We get married believing we will be with our partner “until death do us part.” But for so many of us (nearly 50% of married couples, according to research), this isn’t how the story always goes. There are many valid reasons to decide to end a marriage.
But whether you were the one to initiate divorce or your partner was, this is undeniably a difficult and often painful experience. You’re probably experiencing many different emotions, including grief, anger, resentment, guilt, loneliness, relief, and more.
All of these emotions are normal when you’re going through divorce. But there are ways to process these feelings healthily, take care of yourself, and move forward into your future. In this article, we’ll give you 10 tips you can use to rebuild your life after divorce.
How does divorce affect you mentally?
Divorce is a very stressful life event – many experts even say it’s one of the most stressful life events you can go through. No matter what has led to your divorce, it almost always constitutes a big change, and change is always stressful.
Divorce affects people’s mental health in different ways. Some people may be able to move on quickly from divorce, while others may need to process grief for a longer period. There is no “right” way to feel when you’re going through divorce.
Research has found that divorce is associated with increased depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse. People may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to deal with painful emotions that come along with divorce. Another study also found people who are divorced are more likely to seek mental health support.
This doesn’t mean divorce ruins your mental health forever. But it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which divorce can impact mental health and well-being. Divorce is never easy, no matter how amicable. And just because ending the marriage was the right decision for you doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to feel emotional pain through this process.
The grief (and other emotional processes like anger) you may go through after divorce doesn’t have a timeline. Both your marriage and divorce may continue to affect you in both positive and negative ways.
Many people report feeling grief and other painful emotions after divorce. You may feel like it’s difficult to trust again or worry you will be alone forever. You may be dealing with loneliness when starting to live without your partner. You might feel guilty or blame yourself for the divorce. You might even start to wonder if you are unlovable or unworthy (you’re not).
Many people also report having physical symptoms after divorce, like headaches, fatigue, stomach problems, trouble concentrating, or difficulty sleeping at night. These may be signs of anxiety after divorce.
It’s important to acknowledge any impact the divorce has had on your mental health. If you’re facing mental health concerns like depression or anxiety after divorce, know this is absolutely normal. These issues don’t mean the divorce wasn’t the right decision, but it does mean it’s critical to find healthy ways to take care of yourself and move on with your life.
Trust certainly helps make a relationship ‘whole’ and enables two people to have a foundation of strength that can endure other difficult challenges like health and financial issues. But why is it important to trust again? Can a relationship survive and even thrive without full trust? Dr. Jantz helps us understand how to trust someone again after they have betrayed you.
There is no “right” way to move on after divorce. Just like every marriage is unique, every divorce is unique, too – and different methods work for different people.
“Moving on” also looks different for each person. For example, for some people, “moving on” may mean letting go of the anger and resentment they have toward their ex-partner. For others, it may be co-parenting amicably with their ex.
With that said, there are some tips you can follow, which have helped many people to move on with their lives after divorce.
Acknowledge your feelings
First of all, don’t try to push your feelings to the side. This doesn’t mean you need to constantly be in tears. There are some moments in which you may have to self-regulate emotions, such as when you’re with your children or at work, but swallowing your feelings down won’t make them go away.
Acknowledge your feelings – even the painful ones. Allow them to be present without judging them. Accept you feel this way for now. For example, instead of telling yourself: “Why do I still feel upset over this? I need to get over it!” tell yourself, “The wave of grief is present now, and that’s okay. It will pass.”
Join a support group
Divorce is a common experience many people go through. At the same time, you might find your married (or never-married) friends can’t understand what you’re going through. In some cases, it might be helpful to join a support group of individuals who have gone through divorce and know exactly what it feels like to be on the emotional rollercoaster. Joining a support group can remind you that you’re not alone, and divorce can happen to anyone.
That’s not to say your non-divorced friends can’t provide support. But you might consider joining a support group if you want to connect with people over this shared experience.
Re-envision your future
When you got married, you probably envisioned your life going a certain way. This picture of your life has likely been significantly altered since your divorce. But just because your life hasn’t gone the way you expected it to doesn’t mean your life is over. It does, however, mean you need to recreate a vision for your future.
What do you want for your life now that your ex is no longer in the picture? If you could meet all of your goals within 5 years, what would your life look like? What kind of life would bring you the most happiness? What life possibilities are open to you now that may not have been open to you when you were married?
Rediscover your interests
For many reasons, you may have become disconnected from your own interests and hobbies while you were married. Now is the time to reconnect to the things that make you happy (regardless of how anyone else feels about it).
What do you enjoy doing? How do you want to spend your time? Reclaim your free time – one of the advantages of not being partnered.
Connect with friends (or make new ones)
Having a strong social support system is an important part of moving on after divorce. Make sure you’re reaching out to your friends to ask them to support you in ways you need. Having a shoulder to cry on can make all the difference. Spending time with friends can also remind you of who you are outside of your former marriage.
It’s common for married couples to share friends. You should also prepare to lose some friends, who may take your ex’s “side” in the divorce. Let them go. Make an effort to make new friends for this chapter in your life.
Don’t pressure yourself
Moving on from divorce doesn’t have a timeline. Do not pressure yourself to “get over it” if you are still hurting. Divorce-related grief can come in waves. You might still get hit by these waves even years after divorce, and that’s okay.
Don’t pressure yourself to date if you don’t feel ready. Take things at your pace, and create small challenges for yourself to grow.
You are facing a lot of different emotions. You might be tempted to behave in ways that aren’t likely to help you heal. For example, you might compulsively “stalk” your ex on social media to see if they’re dating. You might feel tempted to lash out at your ex.
All of this is understandable. It’s also important to set boundaries for yourself. If you’ve noticed you tend to feel worse after looking through your ex’s social media, then create a boundary for yourself and stick to it.
If your ex is the one breaking your personal boundaries, then don’t be afraid to communicate assertively. You can also ask your friends and family for support.
Take care of your physical health
Physical health and mental health are deeply intertwined. For example, if you aren’t sleeping enough, that will affect your mental health.
Make sure you are taking care of your body, too. Try to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Find ways to move your body that feel good. Get out into nature more if you can. Prepare yourself nourishing meals.
Taking care of your body is a great way to remind yourself that you deserve love and care.
Build a good co-parenting relationship
If you and your ex share children, it’s important to consider how to build a healthy co-parenting relationship with them as well. This may or may not make it more difficult to move on after divorce, but there are ways to do it that are healthy for you both.
Each co-parenting relationship will look different. One key factor is to keep the kids out of your relationship. Tell them they are loved by both parents. Avoid talking badly about your ex in front of your children at all costs. Kids are resilient and they bounce back after parents’ divorce, but it can become more traumatic for them due to parents’ behavior.
Let go of the guilt
Lastly, practice self-forgiveness. Often, people are plagued with thoughts of “What ifs” after divorce. You may feel that you “should have” made it work. You may mentally review what happened during your marriage and try to figure out where it went wrong.
Even if you did behave in a way that led to divorce (for example, if you were unfaithful in the marriage), it’s important to forgive yourself and let go of the guilt. Make amends in ways you need to – for example, by apologizing for your behavior – but it doesn’t do either of you any good to hold on to guilt forever.
Mental health support at The Center • A Place of HOPE
Not everyone who goes through divorce needs professional mental health support. But if you do think you would benefit, there is no shame in that.
At The Center, we focus on helping you rebuild every aspect of your health – physical, spiritual, mental, intellectual, relational, and more. We can help you heal from the effects of divorce and emerge as your true self.
If you’re facing deeper mental health concerns like depression or anxiety after divorce, give us a call. Our treatment programs are designed to help.
Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...
If you try to live without balance, you will invariably retreat to older patterns of thinking. The tendency is always to default to previous, often unbalanced, behavior when the going gets rough, when feeling boxed in, or when the pressures of life become more than you feel you can bear. ...
A disorganized person is a hodgepodge of responses without a consistent pattern. If there is a pattern, it is that there is no pattern. The disorganized person has come to view relationships, often because of the presence of abuse, as a source of both comfort and fear. As a result,...
“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us...