The worst part of divorce IS NOT being dragged through the legal system, dividing up all of your personal possessions, or watching your kids’ college fund get drained to pay lawyers. (Although all of those are pretty horrible.) The worst thing about divorce is losing your sense of security, your stability, your identity. Suddenly, the world is not as you thought it would be. While you try to get a grip on what’s happening, your emotional health starts to crumble. The rest of your life is not far behind.
Getting a handle on your emotions during a divorce needs to be your number one priority. Until you do that, you can’t really focus on anything else. How do you maintain your emotional health when your whole life is falling apart? It’s not easy!
Here are 10 tips to help you deal with the emotional turmoil of divorce.
1. Let Yourself Grieve. Divorce is a loss – a HUGE loss. Anyone who doesn’t think so has never been through a divorce. You need time to grieve your loss, and you need to give yourself permission to grieve in whatever way works for you. Maybe you need to be alone so you can cry yourself dry (… which is not something that you can do in a single day! It takes weeks, or months.) Maybe you need to keep yourself busy to distract yourself from the pain. Maybe you need to just let yourself be sad. Whatever it is, do what you need to do to grieve the end of your marriage. Until you do that, your emotional health will suffer.
2. Don’t Fall Down the Rabbit Hole of “Why Me?” Asking “why me?” is a question without an answer. It makes you feel like a victim. It focuses you on your pain. Worse yet, it does nothing to help you understand your situation, nor does it help you heal. It just keeps you wallowing in your misery. For your own emotional health and well-being, forget about asking “why me?” and start asking, “what now?”
3. Denial is Not Your Friend. Burying your head in the sand accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing. You may not want to get divorced. But if your spouse does, you can’t stop it. Denying that your marriage has failed only drags the divorce out longer, and makes it ten times more painful than it would otherwise be. It is like pulling a band-aid off an open wound. Ripping it off quickly hurts like crazy initially, but the pain goes away quickly and the wound can start healing right away. Peeling off the band-aid inch by inch may not hurt as much at first, but it keeps the wound open the whole time, and it hurts much more in the long run.
4. Don’t Make Things Worse. Engaging in destructive behaviors while you are going through a divorce only makes your already bad situation worse. Drinking heavily wrecks your health and may affect your ability to get custody of your kids. Taking revenge on your soon-to-be ex often comes back to bite you. Going on a spending spree thinking your spouse will have to pay the bill can be an expensive mistake when the judge rules that you are responsible for that debt. Bad behavior never bings about good results.
5. Rein in Your Expectations. It is unrealistic to think that you will get over the emotional pain of your divorce in a matter of days, weeks, or even months. It is unwise to tie your happiness to something (like the outcome of your divorce) that you can not entirely control. If you are determined to get everything you want in your divorce while leaving your spouse with nothing, the only thing you are going to get is sorely disappointed.
6. Get Moving! Exercise is a great healer. Moving your body improves your mood almost immediately. That is because exercising releases endorphins (powerful “feel good” chemicals)in your blood. It is biologically impossible to be depressed at the same time you are running a race. You may be depressed before the race. You may be depressed again at some point after the race. But, while you are running, you can not be depressed.
7. Start Small. Make little “healing goals” that you can use to measure your progress along the road to emotional health. What is important here is that you start small. Don’t worry about making it through the entire day without crying. Be happy when you can make it through one hour without crying! Then build up to two hours, then a half a day, then a whole day. Take everything one step at a time.
8. Keep a Journal. Having somewhere you can vent your true thoughts and feelings is invaluable when you are going through something as emotionally traumatic as divorce. It doesn’t matter whether you hand-write or type. It doesn’t matter if you write in full sentences or whether your sentences are grammatically correct. It doesn’t matter whether you write for 10 minutes or 10 hours a day. What is important is that you get everything that is clogging up your head and your heart out. It will make you feel a lot better.
9. Be Kind to Yourself. Stop beating yourself up for being a failure! Ok. Your marriage failed. So what? How long do you need to make yourself suffer before you think you deserve to move on? If you don’t know the answer, as a divorce professional with over 20 years of experience, I can tell you the answer: Right now! You deserve to give yourself a break now! You deserve to be kind to yourself now! Your suffering changes nothing; it only makes you feel bad. Enough!
10. Get Help. No one should go through a divorce alone. Whether you seek out professional help (which is a really good idea!), or whether you just rely on a close group of friends or family, the bottom line is that you need to have other people around you. You need to talk to other people, laugh with other people, cry with other people, vent to other people. Divorce is a journey. The more people you walk with along the way, the easier your journey will be.