When a marriage is languishing in misery or the futility of irreconcilable differences, “happiness” may seem more conceptual than attainable. Sometimes not being unhappy makes the leap into the unknown worth the risk. But, at some point, either during or after the process, one question will become unavoidable: Is happiness even possible post-divorce?
The idea of post-divorce life actually being beautiful, let alone full of Under the Tuscan Sun movie-worthy transformation, may seem maddeningly out of reach.
Sure, wouldn’t we all love to stumble across a decaying Italian villa and have the vision and lira to resurrect it?
Shaking down olives in late autumn, plucking basil from your window planter, spending all day preparing a Mediterranean feast for local friends… It all sounds so dreamy.
And watching a divorcee go from non-functional to Florentine in under two hours—well, let’s face it, that makes anything seem possible.
Netflix, however, isn’t reality. And chances are you’re not going to become an ex-pat with your divorce settlement.
But you might. And that’s the point.
The Power of Post-Divorce Possibility
The question “Is happiness possible post-divorce?” isn’t a trick question or a test of your pragmatism.
Even if you hear it like a broken record, echoing from the dungeon of your shattered dreams, the answer is always yes!
But how? And when? How long does it take to get over a divorce, let alone to be happy?
While there is no foolproof formula for answering those questions, there are definitely factors that influence them.
And one of the biggest factors is time. How long you were married and how old you are at the time of your divorce will affect your recovery.
If you’ve already raised your children, have your AARP card, and are a stone’s throw away from retirement, you’re probably in a gray divorce.
Divorcing after 50 or after a lengthy marriage means more baggage. It’s not necessarily bad baggage, but baggage nonetheless.
Children, communication styles, habits, rituals, families, infidelity, vacations, jobs, memories, complicated assets and finances. It all gets mushed together into an identity that you now have to unravel.
What do you keep? What do you throw away? What do you lug into counseling to understand? What do you use as a springboard to manifesting latent dreams and possibilities?
The longer you were married, the more likely it is that a big part of your identity became enmeshed in the care of others.
Children, elderly relatives, your spouse—it can become almost impossible to tell where they end and you begin. After all, part of loving others is caring for them, sacrificing for them, compromising with them.
Redefining Your Happiness
You may not even know how to be happy if you’re not taking care of someone else. In that case, asking “Is happiness possible post-divorce?” is even more relevant…and possibly frightening.
Suddenly your dinner prep isn’t for a small army. It may not even require setting the table.
The only laundry you have to do is your own.
And the only person who will be passing judgment on your housekeeping skills is you.
What’s the problem? those eager for freedom may ask.
The problem isn’t as much a problem as it is a challenge for those whose self-care has always taken a back seat to caring for others.
All that outward focus, compounded over decades, may appear altruistic and mother-of-the-year responsible. But it can also become a shield that blocks you from the most important responsibility in your life: yourself.
So now you’re “stuck” with the one person you forgot about while you were making everyone else happy. And somewhere along the line, you lost the discernment that happiness within yourself is not selfish, but essential.
Getting through the divorce process is largely an exercise in discipline, resourcefulness, and compartmentalization. And, for all the calories burned, the exercise isn’t a fun one.
The reality of life in the wake of divorce is that it’s still a lot of discipline (especially financial) and resourcefulness. And grief and a medley of emotions can make a mess of even the most well-intended, organized calendar.
Learning to Slow Down and Focus Inward
The compartmentalization that allowed you to stay on course during the divorce process now has the freedom to open up.
Yes, it’s still wise to put boundaries around your “divorce stuff.” But now is the time to start thinking expansively.
To be a bit cliche, it’s time to start coloring outside the lines, both literally and figuratively.
(Seriously—pick up a cheap coloring book and some crayons and color a page. How do you instinctively color? Inside the lines? All over the page? With realistic color choices? Slowly? Quickly? Do you edit yourself? Do you add your own elements?
Put the picture into an envelope, write the date on the outside, and put it in a safe place. Make a mental note of how you felt as you colored.
Repeat this simple exercise periodically, making the same mental notes.
After a year has passed, open your envelopes, pull out your pictures, and line them up. Do you see any differences as you journeyed through that first year? Do you remember differences in how you felt as you did something so simple and childlike?)
The point of doing such a rudimentary, seemingly nonsensical exercise is to help you connect to your own self-awareness. It’s a physical expression of what is so often locked inside and inaccessible for women after they are no longer sworn to the prioritization of others.
The question now shifts from Is happiness possible post-divorce? to What would happiness look and feel like post-divorce?
Even as you reflect and grieve, it’s also time to meditate on who you are. Who is this magnificent person is with whom you are now spending so much time?
Who was she before she became a wife, mother, caregiver? What were her moonshot fantasies and superpower gifts? What did she always dream of doing if time, money, work, and family weren’t limiting factors?
Believe it or not, vision boards are still in vogue, even if they’re glued together on Pinterest. There is great power in seeing and writing what your mind repeatedly creates.
Even if you are having to recreate yourself professionally and financially, opportunities abound for you to take classes in areas that interest you.
Even if all you do is watch how-to YouTube videos and TED Talks on subjects that stir your soul, you will be getting a free education.
Keep a dedicated, unlined journal for taking notes and drawing pictures and diagrams. Allow it to be a testament of your journey to the life you only dreamed was possible.
Think of other women you hold in high esteem. If you can’t think of women you know personally, start with celebrities or influencers.
Follow their social media pages and blogs. Interact in their comment streams. Make connections with other people who are inspired by the same women.
And, again, take notes. You may not realize their worth today. But you most definitely will down the road when you marvel at how far you have come since your divorce.
Explore and Reconnect with the World
Begin to travel by yourself. Sound terrifying? Then start small and close.
Take in farmers’ markets and art fairs. Rescue a senior dog so you have someone who is happy to go with you (and ecstatic to try samples).
Make one day a week your personal exploration day. Visit an art museum or specialty boutique, then take yourself to lunch. You’ll be amazed at how special that one day becomes to you.
Commit to trying one new group or social event a month. There are Meetup groups, for example, for every interest under the sun (and then some).
Not only does stepping outside yourself to benefit another person do double-duty on the happiness front, but it builds your social network.
Build Your Social Connections
Divorce is one of the most isolating, lonely experiences you can go through in life. One reason women ask Is happiness possible post-divorce? is that they don’t know who “their people” are anymore. Whom can they trust? Who will like and love them for who and where they are?
And the idea of braving a social scene that mostly centers around dating may be wrong-place, wrong-time.
So it makes perfect sense to involve yourself with others who have no agenda other than to bring goodness to people, animals, the community, and/or the environment.
In doing so, you will, without realizing it, build a new sacred circle of trusted friends who share your values…and possibly your place in life.
Finally, remember the importance of staying connected to women who support each other through the various stages of divorce and its recovery.
Happiness, after all, is found in relationships. And the most transformative relationships are those that encourage and strengthen the most important relationship of all: the one with yourself.