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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.

How to file for divorce during uncertain times

How to File for Divorce During Uncertainty

Divorce is an obstacle course of flaming hoops, even under the simplest and most amicable conditions. But knowing how to file for divorce when you’re still uncertain is its own form of uncertainty.

There’s so much to figure out. Do you stay and work it out when you’re unhappy and unmotivated? Should you start planning for divorce but stay quiet about it? Do you tell your spouse you want a divorce before doing anything?

Or do you take matters into your own hands and start proceedings?

And what about all the chaos and uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic?

Sheltering in place can certainly foster much needed family and relationship time. But it can also confirm stirring doubts if a marriage is unhappy or unhealthy.

Even if you know that divorce is the way you have to go, the circumstances of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic fuel their own doubts.

And where do you even start? Divorce is complicated enough without having limited access to necessary resources and agencies.

There’s something about certainty that provides clarity. It’s as if the path ahead clears itself in anticipation of your next move. You’ve decided. You’re focused. You’re driven.

But permanent, life-changing decisions like divorce are rarely so clear-cut.

You may be overthinking whether to leave your husband. Perhaps you’re terrified of the loss of financial security, social approval, and custody of your children. Maybe you’re stuck remembering the good times, unsure of how to move on.

You may be determined to go through with a divorce, but the current circumstances brought on by COVID raise new questions and concerns.

For example, many courts and legal services were closed in the early months of the pandemic. Even those that have reopened may be playing catch-up for a long time. Then there’s the uncertainty of whether the courts and legal services will remain open as the number of COVID cases begin rising again. You will have to think about how that could affect the timing of your divorce and your access to needed services.

Additionally, you or your spouse may have lost your source of income. Your investments may have taken a big hit, especially if you have had to rely on them for survival. Any changes in employment and finances during this time could make your settlement more difficult to negotiate.

Even the pragmatic issue of physical separation could prove problematic. Most realtors and landlords have resorted to virtual property tours to avoid in-person contact, potentially making a home search more difficult.

How could your kids be affected by a divorce or physical move at this time?

If you have children, you know that schooling has become more complicated, even from school to school. Some have returned to in-person attendance, some are virtual, and some are a blend of the two.

There are countless reasons to feel overwhelmed with uncertainty at a time like this. And that overwhelming feeling can make it difficult to focus on learning how to file for divorce if and when you decide to do so.

The less confusion and fear you have about the process itself, the more clarity and security you will have about your decision.

Just as importantly, that clarity will keep you from making mistakes that could cost you heartache and money now and down the road.

As tempting as it is to be easily triggered and reactive, wisdom would advise you to convert that energy into making a plan.

Educate yourself on the various stages of divorce and what it takes to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. And know the consequences if you overlook something.

It’s important to know upfront that every state has different laws. From residency requirements within your county and state to waiting periods, every state has its own divorce process.

Here is an overview of the divorce process, regardless of what state you’re in. This can serve as an outline for guiding your questions and helping you get educated and prepared.

  1. Prepare a divorce petition. 

One spouse has to file for divorce, which starts with a divorce petition.

Every state provides couples the option of filing a no-fault divorce, which can make an uncontested divorce much simpler (and less expensive).

  1. File the divorce petition.

The petition for termination of marriage must be filed with the correct court within your district.

  1. Ask for temporary orders if necessary. 

Perhaps the required waiting period isn’t possible for you. You may need a court order to secure child custody, child support, and spousal support.

Other temporary orders include status quo orders, temporary property restraining orders, and restraining orders.

Depending on your situation, you should become educated on all of these orders and their possible necessity in your divorce.

  1. Serve your spouse with the appropriate documentation. 

There are laws governing the serving of divorce papers and reporting it to the court. There can also be consequences for not following the required procedures and deadlines.

  1. The recipient files a response. 

The recipient response, whether agreement or contest, must also be filed within a certain amount of time.

  1. Negotiate a settlement. 

Obviously, your divorce will go much more smoothly if you and your spouse can negotiate your own terms. Division of assets, child custody, and support, alimony (if applicable)—the list is long and should be thought out in detail.

Even if you and your spouse are able to be agreeable, you would still be wise to seek professional guidance for this stage.

  1. The hearing. 

Depending on your and your spouse’s ability to work agreeably, you could have either an uncontested hearing or a trial.

  1. The final judgment. 

Just what it sounds like, this final step is the first step to your new life. It’s also the point at which you will want to feel secure that you have done everything right leading up to it.

If all of this sounds daunting, know that your feelings are only natural. You’re considering the end of a marriage and a change in life for your entire family.

But now is the time to channel that consternation into preparedness. You’re seeking clarity so you know your options and can best prepare for and protect your future.

Learning how to file for divorce when there is so much uncertainty will be easier if you surround yourself with experts knowledgeable about the process.

Clarity comes from knowledge. And there are plenty of resources with the knowledge you will need to navigate this life-changing process.

You may not have a clue how to get started, but you can build a trustworthy team to guide you.

A divorce coach, for example, can serve as the hub of your wheel, directing you through both pragmatic and emotional decisions.

A financial expert can help make sense of your marital finances and lay the groundwork for an equitable settlement and a plan for your future.

And a good family law attorney that specializes in divorce will provide sound legal guidance and walk you through the legal process.

Here are some tips for how to file for divorce when you’re feeling uncertain.

  • Grab a journal.

Give it a hope-filled title if that will inspire you to make it your constant companion. The important thing is that you get used to documenting… everything.

You don’t have to be on the verge of the War of the Roses to justify documenting everything that is or could be relevant to a divorce.

This journal is your private, dedicated space for logging questions to ask a divorce attorney, answers, research, resources, events, conversations, and concerns.

When you have this vital information safely written where you can easily access it, you can let go of some anxiety. You will also be prepared for discussions with lawyers and other consultants.

  • Get organized.

Now is the time to start collecting and organizing copies of all information that could affect your settlement and therefore your future.

This is also one of the first vital steps if you’re asking, What should I do to leave my husband? 

In the context of fear and uncertainty, organization is incredibly clarifying and empowering.

Buy an accordion folder and organize all your documents. Make copies of any documents that pertain to both of you.

If you have been in the dark regarding your marital finances, be sure to get access to all relevant information. Investments, accounts, retirement (401(k), IRA), life insurance, social security, past taxes, children’s records (medical, education), mortgage and home expenses, etc.—it all matters.

  • Consider hiring a divorce coach.  

According to the American Bar Association, “Divorce coaching is a flexible, goal-oriented process designed to support, motivate, and guide people going through a divorce to help them make the best possible decisions for their future, based on their particular interests, needs, and concerns.”

The more upheaval and uncertainty you feel as you look to the possibility of divorce, the more essential a divorce coach becomes.

An experienced divorce coach will be able to advise you as to whether a traditional, pro se, mediated, or collaborative divorce is best for you. And she can also help with aspects of the process that an attorney can’t or won’t.

From pre-divorce to post-divorce, a divorce coach can be your link to sanity and hope. Some coaches offer not only private coaching, but educational, divorce support groups, which can lessen the expense of working with a coach and give you a much-needed community so you feel less weird, less alone.

  • Talk to an accountant or financial advisor.

Find someone who can do a thorough analysis of your financial situation and help you prepare for the future.

Women commonly enter into a life of lowered income post-divorce, so they need prudent guidance in forecasting their situation and future needs.

The longer you have been married and the more complex your marital finances, the more important it is to have expertise on your side.

  • Find the right lawyer. 

Whether or not you want to do your divorce on your own, at least consult with a family law attorney. Have your questions and concerns listed in your journal and bring your portfolio of documents.


If you are wondering what else you can do BEFORE you file, read our “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce”


Being organized and prepared will not only help with legal expenses but will help you to hear the answers more effectively.

  • Update your resume and start researching employment. 

Whether you have been actively employed or have been out of the workforce raising kids, this is the time to look ahead.

Update your resume, polish up your relevant skills, and do some research on the job market, even if you currently work.

If you have lost work during the pandemic, you may find that your options are limited. Or you may be forced to change the way you work.

Working from home, for example, may not be as simple as it sounds if you’re starting divorce proceedings.

Entering the job market during the cultural uncertainty of COVID could be challenging. It’s therefore important that you have a firm grasp on your gifts and skills and are prepared to be creative in their use.

You may not have had to worry about things like health insurance and retirement funds in the past. But now you could be on your own without those safety nets.

  • Get your credit in good shape. 

Know where your credit stands. Get a copy of your credit report and review it before sharing concerns with your accountant.

You may have credit issues tied to your spouse. And you may have debts accrued by your spouse but reflecting on you.

It’s imperative that you know where you stand and how to protect your credit going forward. You will need good credit to secure essentials like housing and credit cards in your name.

Now is the time to work on rebuilding credit in your name, even if you simply start with a secured credit card.

  • Don’t jeopardize the outcome.

Simply put, mind your p’s and q’s. Don’t do anything that could give your spouse ammunition to use against you in your divorce.

Don’t start dating. Avoid making large or unnecessary purchases. Don’t start pitting your kids against their father. And don’t unilaterally change your parenting practices.

Knowing how to file for divorce during uncertainty starts with a focus on achieving clarity.

Just because you research the divorce process and prepare yourself for the possibility doesn’t mean you’ve signed off on a divorce.

It simply means you will step confidently and wisely into your future if you do decide to end your marriage.

 

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

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or “he.”

 

Divorce effects on children by Unsplash

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.

 

Woman with pink hat post-divorce

10 Mind-Blowingly Good Things About Life Post-Divorce

Divorce is nothing to look forward to. It’s certainly not a line item on your walk-down-the-aisle bucket list. So imagining your life post-divorce isn’t likely to be on your radar until you are in the throes of losing your marriage. It’s also not likely to leave you feeling hopeful about your future.

But divorce, like every other unforeseen roadblock in life, is really more of a fork in the road than a block in the road. It forces you to choose not only which path you will take, but how you will take it.

And, as you go forward with your post-divorce life, that means embracing the odd notion that there really can be good things about divorce.

Sound crazy? Consider this Kingston University survey of 10,000 people at different major life milestones.

Contrary to all the joys of falling in love and planning a wedding, women were actually happier in the first five years post-divorce. They were more content, despite the financial difficulties that often befall divorced women.

While men were also happier after their divorces were final, their new-found joy was nothing compared to that of the women in the study.

Make of that what you will. But that is a strong message of hope for women going through what is perhaps the most vulnerable, frightening, deflating times of their lives. Obviously, these women became privy to some amazing things about life post-divorce. And now you can, too.

Beyond the steps to ensure your divorce recovery lies a treasure trove of mind-blowingly good things you probably never imagined could come with divorce. While this isn’t a cheering section for ending marriages, it is a cheering section for women whose marriages have ended.

Let’s dive into some of those perks by checking out some must-do’s for the newly divorced, independent woman. Here are 10 biggies:

  1. You realize that you are stronger than you ever knew. 

It’s all but impossible to recognize your own herculean strength for its potential when it’s always being used to fight.

Coming home every day to an unhappy—or, worse yet, toxic—marriage is draining. Add the divorce process to that, and you’re likely to think you’re clawing to stay above ground.

But once you’re in the post-divorce phase of your life, that strength starts to re-emerge.

Have you ever had a plant in your garden that you just couldn’t keep alive… until it decided to pop up a couple of years later? It’s kind of like that. And the realization is amazing! Like, put-on-your-Superwoman-cape amazing.

  1. Your free time belongs to you.

(That’s why they call it “free.”)

Nothing in marriage ever totally belongs to you, and that goes for your time, as well. Somehow you are always tied to the common good of your marriage or the family as a whole.

You will be surprised—maybe even thrown off a little—when you realize that your time really is your own.

  1. Bye-bye stress hormones, hello health. 

It’s no secret that stress causes a cascade of health-eroding events in your body. The price of worry, anxiety, and fighting is a flooding of fight-or-flight stress hormones. And those hormones throw your body into an unsustainable state.

Once your life is post-divorce, however, you get to come home to a haven that you have created. You get to sleep in your own bed without the source of your anger snoring next to you.

You will have a new set of pragmatic concerns and adjustments, of course, but you will be wearing your Superwoman cape, remember?

Just think of all you can accomplish when your blood pressure drops, your headaches go away, and you put the kibosh on emotional eating.

  1. You get to become a better parent to your kids. 

Divorce is never easy on kids, even when it’s a healthier alternative to a hostile environment.

Even if you’re co-parenting, you’ll now get to choose how you engage with your children. You’ll get to manifest all those Princess Diana values that will help your kids become stellar adults one day.

And, when your kids are visiting their other parent, you’ll have some breathing room to evaluate your parenting. How are they adjusting? How can you better support, encourage, and inspire them? What kinds of rituals can you all create together—rituals that will forever define your brave new life?

  1. Shared custody equals time for yourself. 

Yes, it can be painful getting used to your kids being away from you for days at a time. Hopefully, you and your Ex can at least agree on healthy co-parenting that will ease that transition for everyone.

If your kids know that their parents are putting the needs of their children first, everyone can win.

And suddenly those times when they are at their other home means you have more time to yourself. Time to reflect on your relationship with your kids. Time to get your home tidied up and feeling like a sanctuary again. Curfew-free time to spend with friends or indulge a favorite hobby.

Unless there’s an emergency, responsibility for the kids falls on your Ex during those times.

  1. Your goals are just that: your goals.

When was the last time you thought about what you wanted to accomplish in life without checking it against your spouse’s wishes? Now you don’t have to fear that your goals are too outlandish or costly or unrealistic. You can vision-board or Pinterest binge to your heart’s content.

  1. It is so much easier to dance in bare feet when you’re not walking on eggshells. 

It probably won’t dawn on you until you’re way into your post-divorce life just how much fear you lived in. Even if you weren’t in a toxic or abusive marriage, it takes an enormous amount of energy to dodge the constant fighting.

If you say ‘this,’ you’ll be fighting all night. If you don’t do ‘that,’ you’ll never hear the end of it. Walking on eggshells is exhausting. And it gets you nowhere fast.

Now that you’re past that, you can take off your shoes and dance anywhere you damn well please! There is a sweetness to being alone after divorce.

  1. You find out who your die-hard friends really are. 

Divorce exposes people for who they really are. And that doesn’t apply just to you and your Ex. It applies to your family and friends, as well.

You will definitely see a shift in your Christmas card line-up post-divorce. You may stop hearing from those “couples-only” friends or those who stuck by your Ex during the divorce.

But you will be pleasantly surprised by the friends who were always in your corner. They will come out of the woodwork and be there for the ugly cries and the movie marathons.

  1. You make wonderful new friendships. 

And then there are the new friends you will make. Friends that reflect your new life back to you in wonderful ways because they have been where you are.

Friends that are also wearing Superwoman capes under their home-based-entrepreneur power pj’s. These may be friends that you meet in a divorce support group for women recreating their lives. Friends that reach out to you for comfort and advice.

And you will marvel that you had lived so long without them in your life.

  1. You become your own best friend. 

Ahh, this is the best gift of post-divorce life! Becoming your own best friend is far more than a sappy Oprah concept. You’ll look back on your wedding invitations that said, “Today I am marrying my best friend,” and you’ll smile.

You’ll smile because you will know now what you didn’t have a clue about then… that you always were and always will be your own best friend.

 

Helpful Resource

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are a discerning, newly divorced and independent woman, you are invited to consider Paloma’s Group, our powerful virtual group coaching class for women consciously rebuilding their lives. Visit here to schedule your quick interview and to hear if Paloma is right for you and you, right for Paloma.

*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.

 

rainbow painted escalator steps

46 Steps to Ensure Your Divorce Recovery

Divorce Recovery

Divorce recovery describes the all encompassing process of emotional and practical restructuring and healing throughout the phases of divorce. It is a constant, cyclical process in which you are broken down and built back up numerous times until finally, you are whole again. Divorce recovery is painful, yes, but it is also an opportunity.

Steps you can take

Based on our background in education and our divorce recovery practice, we’ve identified three phases of divorce (contemplating, navigating, and recovering) and suggest the following concrete steps you can take throughout them to best ensure your full divorce recovery. As you complete each step you will be one step closer to your reconnection with self, independence, and true healing.

No matter what phase you are in, if you are mindful of your divorce recovery, our advice to you is…

  1. Accept that it’s okay right now to not have all the answers. Your job is to begin to study and learn what is possible for your life.
  2. Understand that you are grieving (or you will be, at some point) and that this is your own, unique divorce recovery path. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.  While you may not feel you are grieving the loss of the person you divorced (you may actually be happy about that) you will likely grieve the loss of hopes and dreams that you had for your life. It’s a confusing time, because at the heart of grief is a mixture of emotions. You might feel incredibly free and exhilarated one moment, lonely and terrified the next, and hollow or despairing the next. This is the nature of grief, and it’s necessary to acknowledge ALL of those feelings as normal and acceptable.
  3. Forgive yourself if you are scared. It’s to be expected. You didn’t major in “divorce” in college. How can you possibly know what your life after divorce might mean?
  4. Appreciate that divorce recovery takes time. While nobody knows exactly how long (some researchers say 17 months, others insist it’s three to five years) we know that to advance through the divorce recovery process it requires intention. You must do something. (Check! You are reading this list now!) It’s far less about signing the divorce decree than it is about recovering a sense of homeostasis and positivity.
  5. Help your children along their divorce recovery path by getting educated and taking action for you and them. At times your children might surprise you with their maturity and resilience. Other times they’re so angry or withdrawn it worries you. Understand your children’s recovery path is not the same as yours. They are not going to see or feel the same things as you. Read books (for you, and to them). Look for more resources, like your children’s school or a child therapist, to help you understand how your children are coping and recovering from the divorce. Learn the difference between what is appropriate and what requires your immediate attention.
  6. Be careful in whom you confide – this includes family.  Few people can be objective, and fewer still are marriage or divorce experts. Yet, there are plenty of opinions and judgements. Just because your neighbor got burned by his ex, however, does not mean that’s what’s in store for you.
  7. At the same time, don’t isolate yourself. This is not the time to try and figure it out alone. The decisions to make are too big and too important. This is a good time to invest in your divorce recovery by surrounding yourself with people skilled in helping you.
  8. Connect with your friend(s). You need support, understanding, and accountability.  You need someone who will listen and suspend his/her own judgment. You might need practical things too, like someone to watch the kids when you have appointments or you need space to simply clear your head.
  9. Avoid making any radical decisions for at least a year after your divorce.  The self-discovery curve is too steep during your divorce recovery. Chances are you are going to learn things you don’t know about yourself. So give yourself some time before you move to Tahiti. You may end up wishing you’d just moved down the street.
  10. Make a list of your most critical practical questions. Where and how should you live would certainly be one of them. Is it better to keep the house, or sell it and rent? Who is going to care for the house or the car, or the laundry for that matter when your ex is gone? How can you get a job if you need to be home with the kids?
  11. Make a list of your most critical financial questions. Do you know where you stand today? What are your assets? How much debt do you have? What are your near and far term financial goals? How do you get a job if you are facing your fifties?  (You will see some questions live on multiple lists.)
  12. Make a list of your most critical legal questions. Maybe you are finished with the divorce but you must put a new will in place, or now, you’ve just been named Power of Attorney for your aging mother. What does that mean?
  13. Make a list of your emotional concerns. What are your fears? Is it the prospect of being alone? Is it how your divorce will hurt your kids? Do you worry you might burn out your friends, because you sound like a whiny, broken record? Write these down.
  14. Reach out for professional, compassionate support. There are a lot of resources for divorce these days. The thing you should know first and foremost, you should not try to do this alone. A certified divorce coach can help you before, during, and/or after the divorce (and no, talking to one does not mean you are necessarily getting divorced). This professional can help you with many of the questions keeping you up at night (Can you afford a divorce? How do you break the news to the kids? How will you cope when your ex has the kids?) and he/she can definitely help you identify your choices (Is mediation right for you? What financial preparations should you have in place for living independently?).  A good divorce coach can also help you take your next best steps (How do you learn to co- parent effectively? Go back to work? Change jobs? Will you have the capacity to ever love again?)
  15. Seek to get educated on what’s possible for you. Ask friends or professionals you trust for referrals. Look for experts who can help you answer all your questions. Consider working with those pros (lawyers, real estate brokers, financial, or career advisors) who understand divorce recovery and the rebuilding process, and who seem willing and patient to teach you — and not just talk at you.
  16. Make a list of your other, helping professionals. What other professionals do you need to speak to, if not now, eventually? Who will teach you how to do things your mate used to do? For easy reference, pull together a list of professionals you think you’ll need, like a computer tutor, plumber, locksmith, CPA, electrician, gardener, etc. — for when the time comes.
  17. Come to understand that divorce is a whole life challenge, or as we like to say, “Divorce is a business transaction. How you pick up the pieces and rebuild your life is the mind body challenge.”  Evaluate your financial, legal, practical and emotional questions above and notice how divorce has impacted all aspects of your life.
  18. Try tuning into your body. What is your body telling you about your situation? Are your shoulders locked up near your ears? Do you feel like you are suffocating? Are you experiencing panic attacks or getting sick more than usual? How are you sleeping? Try to find ways to take care of yourself and relieve some of the anxiety before it starts to undermine your health.
  19. Again, forgive yourself if you are panicking or just feeling numb. Your body is trying to communicate with you that “something is not right.” Tell your body you will try to listen more going forward.
  20. Starting now, take notes on when you begin to feel certain pains, aches, and headaches. What are the circumstances leading up to these symptoms?
  21. Go to the doctor and get a full physical if you are overdue.  Review with your doctor your list of issues if you have them, and share insights to your stress. Get your annual mammogram if you are a forty or older woman (and we recommend a 3D mammogram, and if your breasts are dense, a sonogram). If you are a man, when was the last time you went to a doctor? You must take care of yourself because who else is going to?
  22. Be careful how you self-medicate to deal with the stress and aches and trying circumstances you are experiencing.  Numbing yourself could prevent you from being levelheaded as you start to learn what is new and possible for your life.
  23. Watch out for where you vent and be wary of social media. If you say something online, it’s there forever and can be used against you. Same for emails. Before posting or hitting SEND, review what you are saying as if you were a judge. Be very careful.
  24. Find a way to process what you are going through. Are you meeting with a divorce coach or therapist regularly? Are you connecting with your friends? Are you journaling?  Who is keeping you tethered as you go through this roller coaster of pain and upheaval? Often we find solutions or at least new perspectives when we are forced to process out loud or on paper. What works best for you?
  25. To help you feel anchored, get organized. Start evaluating what you do and do not need and begin purging. Organize your important papers and documents, for example, and list all passwords and login instructions to accounts. Keep that newly minted list in a safe place.
  26. Don’t let the negative voices control you. When we are feeling low, it’s easy to let those negative voices grow deafening.“You failed.You are toast. No one will ever love you again.” Listening to those voices only keeps you in a dark place. So, tell them to hush.
  27. Create a budget. It’s important to understand how much you take in and spend each month. In addition to the obvious (rent/mortgage, car payment, utilities) don’t forget to factor in things like dry cleaning, haircuts, coffees, and vacation expenditures, etc.
  28. Face your loneliness. Now that you are no longer under the same roof as your ex, you are likely confronted with empty space. There you are left facing yourself. Take heart, that’s exactly where you are supposed to be. This is often the time you start really processing what role you played in the demise of the relationship, a necessary part to your full divorce recovery. And if you are not feeling grief, be prepared for it to hit you sometime.
  29. When the grief hits you, just be with it. Or make a list of all the things (material and not) you have lost. It surely is a lot. Now that you are looking at the list, give it some attention. Maybe you didn’t love your ex so much in the end. This makes you feel conflicted. So you are not grieving her as much as you are grieving the end of the fantasy, the identity you both built, the loss of what you invested in and co-created. That is a tragic loss. And for some people, we need to really ponder and be with that loss for a while.
  30. Look for Meet Up or support groups for like-minded people. Identify groups that are facilitated by a therapist or coach and be cautious of groups that focus on complaining.
  31. Embrace the discovery process. Now is an opportunity to get comfortable in your new skin — but how can you get comfortable if you don’t even know who you are anymore or what you want?  Get excited, it’s exhilarating to discover what you want and who you are in this next chapter.
  32. Live. Explore. Try things on.  Who do you want to be now that you’ve grown up? If you could do anything, what would that look like? Write down your ideas and see how many you can realize. No more pushing them aside, it’s time to try them out.
  33. Write your divorce story. If you still feel at a loss, you can’t get out of bed, start writing. Begin with your earliest memory of divorce and move into telling the story of your own divorce. What did you already know about divorce when it came up with your spouse? Did you have preconceived notions about what divorce should look like? How has your divorce changed the way you think?
  34. Find a way to exercise everyday so your brain chemistry has a chance to relax and rebuild you. Your primary relationship is with your body, your being. Maybe you cannot get to the gym, but can you make sure you walk every day? The Center for Disease Control recommends 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day to see health benefits. Consider a fitness tracker or app on your phone to help you work up to your goal.
  35. Understand your social landscape is going to change. Sometimes it’s tough when you are recovering from divorce to hang out with the same friends you shared as a couple. Some friends will invite you out and you’ll feel like a third wheel. Other friends don’t know what to do, so they don’t invite you at all. You’ll meet new friends as well. Your social world will experience a bit of a shake up and then it will resettle into place. Be open to the changes.
  36. Open your eyes to new adventures and friends. You may find your interests change or you’ll have a desire to do something you never really thought about before. Perhaps you’ll go to Cuba! Or a new friend will introduce you to rock climbing, or you’ll take your bike out of storage and dust it off.This is a time of exploration.
  37. Reconnect with old friends. As you recover from divorce, you may realize that some of your old friends fell off the radar, perhaps because life got too busy or because your spouse never really got along with them. Don’t you wonder what they are up to these days? Now it’s easier than ever with social media to find those old friends. Surprise yourself and them. Rekindle your connections with those you miss.
  38. Do things alone. Part of your grieving is being alone with yourself and rediscovering you. Welcome chances to dine out alone, travel alone, see movies alone… this is part of understanding the difference between what it is to be lonely vs. alone and being okay with that.
  39. Be sexually educated. A 2010 study of sexual health from Indiana University found the lowest rates of condom use were among people ages 45 and older, because older people may think they cannot get pregnant or are not at risk for STD’s. Yet according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers of older people with HIV has nearly doubled. People aged 55 and older accounted for 26% of all Americans living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in 2013. Be safe. Wear a rain jacket.
  40. Recognize the dating world has changed. Don’t let online dating scare you. Connect with someone who can help you with this and who can also laugh with you. Maybe your funny, kind girlfriend can take pictures of you and help you draft your online profile? Go ahead if it feels right. Enjoy it.
  41. Do be careful of your kids in terms of introducing a new person too soon. Remember, your kids are recovering from this divorce, too. They don’t need to be introduced to everyone you have dinner with. Instead, wait until a relationship becomes significant and you think this person might be around awhile. Have an age appropriate conversation with your children: first, to tell them about your new friend, and then to introduce him/her.
  42. Or don’t have a romantic relationship at all. Have you skipped from one relationship to the next your whole entire life? Well, stop. Your job isn’t to scramble to find your next partner if you aren’t ready or don’t want one. Work it and enjoy your independence!
  43. Understand and appreciate you are part of a new world. Divorce is changing. The stigma is losing it’s grip, the landscape is shifting, and it’s for you to determine who you will be. There will be times that you feel a little out of control. With the damp wings of a butterfly drying, you will be a little unstable, but you are coming out of a cocoon.
  44. Stretch yourself. The divorce certainly took you out of your comfort zone in a not so pleasant way, so why not seek ways to stretch yourself that are more fun? Go master the Tango by Air BnB’ing it in Buenos Aires! Go skydiving! Or buy the pickup truck you’ve always wanted and head fly-fishing. Just go.
  45. Allow yourself to trust again. This can be a tough part of your divorce recovery, because surely you’ve been disappointed, hurt, or even crushed along the way. But as you take these steps, you will feel better. You will meet good people and realize that you are able to trust again. You may even open your heart to love again.
  46. Remember opening to love means loving yourself first. It comes full circle. In order to fully recover from your divorce, you must give yourself a chance to grieve, to rebuild, to discover, to heal, and to love.

Whether you are considering divorce or already navigating the experience or its aftermath, 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 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 anna.i.galitsina@gmail.com 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.

 

Love after divorce

Love After Divorce: How about a “LAT” Relationship?

It was love after divorce. But when my BF and I bought a house together — but chose not to get married — we found ourselves under a lot of pressure from a variety of people to reconsider, to bind the financial risk with marriage, thereby rendering the choice that much more difficult to wriggle out of. But we remained unmarried in large part because we each had a strong sense that saying “forever” was unrealistic. We are organic individuals, we change. That’s the only way we grow, and there is no guarantee you’ll grow in the same direction, you and your spouse. Choosing marriage – as we all know — doesn’t guarantee that. But we did know that we loved and respected each other, and we wanted to make a life together in a setting beyond our respective apartments. We wanted more scope, we wanted to find it together — but we also knew we had big antlers. With too much territory overlap, there would be clashes.

Recognizing that, we chose a home that gave us each plenty of space for each of us to have our own zone. He, with his drums, was at one end of the rambler; I, with my journals and books, was at the other. Not realizing it at the time, we had done our own version of “living apart together” (LAT).

It was our version of the adage that the best thing for a marriage is a duplex.

Love after divorce and what others feared for me …

My parents were concerned. My mother in particular, I think, wanted me to have what she perceived to be the security of marriage, both financially and in terms of fidelity; and while it was a far less important motivation, I suspect that she – an exuberant and gifted party-thrower — also wanted The Wedding. (I think a fair number of the “fairer” sex want the wedding more than they actually want the marriage, especially with social media’s multiple venues for splashing ourselves about socially). The mortgage broker – who moonlighted as a wedding officiant – pointed out in a cheerily coaxing voice that even the software wanted us to be married, as she found herself having to leapfrog back and forth between computer screens in order to complete the application process. Friends expressed skepticism, dismay; my boss brought me wedding magazines.

This pressure comes in part from the perception that “real” commitment only comes with rings and documents filed at the courthouse, as well as a shared roof, and that marriage is somehow more secure than remaining unmarried. This perception is rooted in many centuries of tradition, but anyone who has come through a divorce would probably say it’s an illusion of epic proportions.

Now that I am in my own space again, I have the perspective that lasting love does not need a shared roof and that romance can actually fare better if it doesn’t share a mailbox. Commitment isn’t a two-car garage; it’s a choice to be in the world together, but the LAT trend embodies a growing recognition that this can be done from two different addresses.

Women in particular no longer need to marry in order to survive; we are generally better educated that we used to be, and most of us make our own living, at the very least. And more than a few women make a far better living than their male counterparts. If we marry, we can do it simply for love. Additionally, religion doesn’t overshadow marriage – or underpin it – quite the way it used to, though a shared spirituality may still play an important part in whom you choose to be with. Therefore, many of us – whether we’re Baby Boomer and Generation X divorcees or millennials just entering our first long-term partnerships – are recognizing the advantages of living apart from our partner or spouse. If divorced couples can coparent from separate addresses and in many cases get along better than they did while sharing one, why join under one roof to begin with?

Does your love after divorce lend itself to a LAT relationship?

Whether you’re in love after divorce and considering a LAT relationship (or considering one as you emerge from widowhood, or as your first major partnership), the advantages can be as simple as not having to clean up after someone, or not having to share a bed if you have wildly variant sleep cycles. Maybe you can listen to your own music (of which he is not a fan) as loudly as you like when you work out at 5 a.m. Maybe he finds relief in the fact that his gaming isn’t keeping you awake. Less simplistically, though, is that living apart together means that your marriage/partnership might have a better shot at feeling like it did when you first met – even 10 years later. When you see each other, it’s a treat, something you anticipate, that makes your eyes sparkle. Being at each other’s homes gives you the luxury of two locations, which means there’s different parks to walk through, different stores and restaurants to frequent. It feels a little like a vacation when you go to his place, and vice versa.

The cons to a LAT Relationship

The disadvantages, though, aren’t necessarily that your personal address doesn’t come with a fenced backyard and a carport, or that you don’t argue about where the laundry goes or whether each other’s art actually qualifies. There are moments you experience more richly with that person that you may miss out on when you live apart; these moments are as bonding as the dates you have more of when you don’t. When you see something on television that makes you laugh out loud, he’s not there to hear you, to delight in the sound of you snorting. When he finds something profound in a book he’s reading, he can’t lean in to you and read it aloud. There will be dreams you wake up from alone that you wish each other were there for, sun and moonrises you’ll not breathe in together. For couples living apart together in the midst of the Covid-19 quarantine, this is probably a lack you are feeling acutely.

A fresh take on love after divorce

Looking back on the choice my ex and I made not to not marry, I’d say it was one of the smartest ones I’ve ever made, on my own or with someone else. And it may sound paradoxical, but I’d also say that partnering with that particular man was one of the smartest choices I’ve ever made. I realize I’m very lucky that he turned out to have been a great risk, so to speak, both emotionally and financially; he’s a good man and didn’t change those stripes or behave badly when we decided to sell the house, though we had put nothing in writing, made no contracts.

With effort, we end up with invaluable self-knowledge after a divorce or significant break-up. We add layers of fresh wisdom and perspective, independence that has rounded out into new levels of resilience, and often, a more actively constructive relationship with ourselves and our process.  As we consider new relationships, commitments and love, we have far more than the choice of who to accept a date with, who to love and who to marry, if that’s what we choose. We also have the choice to remain in our own haven, happily partnering ourselves and free to do as we please – just with the added delight of pursuing the journey parallel to someone else.

 

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer 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 compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

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 thinking about her expectations of the divorce process

Deflating Your Expectations about the Divorce Process

Unpacking what you thought would happen versus what actually happened in your divorce process can do much to further your healing, this I’ve learned firsthand. When I first started writing this blogpost, my original plan was to write “a divorce success story.” After all, our culture wants us to report on our successes. Even if we struggle, we’re ultimately expected to arrive on the other side of that struggle as heroes. I had internalized this cultural message at the start of my divorce. I had pictured a successful and quick divorce with a wonderful, new life waiting for me at the end. I expected that one day I’d be able to write this “success story” and, in doing so, would inspire other women to be like me.

However, as I truly reflected back on what happened in my own divorce, I realized that it wasn’t just one struggle I lived through. My divorce actually unleashed a list of obstacles that always seemed to get longer, while the end goal—a new, wonderful life with the past firmly behind me —was nowhere to be seen. I kept telling myself: I need just one more push to sort out the apartment, where the kids will live, or a child support agreement. And then, when it’s all sorted, I will write my story and inspire others.

I was trying to be my old perfectionist self. I was trying to be a good girl and a successful student, completing my assignments and getting all As. I had already failed in staying married and in keeping my family together — the least I could do to reclaim my worth was to be successful in my divorce!

A mess instead of success

As my divorce was finalized on paper, I failed to feel free or confident. I was filled with anxiety and fear, ridden with guilt and shame. One day I was so crushed while reading text messages from my Ex that I deleted WhatsApp and climbed under the covers. A scared child was what I was. I was in no shape to inspire anyone, certainly not my sister divorcées. I was a mess with no real story to tell. Who was I kidding?

Or so I thought, until I heard an invitation to a masterclass by the award-winning TV presenter of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts. She shared two ideas that I loved, and they picked me up. “Make your mess your message,” said Robin, adding “showing vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.” Suddenly, I was inspired. I could do that! I could show my mess and vulnerability. After all, aren’t those two things we know for sure as divorced women? How to feel vulnerable and embrace the mess?

We divorced after seventeen years of marriage

My Ex and I separated over a year ago after being married for seventeen years. I initiated the breakup as I could no longer stand the mental, verbal, and sometimes physical abuse. We were a great team in our 20s, but by the time we hit our 30s, my personal growth and talents made my then-husband feel threatened. In turn, my husband felt invisible and like his needs were being ignored. The more he strengthened control, the weaker our connection and intimacy was. I had an affair in search of love and care, but it didn’t work for me long-term. After eight years of therapy and trying many methods of restoring peace as a couple, I realized there was nothing more I could do. The benefits of having a full family and loving memories no longer outweighed the stresses.

I decided to sacrifice my kids’ comfort, our household, and joint vacations in exchange for peace of mind, mental stability, confidence, and self-worth.

My post-divorce journey

As I was navigating my divorce, I realized that the process was nothing like I expected it to be! Through pain and many therapy sessions, I came to realize that the mismatch between the expectations and reality gave me grief and created a feeling of loss of control: it created a mess. As I review my top five expectations, I want to inspire other women getting divorced to face the expectations that may be weighing them down, causing pain and messy feelings.

Expectation 1: divorce will never happen to me

It is worth knowing that we are influenced by our close circle, not global statistics. For the rest of the world, 50% of marriages may end in divorce—but not in my social circle. My middle-class social group stuck by their traditional family structures whether they liked it or not. It was fine to live in different bedrooms and even apartments if you could afford it, but it wasn’t okay to get a divorce. This is largely because divorced men in Russia who worked in the military or for the state could lose their employment, destroying their careers and livelihoods.

What I did remember, though, is that my uncle got divorced when I was six, and his daughter, my cousin Catherine, was eight at the time. My mother told me that Catherine’s mother was a vile and stupid woman who wrongfully assumed that she could find someone better and, of course, she didn’t. A woman needs to stand by her man and not go looking for greener grass on the other side, I was told as a child. Catherine and her mom were excluded from our extended family after the divorce. Cousin Catherine and I reconnected only when we were both in our 40s via social media.

What did I make of all this? Subconsciously, I thought that divorce was a no-no for a good woman like me. I learned that initiating a divorce was bad, and a woman and her children would be punished for it.

As I was contemplating divorce myself, I was struggling to find a positive example to look toward. Divorce was untrodden territory in my family, as was following your feelings.

Expectation 2: it would be quick

Since I assumed that divorce doesn’t happen to good girls, getting divorced at all was extremely embarrassing. I didn’t want to tell anyone or discuss it. I wanted the divorce to be over with quickly. I was already thinking of getting a new, better husband since I was in the process of setting myself free. I was considering anything that could end my status of being “divorced.”

The shame and the denial of going through a long divorce process meant that I had trouble discussing my issues with lawyers, counselors, and my Ex. I googled. I read the advice in one of the blogposts on SAS for Women: “don’t stop communicating with your Ex if you have children.” What? I wanted so much not to see his texts, to not be reminded that I was living through this most undignified process!

Not only was I embarrassed about going through the divorce process, but I was also surprised that it wasn’t yet over. It took me many years to decide and get ready to separate, to voice and then follow through with my intention to divorce my husband*. I thought I was done when I moved out and got the divorce papers. I had no idea that untangling the seventeen-year-long co-dependent relationship with kids and property was another long process in and of itself.

Maybe, out of the entire list of things I hadn’t expected from my divorce, the slow pace was the hardest to embrace.

Expectation 3: my husband will behave like a gentleman

Why did I expect my Ex to behave like a gentleman and care for my feelings during our divorce? Especially when the reason I divorced him in the first place was because he was verbally and mentally abusive and didn’t care for my feelings? I like people to be respectful. He respected and loved me once, and I remember how good it felt. I expected my husband to behave like a gentleman because in my dreams I am a person who is treated respectfully by a man. I had heard of civilized divorces. Why couldn’t I have one?

I guess I expected my Ex to assume responsibility for OUR divorce and act as if we were equal throughout the process. I expected a fair division of assets, the kids’ time, and financial obligations.

What I got, in reality, was a man who was angry and bitter about my decision to “destroy his life.” He put all the blame and responsibility for the breakup on me, threatening me about the kids’ custody and our finances. He argued that I had to compensate him for the loss of his life.

“I will not behave like a gentleman during the divorce. You decided to break up, so don’t expect anything good from me,” my Ex wrote in one of his texts. “Find yourself another man to behave like a gentleman.” In front of friends and family, I was embarrassed at my Ex’s behavior during the divorce process, as if his manners and attitude were my fault.

I hear women say that they are too scared to get a divorce because they expect their husbands to behave nasty. “I am good to you as long as we are together. But don’t expect me to behave well if we separate,”  one of my friend’s husband said to her.

Expectation 4: my closest circle will support me

Just like I was embarrassed to be going through the divorce process and ashamed of my Ex’s behavior, some of my friends were embarrassed of me being the divorcée in their circle. I was once, in fact, asked to come to a private party but told not mention my divorce.

A reaction I got several times when I asked close people for support was this: you decided to divorce—not me—now deal with it, and don’t ask for sympathy.

Not only did I break the rules of the game, I disrespected many women who stuck with their husbands because I also dared to seek support.

We are talking about a very close circle of friends here, not simply colleagues. I was surprised to realize that some people were ready to support me when I was whining about my hard married life but were no longer there to support me when I was getting divorced.

We all hear that our circle of friends may change as we divorce. But I was unprepared to see my besties disregard my sense of purpose and feelings. Getting divorced was bad enough—grieving the loss of close friendships was doubly painful.

Expectation 5: my kids will be on my side

As I was planning the divorce, I had a picture of my sons — then eleven and fourteen — saying “Mom, we support you in any decision. We understand that you had enough of the fighting and crying and that you want to come home to a calm environment. We love you and will go anywhere with you.”

Instead, my eldest son stayed with his dad in our family apartment as I moved out. He grieved the breakup and blamed me for it. For six weeks, my son and I lived in the same city but in different apartments. That was painful. We saw each other regularly, but communication was poor. He was closed off and distant. I was upset and apologetic, attempting to buy him back with home-made meals and presents.

For the last two months of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been living together. Our relationship has improved and evolved. I am learning to be comfortable in my new status of a divorced mom of two boys with my own decisions to make and responsibilities to take care of. I’m enjoying all the “cute son” moments on my own and am grateful for the isolation.

Once the quarantine is over, my eldest son will want to live with his dad again. And I will need to find a way to see him while also preparing for an empty nest.

A lot more could be said that came as a surprise during the divorce process and caused pain. But the thing that hurts the most is seeing the life that we imagined and planned crash and burn. Living through this period takes time. And during that time, we have the right to be a mess and be vulnerable. It’s our way of climbing out.

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 anna.i.galitsina@gmail.com 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.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

Learn from divorced women

What to Learn from Powerful Divorced Women

We’re seeing a shift in the balance of power right now in our country, as people of all colors finally begin to unite in a growing and vocal collective against systemic racism, following the murder of George Floyd. As it ties into the subject of this piece, it’s important to note something that women and people of color have known for centuries and what we as women and as humans need to remember as we each face whatever struggle we encounter and whatever frightens us into silence, compliance, or complaisance: power is not the most meaningful, the most wrenchingly beautiful, at the peak of the mountain when the hard climb is over and we’re looking out over the territory of pain we’ve conquered. It is most meaningful when we are still down in the mud, pulling our feet free one trembling, breath-tearing step at a time. That power is something we are seeing now and have seen time and time again as we learn from divorced women.

Facing our fears requires the most of us when we are still stuck, still terrified or frozen in the comfort of stillness itself. When we finally gather ourselves, reach toward whatever slippery branch or hand is there, push past the inertia, and embrace the ungodly mess that the most valuable changes require—that’s when power is most pure: before the success.

What we can learn from divorced women

That’s where we are again as a nation, and that’s where some of us are with our marriages and our self-partnering. So, look to the success stories and learn from divorced women who have made it to the height of the mountain, but let’s not forget that the most hard-won and overlooked power occurs in those first faltering steps.

Tabatha

Outspoken, red-headed, and strong-minded, Tabatha is a vibrant example of how much you can shine when you’re not buried by someone else’s lack of personal accountability, hampered by their emotional negligence, or tarnished by their lack of respect for you. A veteran small business owner, she established Tabatha’s Hair Design in December 2003 and is happily back to work now that Washington State has entered Phase 2 of the Covid-19 reopening.

She’s also a survivor and living proof that while much abuse and betrayal comes from external sources, it also comes from within your own home. Pulling yourself up afterward is grueling and takes courage women often don’t know they have until they reach for it, but it can be done.

“I woke up one morning and told my Ex-husband* (he was my boyfriend at the time) that I was buying a salon. Within eight weeks, Tabatha’s was open and running. I married him the following year, October 2004. By February 2005, he decided to quit his job and spent most of our marriage unemployed while my sweat and tears kept Tabatha’s open. Then, in April 2007, I received a phone call from a stylist who worked at a different salon, telling me that my husband’s mistress was there bragging about sleeping with my husband. I was devastated. We had just bought our house in March 2006.

When I confronted him, he denied everything, and I became everything I’d always disliked: I became doubting and insecure, checked his phone, figured out his email password, drove to his work to make sure he was actually there. It came to the point that I didn’t recognize myself.

I stayed with him for a couple more years, trying to forgive, trying not to be insecure. But I was never going to trust him again. Finally, in late August 2009, I put an air mattress and all his belongings in the spare bedroom and, after a couple weeks of that, told him I’d have a restraining order against him if he wasn’t out by Labor Day weekend. Then I packed up my 10-year-old daughter and left.

Since then, I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever thought, but I’ve also learned to be gentle with my emotions and feelings. I’m allowed to cry. My voice and my opinion count. I’m worthy of love—from me to myself and love from others. It’s okay to mourn the loss of my marriage, like it was a death. A part of me died the day the judge pronounced me divorced.

As the first of my siblings to divorce, I felt like a failure. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I make it work? I should have done more; I should have been the perfect wife. It’s only cheating…well, that’s ‘only’ deception on the deepest level. I’ve learned that I’m no one’s second choice. I’m only as worthy as I treat myself.

Now I teach my younger friends in the hopes that they can learn from divorced women: be a diamond. Pebbles get tossed, kicked aside, but we value diamonds. Be the precious stone you are, and shine.”

Susan

Always ahead of the curve, Susan was one of the first among her friends to get divorced back in the 1980s. Now 72, she is the embodiment of strong female energy: wise and no-nonsense, very dry and very funny.

“I learned early on, the hearse doesn’t come with a luggage rack,” she still says, to give perspective. “You’ve got to pick what matters most—and it’s usually stuff you can’t carry on your back.

How many people do you know who are miserable, married to a lifestyle, the trappings, the house, the shopping they can’t give up? I tell you: a lot of women. They are confused about happiness.”

Liza Caldwell

Liza is SAS for Women’s Cofounder, divorce coach, and an entrepreneur.

“I was a high functioning depressive,” Liza laughs. “And sometimes, not so high-functioning. More like pathetic and alone, unable to give words to what I was feeling, just knowing something was wrong. With ME!

Now, when I look back, I see it was exactly that leveling out, that hitting the ground, that also gave me the perspective that I never wanted my girls to experience such hell.

And somehow, that revelation—that I didn’t want my girls to experience it, but there I was living it in real time, modeling it to my girls, is what woke me up! So, think about that: Who is watching you? Forget society. Who is looking up at you and watching from the ground?”

Holly

A public school teacher who has bloomed since her divorce, Holly now nourishes others even better than before because she learned how to do that for herself.

“You have not a clue—except a part of you does—of how freaking great it can be on the other side of divorce!” says Holly, smiling widely.

You can’t, except to imagine how much time you put into coping with your NOW. Think about how much time you spend talking inside your head about your issues, how you’ll survive, or who is right and who is wrong. And then take stock of how much you do externally, in the real world, to appear ‘normal.’ When you truly think about this, you soon realize how much energy you spend trying to restore balance to your world when in fact, it’s out of whack. Now imagine all that is gone, and you are not experiencing that conflict or tension between what you think, feel, and know—with who you are in the real world. You’re not pretending anymore. Especially not to yourself.”

Stella

Edgy, articulate, and ruthlessly organized, Stella learned the hard way that sometimes you have to leave your tribe—even the one you are conditioned from your earliest upbringing to accept and conform to—in order to save yourself.

“My church pressured me to marry Henry and failed to give me information I should have been given, and he did not provide. He decimated me financially. He bled our accounts before I realized what was going on and then stole checks from me and forged my signature. Only my pastor was willing to stand with me in court. I was talking to this woman (a fellow congregant) afterward, when I was broken, and she wanted me to remember what a great day it was the day Henry and I got married! Just clueless…

The pressure they exerted—which I did cave to—to marry Henry brought me to a sorry, suicidal pass. Some of them never recognized that if they had told me information I deserved to know, instead of pressuring me to marry him, it would have been a different story.

I miss going to church and that community I had before Henry flipped out and returned to using (his 24-year-old daughter died of cancer and as a result—not having developed good coping —he returned to using drugs), but I’m not sure I will ever return to church.”

Addicts are often charming, charismatic, and adept liars. Even educated and experienced people can be convinced by their stories. Stella, who worked in community mental health as a case manager at the time of her marriage, is a great example of this, as well as a great example of a woman who got out anyway, despite the toll it took and the brutal self-honesty it required of her.

“I was not ostracized (by my church), but Henry was given more credence than I was by some members. Not my pastor. He was a newer pastor to our congregation, and he was always wonderful. He supported my decision when I left the church. I got to where I didn’t feel like I belonged and that was about the time I began to work with a Christian therapist who provided perspective. I would encourage Christians to seek Christian therapists.

I really work on not blaming others for my choices or for my ultimate decision to cave to the pressure I felt from the folks at church. I made a number of piss-poor decisions, and I don’t think any of them ever had an intention to harm. They just thought they were being good Christians…we are all affected by our own experiences.”

Lexi

This Gen-Xer has been many things and charmed many men. A Daughter of the American Revolution, a lawyer and an art teacher, she’s potty-mouthed, eclectic, and brazen whenever she can be. Her work has made her an award-winning journalist, Army Basic Camp graduate, river boat waitress, veterinary assistant, and stripper (she says she needed a plane ticket, but really, she just liked it). Even roguish women, though, can make the mistake of becoming atrophied by their comfort zones.

Lexi allowed the comfort trap—paired with a liking for alcohol that was the result of nature, nurture, and it being woven into her relationship with her husband—to have too big a role in her life. When she finally acknowledged that to herself, she also acknowledged that if she was going to come back to herself and rediscover both her gifts and her own wholeness, she was going to have to leave her marriage to do it.

 

“I had to learn how to partner myself, and I did. I have regrets, but I’ve learned from every mistake I made, and I’m finally firing on all pistons in a way I never have before. I’m happy, I’m free, and I’m whole.”

Penny

Also potty-mouthed and outspoken, Penny is a devoted mom of two, grandmother of two, a staunch animal advocate, and a former eighteen-year-old bride who had to face making it on her own in order to leave the comfortable numbness that was her marriage and her cage.

“The guy I’ve been seeing for two years, he tells me he loves me and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry,’” she laughs. Penny laughs a lot, which generally makes the people around her laugh, too.

“I’ve never told him I love him. He knows I’m never going to call him my boyfriend. He’s fun and the sex is quite fabulous, but I don’t want to be tied down ever again.

I have enough in savings from the divorce that I can buy a house if I want to, but I don’t want to. I like the idea of being able to pick up and go. I don’t want to have to answer to anybody. I want to be selfish. Everything will be my own decision, and if I f*&k up, it’s on me. If I want to go out with someone, I can. If I don’t want to cook dinner, I don’t have to. I don’t want to have to consider someone else.

Being divorced gives me a huge sense of relief. Marriage was like being in prison. Now that I’m out, I’m like ‘Woohoo!!’ Why would I want to go back? When I was married, I was suppressed. I was under someone’s thumb. He argued with me about everything, had to be right about everything. Nothing I said was ever right. It was constant, and I just started avoiding him. You get to the point where you don’t engage in a conversation because you know you’re going to lose. I was not being my own authentic self.

There were fun times peppered in, but it was only if I agreed to everything he wanted. And the sex was horrible. I was like, ‘I’m going to die miserable, and I’m going to die without ever having had a proper orgasm.’ And oh, dear God, now? It’s a whole new world! I’m like, this is what I’ve been missing? Most of the men now rock my world and it’s all about me, and when you have that, you don’t mind giving back.

He was just on me like a pecking chicken…he’d ask these rhetorical questions all the time, just to argue his point; it felt like being in a never-ending Jeopardy episode, and I never had the right answer.

My main reason to stay in it was the kids. And I was afraid he’d use them against me, in any way he could, as leverage to get me to do what he wanted or just to have power, like he did with the dogs. So, I focused on them. I was involved in everything and put all my energy into them because he was exhausting.

I was a second income, but I didn’t make the money—there was this fear of making my own living—that was terrifying. Then finally, he got fired from his job. He got a job in Kuwait and then another one in Alaska, and it was [in Alaska that] he had an affair. And it was a huge relief because I finally had an excuse to ask him for a divorce.

I found a text. I found a lot of things. He had also gone on match.com and was flirting with a couple girls who he ended up being friendly with, but I sat with that affair information for three weeks. My friend was like ‘I would have chopped something off if I had found those texts!’ I was like, ‘No, don’t you get it? That’s the thing. This is my ticket out. Now I have a reason.’ He was a gas lighter. He would have figured out a way to make it my fault and make me wrong, but this was rock-solid.

I got the date of the divorce and ‘RIP’ tattooed on my back next to our anniversary date. I love that tattoo—you need to take time for yourself and figure out what you want. Go to therapy, and do it for yourself. Live your life being your own authentic self. Figure it out. I wasn’t strong enough back then, but I always knew I was strong and I figured it out.”

Elaine

Elaine is a multi-million-dollar real estate agent and early Baby Boomer who divorced her husband and took on the challenges of earning her real estate license and continuing to raise and provide financial support for four children single-handedly.

“I watched my husband sit and spin his dreams about the invention ideas he had and never do anything to make them a reality for years. It wasn’t until he hit my oldest son that I decided enough was enough.

Something inside me just snapped.

I said to myself, ‘That’s it. I’m not letting him drain this family or tear my children down any more. I can do this better, alone or not.’”

Naomi

With a background that includes a Phi Beta Kappa ranking from Penn State University, a master’s degree from UCLA, and certifications in human resource management and spiritual coaching, Naomi embodies a highly-educated, highly self-aware approach to her life. She also embodies the (perhaps) harder-won wisdom that even the smartest, most educated women sometimes need help and should not be ashamed to ask for it or learn from other divorced women.

“Right after the divorce, the biggest thing I had to learn was that I needed to ask for help. I stayed in a relationship longer than I wanted to because I was afraid to be alone and afraid to not be able to make decisions myself. Once I was past the initial shock of the situation, I started to really, really love the ability to make my own decisions. I got to make choices about things I liked and didn’t like and return to myself without interference. And I also had to lean on other people, ask for help, [and] be willing to be vulnerable and make mistakes. I needed time to heal. It could not be on anyone else’s schedule, and it took longer than some of my friends had patience for. That’s fine. Those weren’t the friends I talked to about it after that, but I didn’t need to cut them out of my life, either.

We need different people for different aspects of our life. Don’t expect people to be your emotional crutch if they don’t have the capacity to do that. Trust yourself to heal and take the time to do it.”

Leaving your marriage behind might be one of the most difficult choices you ever have to make, but if there’s one thing we hope you learn from divorced women it’s that your future is yours. You will get through this.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer 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 compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are discerning, newly divorced and independent, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your free, 15-minute, private consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your BRAVE unknown.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”