The divorce rate in America for first marriages is above 50 percent. It’s even higher for second and third marriages. Getting a divorce is very painful emotionally and practically. But it can be survived, indeed many people thrive after it’s all over. Here are some ways to help optimize your transition from unhappily married to independent once again.
The First Step: Note! It’s important to take no action until you’ve completed the first three steps.
Now, go ahead and freak out. And do nothing else for at least a few days! If your soon-to-be-ex or anyone else wants to talk before you’re done (even your kids, which we’ll discuss later), tell them they have to wait a week. Don’t lie, because pretty much every word has consequences right now. Just insist on this adjustment time.
You can’t do a good job on the next steps until you’ve faced your feelings, because until you do, those feelings will control you. So eat comfort food, cry, drink, feel the rage, anguish, the guilt and fear, indulge feelings of revenge, obsess to one carefully selected friend, and fantasize about the future. Even if you’re the one leaving, more of these feelings will come up once divorce starts.
And be prepared to go through this first step many times. It’s part of the process of grieving your marriage, the lost hopes and dreams, the sense of security and love you once had.
Second Step: Get control of yourself, and of the process. Actions taken during this highly emotional time may have consequences throughout the rest of your life, so calm down, get centered, do whatever you have to do to develop enough detachment to think clearly, and take a cold, hard look at what needs to happen next.
Do your research. Between books and the internet, there’s plenty of information out there to help you wade through the complexities and anxieties. A really great web site, for example, is DivorceInfo.com. Just get informed.
Third Step: Decide, clearly and rationally, what you want and what you don’t want. You’ll be really glad you did this when you navigate the ups and down to come.
If you decide to fight the divorce, expect it to be very expensive both emotionally and financially for you and your immediate and even extended family. At the same time, don’t give everything away in a misguided attempt to win back your spouse, or ensure an amicable divorce. It doesn’t work. Talking to your spouse rationally and calmly does work.
When you are ready, be decisive and devise a plan. Take control of the process from the beginning rather than leaving everything in the hands of lawyers. This is not only a wise strategy, but personally empowering.
Fourth Step: Next, children (and family and friends): It’s now time for a clear, forthright, informative discussion. Discussion is the correct word, because your children will fare much better if they feel that you are listening to them and doing your best to help them cope (without catering to them) from the outset.
There are so many theories about what, how much, and when to tell your family and friends. Everyone agrees it’s important to emphasize that the divorce isn’t the kids’ fault, and to tell them that you and your former spouse will continue to love and support them in spite of the divorce. It’s also good to explain that this is a very emotional time, and that parents are human too, and that they also need patience and understanding.
And you must be honest. This is particularly difficult when everyone, including the kids, wants to assign blame. Glossing over or overdramatizing the problems of the marriage is a mistake. Your kids will know when you’re lying or skirting the truth. They’ll take it very personally, and you run the risk of losing their trust. Spend some time figuring out how to be truthful without assigning blame. Do not lean on your kids for emotional support, use them as weapons against your spouse, or use them as spies.
Fifth Step: Take very good care of yourself throughout the process. In addition to being scary, heartbreaking and chaotic, divorce involves so many meetings, negotiations, details and changes that even without the emotional punishment it is a very stressful process that saps body and soul.
Sixth Step: Look to the future. Plan to remain single for at least two years after your divorce. Experts agree this is an appropriate post-divorce recovery period. So don’t push yourself to date before you’re ready. Desperation dates won’t do you any good. In the meantime, cherish your solitude. Resurrect projects and pastimes that you set aside during the marriage. The internet offers a wealth of information like lists of great reasons for being single. Do things you’ve always wanted to do, rebuild hope and rediscover the joy of life.