriend. But eventually she started caring a lot more about who she was becoming than who her Ex was with now. She acted in ways she was proud of, like when one of their dear cats was diagnosed with cancer not long after they ended things, and her Ex wanted his girlfriend there with them for the euthanasia. She said yes, not only because she wanted to be that version of herself, but because she genuinely could be.

Laugh

The pillowcase baptism may not have been the way to go (no pun intended), but it illustrated her to herself. And it sure made for a great story later. Her sheepish telling of that story made her friends laugh their asses off, which made her able to laugh at herself.

You really do need to laugh about any part of this thing as soon and as often as you can. Laughter, like working out, boosts endorphin levels without chemical assistance and forces fresh oxygen into your blood stream. It’s literally a breath of fresh air. It clears away grief, makes recognizing the new world you’re in easier, and it bubbles away fear like hydrogen peroxide on blood. From there, the moments when you can feel your new self emerging grow longer. You become more real to yourself in this context instead of the old one. Yes, your Ex has a new girlfriend, but now you start wondering what the pond might be like too. And as you let it out, let it go, and laugh, you reach the next phase of recognition.

It isn’t her fault

It isn’t. Even if your Ex has a new girlfriend who he was involved with while you were still married, he was the one who committed to you, not her. While we’re still feeling grief and rage, we want to blame something or someone outside ourselves, and it’s a lot easier to blame the interloper than the person who was Our Person. The Seagull instead of The Guppy.

The relationship you’ve left, the one that cracked under the strain of something whether it was a fear of change, denial about being unhappy, or a role that didn’t fit one or both of you well—it belonged to you and your Ex. You shared that fishbowl. It may not seem like it, but no two-year-old in pigtails actually upended it. You outgrew it. It cracked open because on some level you and your curiosity were getting too big for it. Whether you realized it or not.

There’s no comparison

If you truly didn’t realize it, divorce is a rude awakening, to say the very least. Adding in a new partner in your Ex’s life sharpens the pain and turns up the volume on that voice inside your head that tells you “something about me wasn’t enough.” It’s almost impossible not to, but comparing yourself to her is fruitless and damaging, so try not to do it. Stop doing it as soon as you can. You are not a lightbulb. There is no replacement for you.

“Jealousy, that sickening combination of possessiveness, suspicion, rage, and humiliation, can overtake your mind and threaten your very core as you contemplate your rival,” writes author, relationship expert and scientist, Helen Fisher.

When your Ex has a new girlfriend, stop contemplating her in any way that isn’t strictly practical and strategic to moving on. The only valid comparison involves looking back on your old self, not at her. In a future a lot less distant than you think, you will look back at life in the bowl with your guppy and the gull won’t even matter. Because you will have jumped from the bowl into the pond and started swimming.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark), her new guy and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

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Changing name after divorce

Changing Your Name After Divorce

Changing your name after divorce can feel freeing—or it can feel like pouring salt on an open wound. And it’s possible, certainly, that it might even feel like both. Where you stand depends on the circumstances of your divorce and your particular mindset.

In either case, it’s the attachment to our spouse and the way that a name change seems to cut right through it in a way that’s more tangible (and sometimes more visible to the outside world) than simply saying “I’m done” that makes it feel so weighted with importance.

But there’s the mental leaps and bounds we must go through while ending a marriage, and then there’s the legal realities, like figuring out custody or changing your name after divorce. We know that it’s all just paper and words and so much ado about nothing, maybe, but it’s still our lives. Paper and words can mean everything.

Even if you’re not a sentimental person—even if you and your spouse got creative and chose to combine and hyphenate your last names—you chose your married name in the same way that you chose your spouse. Going back to your birth name may feel, in a way, like breaking a promise to yourself. It could feel like failing, an emotion divorce brings out in us over and over again, even when we know we’re the only ones keeping score.

So why do some women choose to keep their Ex’s last name while others go back to their birth names? And how does one go about changing her name anyway? Read on below to learn more.

How to go about changing your name after divorce

Divorce laws vary depending on where you live, but most states allow a spouse to change their name during a divorce by requesting the judge enter a formal order to change your last name back to your birth name. If your divorce is already final, you may be able to request an amended divorce decree. The more common way is to wait until the legal process is over. Once you have your divorce decree, you can use a notarized copy of this document to change your name everywhere else. For legal changes, you’ll often need to submit a notarized version of the document to …the social security office, the DMV, your bank and credit card companies, and the entities holding your retirement accounts, etc.)

There are, however, some states that don’t require any paperwork at all, allowing you to go back to your birth name right away as long as you are using it consistently, and others that treat changing your name after divorce the same as any other name change petition, so be sure to speak to your lawyer about which option is best for and which laws apply to you.

Whatever you do, get educated and do your research. There are plenty of women who still use their Ex’s last name not by choice but because their lawyer simply never informed them of their options. Getting an amendment to your divorce decree or changing your name via petition in the future could come with additional financial costs.

How women feel

Women keep their Ex’s last name for many reasons, some that are emotional, others that are practical, and some that fall in-between. It’s easier, for one. (There’s far less paperwork to fill out if you just sit back and do nothing, especially if your divorce is already final.) If you use your name professionally, then it’s less confusing and more consistent. If you have children, it might make transitioning to life after divorce a little smoother for them. You may not be living with their father anymore, but you’re still a family with a shared name.

Let’s just add, that even if you change your last name, in regard to your children, you are still a family but your family has shifted in look — like so many modern families.

Some women genuinely like their married name better than their old one, so they keep it. Maybe it’s just easier to pronounce than their birth name or they didn’t have the best relationship with their father. And for other women, it comes down to a sense of who they want to be.  Going back to a maiden name may feel like returning home, to one’s most authentic self.

If you change your name, people who may have only guessed or heard rumors about your personal life before will now know without a doubt that you are divorced. For you, that might be a good thing. You might be ready for your newly-single life, for a sense of independence you’ve been craving. Or, it might feel like yet another chink in your armor.

How experts feel

But there’s something to be said for taking back what’s yours, no matter the circumstances. Some experts say that going back to your birth name can be a way of “restoring your prior identity.” The exception, of course, would be if you’re one of those women mentioned above who uses her name professionally. Otherwise, using your birth name could be one way to start feeling whole again as you continue on your divorce recovery journey.

So many of us lose ourselves to relationships, wrapping our identity up with another’s so closely that we can’t remember what we actually want or need or even like by the end of it all. Because changing your name after divorce is yet another thing that affects our identities, it can feel even more final than the actual end of our marriage.

And keeping your Ex’s name? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that either, but it can give the impression to both your children and potential romantic partners that there’s a deeper connection between you and your Ex than there actually is. For your children, this connection is likely comforting, but for a potential love interest, it may be threatening or, at the very least, uncomfortable.

What really matters

Marriage felt like the tying together of your identity to your husband’s, and now you’re slowly undoing all that work. It’s terrifying and exciting, but so are most of the best things in life.

At the end of the day, it’s really about how you feel. It is, after all, your name, and you have to live with it. Do you have children? Do they have strong feelings about you changing your name after divorce? For that matter, how does your Ex feel about it? How does your married name feel on your tongue? What’s your relationship with it? Was it a name you chose? Was it forced on you by your spouse or your family’s expectations?

There are so many factors to consider when changing your name after divorce, but don’t forget that what you want and need should be front and center in your mind.

Whether you are considering a divorce, navigating it, or recovering from the challenging experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

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