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Divorce Effects on Children

When considering the consequences of divorce, effects on children are perhaps the most impactful and far-reaching. Children are the innocent victims—the bystanders who get swept into the aftermath of a decision they had no say in. And, while some children rebound on the merits of inherent resilience, others struggle greatly, even into adulthood.

Divorce is never easy. It comes at a high cost across the board—emotionally, financially, socially, physically. Spouses are so focused on what is driving their own discontent and how to assuage or escape it that children often become collateral damage. Everything, it seems, is about whether, when, and how to divorce. Effects on children are too often an afterthought, dealt with (if at all) after the divorce is all said and done.

The big question often explored more in hindsight than at the moment is whether staying together is better at all costs.

How Parental Conflict Harms Children

The unequivocal consensus among psychological experts is that the single most important factor that harms children of divorce is continual parental conflict. Children become damaged when parents fight in front of them, over them, and through them. It literally changes who they are and how they process the world.

The challenge in deciding whether to divorce comes when the homefront is so contentious that constant conflict is a given. In these cases, children do not fare better for having their parents stay together.

For example, a report by Pew Social Trends explains that, while children of divorce are more inclined to one day divorce, conflict is a huge influencer. It turns out that children have a better chance at marital success if their high-conflict parents divorced.

The point is, the immersion in constant conflict does the most damage.

But, even when choosing the better of two bad choices, there is no denying the divorce effects on children. And “high conflict” can follow and damage children even after the divorce.

It should come as no surprise that the first year or two after a divorce are the toughest on children. Imagine that your world is thrown off its axis. Imagine the constancy of even the simplest, most predictable components of your life being tossed into the darkness of chaos, change, and insecurity.

Now imagine having no say in how you navigate that darkness. You don’t know how you got here. You don’t know how to get out. And you don’t know how to recognize, let alone deal with, all you are feeling.

Young Children and the Effects of Divorce

Another “no surprise” is that children of different ages process divorce differently. And the far-reaching effects of divorce, such as high-risk behaviors, are influenced by a child’s age at the time of his/her parents’ divorce.

Young children, for example, may have difficulty processing the idea of having two homes and having to go between them. They may also wonder if their parents will stop loving them, just as their parents have stopped loving one another. They haven’t yet developed the cognitive ability to separate the two concepts.

In an effort to make sense of their world, grade school children may start looking for a place to lay blame. And too often that blame turns inward to themselves. Was this my fault? Are Mommy and Daddy mad at me for something I did?

Teenagers and the Effects of Divorce

Teenagers, on the other hand, have a lot more cognitive development under their belts. But they still have a lot of flux in their emotional development and expression. They are more inclined to feel stressed, angry, and resentful and to place blame on one or both parents.

The successful transition for children of any age really pivots on the behavior and choices of the parents.

Swearing there is a place in Hell for your Ex is akin to sending the same message to your children. They are, don’t forget, a blend of both of you. And, when you hate the other parent in any capacity, your children will subconsciously assume you hate the same in them.

And that unthinkable, albeit unintended, judgment upon a child is life-altering. It destroys their self-esteem and sets them up for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and extreme emotional sensitivity.

It also lays the groundwork for loyalty conflict and cognitive dissonance. When parents fight in front of or through their kids, they impose an unspoken demand for the children to take sides. They may even divide the children in their loyalties, as if the children were material assets.

Some children are able to detach from the fighting and declare neutrality. But others internalize it. And the mental state of trying to hold two incompatible, contradictory thoughts at once becomes painful and unsustainable.

In an effort to alleviate the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, children will often “choose” one parent over the other. The parental alienation of the other parent has no justification. But the mind simply can’t survive that kind of mental conflict.

Far better to learn how to co-parent. If you absolutely hate your ex, you can still ensure that your children know you love that part of them that came from the other parent. And, by committing to conflict-free parenting post-divorce, you will give them the greatest chance of exercising their resilience.

Signs that Divorce and Conflict are Affecting Your Child

There are so many divorce effects on children, each worthy of and warranting its own spotlight. But here are some additional effects to keep in mind and look for as you navigate your own (potential) divorce:

  • Increased behavioral problems, especially in homes and divorces with high conflict.
  • Decreased interest in social activity. Children of divorce are more likely to feel insecure and alone in their experience and may therefore isolate.
  • Difficulty adapting to change. Even the most amicable, cooperative divorces involve change for everyone. But most involve a lot of uncomfortable change—residential moves, financial hardship, school changes, remarriages, and step-/blended families, etc.
  • Destructive and risky behavior like alcohol/drug use and sexual activity.
  • Decreased academic performance. Constantly changing family dynamics understandably leave children confused and distracted, making it difficult for them to concentrate on studies.
  • Increased health problems. Mental health issues include anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, anger issues, and feelings of overwhelming stress, pressure, and guilt. The internalization of symptoms can lead to somatic disorder, which may present as sleep problems, headaches, stomachaches, and tension. This somatic symptom disorder may become especially evident if parental conflict is high at the “switching hour” when children go from one parent to the other.
  • Decreased faith in marriage and family, and therefore an increased risk of divorce later in life.

The responsibility of parenthood assumes a prioritization of the child over the parent. But, when high conflict, abuse, or addiction occurs in the home, everyone gets lost in the fight for emotional (and sometimes physical) survival.

Tragically, parents often return to emotional childhood themselves. And, if they don’t learn conflict-free parenting post-divorce, they will set up a history that is destined to repeat itself.

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice not to do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional, financial, and often complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your future. Join our tribe now

 

*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.

 

I wanted the divorce. Why am I so sad?

I Wanted the Divorce. Why Am I So Sad?

They say it takes 21 days to build a habit—a mere three weeks. Now imagine how hard that habit is to break if you’ve had it for three decades’ worth of marriage. Grief and withdrawal become intertwined, which is why you may catch yourself wondering “If I wanted the divorce, why am I so sad?”

Breaking a long-standing habit is simple but it isn’t easy, nor is building new ones. Sometimes it might feel as though you’re jackhammering old concrete into dust-flown chunks with one hand, and pouring new with the other: straightforward in concept, but Herculean in execution.

If you’re still in the bargaining-with-yourself, pre-divorce phase of your marriage, then you may still be clinging to the echo of old endorphins and all the hopes, plans, love, and joy that you brought with you to the altar.

At this stage of the process, it may be difficult to see your husband as a habit you’re about to break.

But if it’s been years since the gavel came down on the divorce decree and you’re still finding yourself grieving, you have reached a culminating point. After prolonged grief, you might be ready to give yourself a good shake and get some clarity on why this sadness still has you in its grasp—even if you were the one to ask for the divorce in the first place.

Take the idealism out of the picture for a moment and consider the science of emotion and the physiological result of years of relational repetition. As with typing, driving home from work, smoking, walking, making coffee—any activity (healthy or not) that you engage in every day, any part of your life that is chronic rather than occasional—neurological pathways form in the brain. It is not necessarily the ending of you and him that is making you sad, but chemical residue left from years of playing “him” on repeat.

These pathways are like grooves in a record player. It took time and continual practice to put them there, and it will take conviction and continual practice to burn new ones in their place.

These are patterns of behavior. They’re familiar and quite often comfortable. If you’ve experienced joy and pleasure in your marriage, then the receptors in your brain will produce even stronger impulses to go looking for that stimulus, that chemical brain cocktail to regenerate the familiar feelings.

“The brain develops pathways based on learned patterns,” says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. “So, if you laid down a powerful pattern that this person was your life partner, your brain can retain traces of that circuitry, even after you’ve bonded with someone new.”

The Slow Process of Rewiring the Brain

In the language of addiction, it’s called chasing the high. Without being aware of it, we’re looking for that which triggers the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain—in other words, the dopamine rush. (Dope, an older nickname for marijuana, is short for dopamine).  And until we recreate new patterns of behavior and new pleasure connections—burn new tracks on the CD of the brain (and therefore the heart)—we can get lost in the sadness of missing of him and think that it’s about him or that the decision to leave the marriage was a mistake. In other words, even though you wanted the divorce, you may still be sad. This is entirely normal based on what we know about brain science and withdrawal. Practicing self-care during this time is an important way to help manage your grief.

It most likely wasn’t, and it isn’t about him, or certainly doesn’t have to be. If we can remember the physiology of attraction, attachment, and repetitive patterns, it helps zero in on the realization that we can make new patterns. The brain, like the body, is less elastic when we are older, but it can be stretched with consistent work. It is NOT impossible. How long it takes to get over your divorce will simply vary.

And once the brain begins to play the new tracks consistently, the memory of the old “song” gradually smooths away. In order to assist that smoothing process and find a way to detach from grief and sadness, let’s look at the science behind romantic attachment—“that loving feeling.”

Dopamine and the Brain’s Reward Center

Fisher conducted a study in 2005 that incorporated 2,500 MRI scans of college student brains. Researchers showed students pictures of classmates and acquaintances, and then pictures of Their Special Someone. Viewing pictures of their attraction factor people activated the dopamine-rich zones in the study subjects’ brains. Two of the brain regions that showed activity in the brain scans were the caudate nucleus—linked to reward anticipation, as well as the integration of sensory input and socialization (i.e. playing well with others)—and the ventral tegmental area, which is associated with pleasure and the motivation to pursue it.

There are also older regions of the brain that are also associated with sex, pleasure, and romantic love. These older regions tend to hold onto their stimuli, staying “lit” longer.

Consider the 21/90 rule, which states that it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change. Consider the possibility that in three months you are capable of recreating your brain. Building a practice or healthy habit or a new relationship just bears repeating. And if there’s a great deal of pleasure involved in that practice, the stronger and more indelible the mark it makes on your system.

So, next time you catch yourself thinking “I wanted a divorce, so why am I sad?” remember that your brain’s circuitry is rebuilding. In the meantime, you can train your brain to choose happiness.

 

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft 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.

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Whether you are navigating the experience or the aftermath of divorce — one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to NOT DO IT 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 reinvention. If you are a divorced woman still reverberating from your journey, you are invited to consider Paloma’s Group, our powerful, virtual group coaching program for women seeking best practices, community and accountability for starting over. Schedule your quick interview and ask your questions now.

 

Woman on a train

Table for One: My First Trip as a Single Woman

There comes a treacherous time when we stop feeling okay — divorced. Only yesterday, all seemed fine. We thought we were healed for the simplest of reasons: we’ve not been thinking (every minute) about our Ex. But at SAS, our divorce coaching consultancy, we know this stage too well — we call it “Stage 3”. And it’s a confusing, tricky time, colored by all sorts of emotions, but in particular, grief. We don’t necessarily miss our Ex, but little by little, or all of a sudden, we start to learn we are missing familiar patterns, beloved or taken for granted rituals, certain routines, or the “good old times” that bound us together. In this phase, it’s normal to be triggered, to suddenly feel an awful emptiness, a sadness, or a knockdown depression as we come to terms with realizing our life is never going to be like that again. In fact, our new life may seem completely NOT what we wanted.

I was triggered by the need to plan the summer vacation

In the past, like many families, mine got together for a special trip each summer. It was always my (now) Ex-husband, our two sons and me. There were many difficult, turbulent times in our marriage, but somehow, the summer vacation was a sacred time when we put differences aside and we agreed.

My Ex and I planned it all out in advance — together. Typically, we researched options separately, and together, we discussed the finer details of our potential trips. We talked so much about these potential trips, that oftentimes it felt like we took 10 vacations each summer, not one! Each one of them always had something interesting for the adults and something fun built in for the kids. When we finally began the trip, too, we were together in a different way than in our marriage. We calculated our budgets, we hustled around in rented cars, we struggled to ask for directions in a foreign language, we made sense of unknown parking machines, we negotiated toll roads, ATMs, and much more. We overcame these difficulties, these challenges, and savored the rewards, exotic beaches and startling new, wonderful food.

I have been divorced since January 2020

Now, it’s my first summer alone as a single woman, and it’s dawned on me that I don’t know how to begin vacation-planning as a divorcee.

I keep asking myself: can summer be anything else but a shared vacation with my children and their father?

So many aspects of this trip planning I assume I must now do solo — and they are untrodden territory. How do you embark on this first trip as a single woman? How do you plan for it? Whom do you share the anticipation with? What about the actual experience of it? The highs, the lows? How do you deal with foreign ATMs or quick currency exchanges? Whom do you discuss what kind of pizza to order? Who’s going to put the aloe on your back when you get sunburnt? Who will bail you out if the bank card gets blocked, or if you run out of cash? How do you rent a car on your own?

I don’t think I’ve ever booked a single room for vacation. For a business trip — yes. But not for a vacation. Is it even possible to have a single room? How do you choose food from a menu in a restaurant if you are alone? Whom do you share plates with? Is that, too, out the window with the divorce? All those little niceties or ways of being in my old life, must I leave them behind, too?
These questions may sound ridiculous to someone who has traveled alone. But they are not stupid for many women who saw their summer vacations as a rare time that the family floated in another realm, where Papa and Mama was more relaxed away from the hustle of their jobs. There was something heavenly about it — and that man who showed up as my husband, and the woman I could be if only for a couple of weeks a year.

Family Vacations are a BIG THING

The importance of family trips is not to be discounted, I realize! It’s a shared family experience that for many is the best time of the year. These vacations are so important that I’ve heard of people who have divorced – amicably – and who continue to travel together on family trips. Actress Mayim Bialik, famous for her role as Amy Farah Fowler in “The Big Bang Theory”, talks of her “Divorced Family Vacation” and says, “There are things in life that should be experienced as a family because of their importance and significance.”

As I write this, my Ex, for example, is boarding a plane with our younger son and my Ex’s pregnant sister. I can fully understand his desire to replicate a family unit as they embark on their summer vacation.

What do I choose to do? What can I do? When it’s my turn to travel with our two sons, should I organize friends to join us so we feel like a love-in, hippie family? Should I travel with a group of friends, stay in hostels and pretend we are students? (Maybe not in the time of COVID, but what about the future?) Do I volunteer my services somewhere and see who turns up on my path? Should I try to identify – amid my peers or friends — another divorced woman, and travel with her? Do I go solo, and when there, invite some random adults I meet on the beach to join me for at least a couple of dinners?

I am already feeling lonely, scared, and even embarrassed about my singledom. I am imagining how wrong it will feel to be going into a seaside restaurant and admit that I am one, yes, the only person. (“No, I am not waiting for somebody else. Please seat me fast so nobody sees.”) It will feel awkward asking for a half plate of their famous seafood starter, or asking for a half-bottle of wine. (Maybe, I should order a full bottle and take it back to my room?) Will I need to have a book to read and hide behind? Or do I put on my headphones so I don’t look so lonely and wretched?

The anxiety of not having the same summer vacation I’ve had for the past 17 years of my marriage was getting the best of me, until it stopped. Why? Because I looked honestly at my past. As I did, I began to feel grateful for the good things, those summer vacations, at the same time, I began to recognize it was time to own the bad times and say goodbye to them.

Below is my list of lovely things I am grateful for:

1) I was happy when my Ex-husband and I shared planning, anticipating and living through travel experiences as a couple

2) I loved spending time with the kids during these vacations, and giving them my full attention as opposed to being overwhelmed by my corporate job

3) I appreciated exploring new unknown places for me, like amazing Mediterranean resorts

4) I appreciated the convenience factor that came with sharing expenses and shared problem-solving

Next comes the list of things I will not miss and my takeaway thoughts:

1) In all honesty, I was the one who planned most of the trips, and had to lobby hard to get them. My Ex “graciously” accepted my plans always — but made sure I understood that he was doing me a favor by agreeing to them. Take away: I don’t mind planning, but I want to be appreciated for my efforts and ideas

2) Whereas we always started talking about the vacations months in advance, we never actually had the trips planned or paid for in advance. My Ex always had job-related uncertainties. Takeaway: Maybe he even pretended to have uncertainties to feel more important and influential?

3) We often had to compromise … on the destinations, the budget, and the length of stay in each place. My Ex-husband had his pet hates of some places that I loved and he would never spend more than 3 nights in one spot. Takeaway: I prefer to have more time to fall in love with a place

Doing this exercise with myself was in no means intended to expose my Ex-husband as evil or bad, but rather to show me, and divorcing and divorced ladies, that there are always good and bad things about a marriage. It was the good that kept us together for so long probably. But while I may miss the good things, I am very happy to let go of the bad ones. Seeing the pros and cons of our romanticized vacations, brought me back from daydreaming to reality. This in turn allows me to go forward with my eyes open.

After I listed the good and bad things about the trips with my Ex, I realized more things that I can’t wait to share …

1) Reflecting back I realize a lot of beautiful things have slipped by into history. There are many precious things that are no more — not because of a divorce — but because of life itself. For instance, there will no longer be vacations with my small babies or toddlers, or even young kids, because the kids have grown up — not because we divorced as their parents — but because of the fleetingness of life itself, and change

2) Looking back at the wonderful moments that I love and miss — the atmosphere, the warmth, the laughter, the smell of lavender, and the tickle of chilled sparkling wine —I ask myself, how much of this was my own making? For instance, our trips to France were fabulous. And I was the one who planned them in precise detail and paid for half. I was the one who spoke French and planned the routes and ordered in the restaurants. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to organize more lovely trips again?

3) I guess my new goal is to grow to love my own company on a vacation as much as I believe I loved my Ex-husband’s

As I wait here in Moscow for international borders to open up again, I dream of my first trip as a single woman. What will it be like? Will I go on my own — to breathe in the air this time as my own person? Or will I take the kids to nurture our closeness in this new world we find ourselves in?

A new and appealing thought is to have a solo trip

I think I would like to go somewhere familiar and safe. I will stay in one or two separate places, not more, to give myself time for tranquility and to truly enjoy the place. I will not rent a car to save myself the money, the hassle of finding one, or the ink used on the expected parking tickets. Instead, I will travel by train, which I’ve always loved. The train is a Zen way to embrace life and look out the window in a very ladylike, film-noir fashion.

If I go alone, I can spend as much time shopping and window shopping as I like. I can go into any restaurant I like, dress up, or on the contrary, eat a takeaway sandwich while sitting on a pier. I can order a tuna pizza which I’ve always liked but which my Ex always hated. Heck, I can even take my watercolors on the trip and paint. I can have long, lazy breakfasts and take a bus to the village market. I can talk to people at the next table and appreciate the flirtations of the waiters.

In the evening, I can throw on a long floaty dress and comfortable flat sandals. With the most possible grace and self-respect, I can hold my head high. I imagine myself walking into a restaurant and asking for a table — for one. I will nibble half a dozen oysters as I consider the small but intriguing wine selection. And when asked, I will say without hesitation, “Yes, you can take away the other place setting. No one will be joining me tonight.”

 

Anna Ivanova-Galitsina is an international expert in communications and storytelling based in Moscow, Russia. She is training to be a coach for women in transition. You can reach out to her via e-mail [email protected] for a test coach session or a discussion.

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.

 

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.

Divorce and depression

Divorce and Depression: What to Look for and How to Cope

Divorce and depression are inseparable for almost everyone. The ending of—or even the thought of ending—your marriage is incredibly sad because it’s the death of your dreams of being happy together and basking in the love you thought you had found.

But depression caused by divorce is not the same as what we commonly think of as depression. It even has a different name. It’s called situational depression.

Situational depression is typically short-term and a stress response to a specific event or situation. Relationship problems are some of the most common causes, so it’s easy to understand how divorce and depression go hand in hand.

Another thing to keep in mind is that situational depression differs from other types of depression in that it’s never just biologically or psychologically based. There is a specific event or situation at the root of those feelings.

But knowing the technical difference between divorce-induced situational depression and other types of depression doesn’t really change the realities of either. For most people, the experience of situational depression and other types are indistinguishable from one another.

Take a look at some of the more common symptoms of situational depression:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Inability to enjoy normal activities
  • Crying
  • Consistently feeling stressed out or worried
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Trouble doing daily activities
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Ignoring important matters like paying bills or going to work
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

There’s nothing in this list that is exclusive to situational depression and not to other types of depression.

But there’s one thing that’s very important to remember when you’re dealing with divorce and depression: situational depression is the result of a specific event or stress, and that means you can do something about it.

Before jumping into what you can do though, it’s also important to recognize how depression might be affecting you while you’re on your divorce journey—because it can be so easy to ignore the symptoms or chalk them up to something (or, someone) else.

Thinking about Divorce

Even before you start thinking about divorce as a solution to your marital problems, you could be struggling with situational depression.

You might have trouble connecting with or even wanting to connect with your spouse. You might constantly feel stressed out or worried. And you might be forgetting things that you normally wouldn’t. This is often how situational depression first appears when you’re having relationship troubles.

Coping with Divorce

If you’re coping with divorce, it can be fairly easy to identify your symptoms of depression from the list above. However, the symptom that is the most frightening to experience is thoughts of suicide.

For most people dealing with divorce and depression, thoughts of suicide are way outside of their normal experience. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that something must be very wrong if you’re having thoughts like this.

What I want you to know is that these thoughts are very common. If you can easily recognize them as thoughts that you’d never act on, then there’s nothing more to do. However, if thoughts of suicide become more persistent or you start making plans, then you need to reach out for support immediately or call 911.

There’s absolutely no reason for you to struggle with divorce and depression on your own.

Recreating after Divorce

One of the surprising times people can still struggle with divorce and depression is when they’re recreating after divorce. Even in the midst of creating a life you love, you can still struggle with situational depression.  And if you are someone who never wanted the divorce to begin with, your recovery after divorce can be especially painful.

You might be triggered by hearing a certain song. You might experience waves of sadness and difficulty when the date of your anniversary rolls around. This is all a normal part of the healing journey.

How to Deal with Divorce and Depression

Regardless of where you are on your divorce journey, there are things you can do to ease the pain and struggle of your situational depression.

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:

Exercise regularly

Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or a yoga studio. It can be as simple as going for a walk or dancing to your favorite song. Exercise is about moving your entire body in ways that you normally wouldn’t.

Exercise helps with situational depression because it puts your focus and attention on your body. When you’re focused on keeping your balance, lifting weights, or just putting one foot in front of the other, you’re not dwelling on your pain. When you have a respite from your depression, you will find it easier to deal with the challenges of your life as you process your thoughts about and experience of divorce.

Get more rest, relaxation, and sleep

Believe it or not, it takes a lot of energy to deal with divorce and depression. Yet many people believe that the way to get through it all is by staying active and “putting their life back together.”

If this is you, then allowing yourself time to rest, relax, and sleep will help you pause and replenish your energy. Don’t use the time to dwell on the pain you’re experiencing or as an excuse to not move your body. Rest, relaxation, and sleep are about replenishing your energy, so you can move through the depression and on to making the decisions you need to make and living your life.

Eat healthy snacks and meals

Ever heard of the divorce diet? It’s common for people to lose their appetite when they’re coping with divorce and depression.

Although it’s easy to turn to junk food because it’s convenient and tasty, your best bet for helping yourself heal is to focus on eating healthy snacks and meals. When you make healthy choices, you’re providing your body with the food it needs to function well.

Talk with your doctor about medication

If your symptoms are getting in the way of you taking care of your everyday responsibilities and activities, you should talk with your doctor. She can prescribe medication to help you cope with your divorce journey.

Reach out for help

You don’t have to go through your divorce journey alone. There are plenty of people who are able and willing to help you put the pieces of your life together in a way that makes the most sense for you. Of course, these people include your family and friends. But they also include helping professionals like therapists and divorce coaches.

Consider reading: “How to Get Through a Divorce and Heal: The Surprising X Factor of a Divorce Coach”

Remember, reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of tremendous strength because you know what you need the most and you’re willing to bravely look for help.

Divorce and depression are inseparable for nearly everyone. That’s because relationship problems are often the cause of situational depression.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something you can do about it. You can cope with the depression you feel by accepting it and then acting … doing some fairly simple things and securing the help you need.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while navigating the divorce experience and striving to recover and rebuild. SAS offers women six FREE months of private email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future self.

“Step forth. It’s okay if you fall. Life — your life — is calling you.” SAS Cofounder, Liza Caldwell

 

Finding the true you after divorce

How to Move On and Discover Your True Self After Divorce

It’s tempting, and oh, so easy to believe that the hard work of divorce is completing the legal, financial, and practical steps you must take to officially dissolve your marriage. The black and white stuff. And Lord knows there’s a myriad of those logistical, challenges. You have to decide how you will divorce, how, or what kind of lawyer to use. You need to discover your ducks, get them in a row and hunt down papers, file, combine, fill out, let alone try to read.  You must develop your strategy and absorb stressful negotiations. All of which in total and individually is very difficult to navigate. Yet these steps have not transformed you. They have not delivered you to a place called Moved On after divorce.

To move on, to create a life worthy of you and filled with worth for you, you need to accept the invitation. It’s an invitation that is unspoken and easy to ignore. Yet, if you want what’s coming around your corner to be genuine, to be filled with meaning, discoveries, growth, joy, and peace, you must accept the invitation, and do the work.

Allowing yourself to heal after divorce

The unspoken invitation your divorce delivers is the opportunity to discover your true self.

Discovering the true you is a journey that not everyone opts for. Yet, the opportunity is there for everyone who divorces.

The reason so many decline or ignore the invitation is because accepting it first requires a genuine desire to heal. Some people prefer to remain bitter and angry, to remain the victim of their divorce, or to ignore healing in favor of beginning a new relationship as quickly as possible.

Although each of these responses is normal, none of them will help you cope with divorce or move on. In other words, these reactions to divorce won’t allow you to heal.

To heal properly, you need to deal with the emotional story, the wounds created by your divorce and the responsibility you played in bringing an end to your marriage.

Accepting that grief is a part of divorce

You lose a lot when you divorce. Obviously, you lose your spouse, your dreams of growing old together, and your lifestyle. But you could also lose your home, the ability to see your children daily, someone to help with the day to day tasks of living, friends, and so many other things you’ve grown accustomed to, both large and small.

And with the recognition of each loss, you’ll grieve.

Grief is a complicated emotion. It’s unique to each person which means your grief will be unlike the grief your friend may have experienced when she divorced. Grief is also nonlinear. You’ll feel like you’ve moved forward—like you are on your way to feeling better—but then something will happen. Suddenly, you’ll feel like you’ve been thrown back into the abyss of misery and you can’t get out of bed.

…And understanding that grief is complicated

The grief you’ll feel is also complicated by the fact that it isn’t just one emotion you feel before, during and after divorce but a range of them. And you probably started experiencing feelings of grief as soon as the possibility of divorce became a reality: back there when you were beginning the divorce process.  Or right now, after divorce, the grief ebbs and flows. It washes over you …

Thoughts of disbelief, that this can’t be happening to you—that’s shock and denial. Because your mind naturally protects you from taking in more information and pain than you can deal with at once, feeling this way is common when you don’t want to divorce.

You will probably suffer gut-wrenching pain about the end of your marriage and all the changes you must face during and after divorce as you work through your grief. Change is always painful, and changes of the magnitude required by divorce are often awful—at least at first.

As you continue coping with your divorce and grieving, don’t be surprised if you struggle with trying to understand why divorce is the answer to the problems present in your marriage. You might struggle with trying to assign blame.

At first you might even struggle to figure out what you did that caused your Ex to want to end your marriage. And when you think you have it all figured out, you may promise your Ex that you’ll change if he come back to you. But the firmer he stands in their decision to divorce, the more frustrated you’ll become.

Then, at some point, you may get so frustrated that you start blaming your Ex and feeling tremendous anger toward him because, in your eyes, he is the cause of all the pain and torment you’re feeling.

Another emotion you might encounter as you continue healing from your divorce is loneliness. You’re more likely to experience loneliness if you’ve lost friendships due to your divorce or if you don’t know other people who are divorced who are willing to support you through your healing process.

However, not all the emotions you may experience as part of working through your grief are negative. You can also feel hopeful about life after divorce. And when you do, you will begin to make plans for the future. These plans should not be the same as the logistical steps you needed to take to get through your divorce. These plans are things you want to do, things that make you smile and feel excited as you contemplate them.

Your grief is complex, nonlinear, and unique. You may or may not experience these emotions. That combined with the nebulous nature of healing from grief can make it seem never-ending. You can feel trapped in and at times engulfed by your grief.

Why leaning into (instead of avoiding) your grief is crucial to moving on after divorce

When you feel trapped and defeated by all that you’re going through it can be incredibly tempting to self-medicate yourself in order to numb the pain. Some people wind up declining the invitation to discover their true selves by over or under eating, drinking too much, looking for love through sex, or taking prescription and nonprescription drugs.

But the beauty of allowing yourself to experience your grief, so long as you maintain your desire to heal, is that you will continue to make small incremental steps toward feeling better.

It’s the compounding of these small incremental steps that will eventually lead you out of your grief with a new sense of who you truly are. It’s through the testing and trials you survive because of and after divorce that you learn to drop the BS, the masks, and the stories you used to hide behind.

When your emotional wound of grief has healed, you can finally face the world as you truly are—powerful, unique, lovable, and perfectly you.

Whether you are navigating the experience, or recreating after divorce, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Smart women around the world have chosen SAS For Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of Divorce.

woman's hand addressing an envelope with quill pen

Divorce Recovery: An Exercise Before Dating

You were not expecting this so soon, but here you stand, transfixed, in the doorway of a dimly lit cafe, your throat closing up and your chest tightening, watching a man who looks quite similar to his profile pictures. Could he be “The One” you wonder? You’ve had a tantalizing preamble of just the right amount of emails. He’s revealed himself, but not too much. Now, you see him in the booth in front of you. He’s wearing black, dramatic, cat-eyed reading glasses. He’s even better than you could have hoped ….

Honk. Stop thinking that way.

It is not your mission, take it from Mama. If you are looking for The One, Your Soul Mate, Your Next Mister Big, read this and consider more: What role did you play in your last long-term relationship? You know, the one you just left, with the ink still drying on the divorce papers?

It’s natural to feel a little insecure right now, to want to replace and fill the void. I did. But what I learned maybe simultaneously, in my Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde personality post-divorce, is that eventually in your divorce recovery, you have to take a hold of yourself. You have to shake off the dust, and look underneath your shirt. You’ve got to examine the wounds, the wounds that are just now seeing the light of day.

We propose the following as a start to getting to know your own story and for dedicating specific time to allow yourself to mourn:

Coaching exercise: Divorce recovery letter

Goal: To examine what you have learned and to fully experience both the dark and light of loss.

Instructions: Choose an issue, an object, a way of living, or a relationship (hint, it’s probably the last one) In other words, someone/something you consider a loss. You will need a blank piece of paper and a pencil.

Create a graph marking the highs and lows of your relationship over time. First draw a horizontal line across a piece of paper.  The space above the line represents the positive experiences. The space beneath the line represents the negative experiences. On the far left of the line, put a dot on the line and write next to it the year the relationship began. Moving right, think about the highs and lows of your relationship as they relate to memories and events.  Put a dot and a notation for each memory, either above or below the line depending on whether or not it was a positive or negative experience. For example, your marriage may represent a very positive experience so it will be very high on the page.  Continue forward through the years with each important year or event plotted similarly. Connect the dots. Your graph should take you up to your current moment in time.

Examine this line. How did this exercise make you feel?  Do you see anything differently from the story you told yourself before?

Now write a letter to the object of the relationship. If it is your spouse, then you are writing to him/her and telling him/her how the graph makes you feel.  What did you learn? What do you see when you look at the narrative line of your relationship? What responsibility did you play in the story line?

Note: If you wrote to a person (your Ex for example) DO NOT attempt to read this letter to him/her.  This is for you and is a tool to help you process your thoughts and feelings. 

Divorce recovery homework:

This divorce recovery letter and graph represent how you have internalized and now externalized your life in this relationship. You have now documented how you feel and have felt about it. Where will you keep this graph and letter as you consider moving forward? Will you keep it in a drawer under your rolled argyle socks? Will you burn it, or put it in a box high in the closet?

SAS for Women helps women pick up the pieces after divorce and move forward with their lives. If you are not ready to talk to someone about your story, consider signing up for our weekly coaching letter. Our letter, SAS Day Break, will arrive discretely in your inbox and remind you of YOU and what you need in this moment as you continue to move, grow stronger, and rebuild your life after divorce.