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.
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.
- 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.
- Learn a language. You can probably YouTube your way into being multilingual.
- Find out how to do a side business.
- 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.
- 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.