“Going through a divorce is so much fun! It’s so uplifting and inspirational,” … said NO ONE EVER! Divorce is one of the most gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, and dream-shattering life events most people will ever have to endure. Even going through an amicable divorce hurts! That’s why – when you’re facing divorce - it’s so important to learn the skills that will make coping with divorce a little bit easier.
Here are 10 tips that can help you minimize the emotional craziness that goes hand-in-hand with divorce. While applying these tips won’t completely erase the pain of divorce, they can make coping with divorce at least a little bit more manageable.
10 Tips for Coping With Divorce
It might seem cliché, but exercise is probably the most effective divorce stress-buster you’ll ever find.
According to neuroscience, within five minutes after exercise, you get a mood boost. Regular exercise has been linked to improving your mood and reducing depression and anxiety (both of which are often a BIG part of divorce).
Exercise will make you think more clearly and feel more alive. It is one of the few coping mechanisms that helps you on every level: body, mind and soul.
What’s more, you don’t have to become an Olympic athlete to benefit from exercise. Even 30 minutes of exercise a day will improve your health and lift your mood. Plus … it’s free!
2. Educate Yourself.
Divorce doesn’t work the way that most people think that it does. In my decades of work as a divorce lawyer, mediator, and coach I can tell you without hesitation that some of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make in divorce have happened because they didn’t know what they were doing.
That’s why educating yourself about divorce is so very important.
Yet learning about divorce is something that many people just don’t do. They assume that if they get a lawyer they don’t need an education. The problem with that kind of thinking is that your lawyer isn’t the one getting a divorce. You are!
No matter how great your lawyer may be, no one is going to care more about your divorce than you do!
That’s why you need to learn as much as can about divorce yourself. Only when you understand how the divorce process works can you hope to navigate through it effectively.
3. Make a Plan.
Of all the negative emotions associated with divorce, fear is the most devastating and the most paralyzing. It can throw you into “fight, flight or freeze response” and trigger your most basic survival instincts. It can make you feel completely overwhelmed or provoke you to start a fight.
While many things can trigger fear in humans, few things are more terrifying than the fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, when you are getting a divorce, almost everything is unknown.
Your entire life is changing and you can’t stop it. You probably don’t totally understand how divorce works, you have no idea what your spouse is going to do, and you’re not sure where you (or your kids) will end up. All of that together can create tremendous amounts of fear.
The antidote to fear is a plan.
Once you know what to do, and you have a plan that will help you do it, your fears instantly become more manageable. When you start taking action to implement your plan, you feel better. Even if the action you take seems small, it will still move you forward. And every action you take helps you conquer your fears a little bit more.
4. Learn to Breathe.
Breathing. It seems so basic. We all do it all the time. Yet most people don’t realize just how powerful breathing can be.
Breathing exercises can help you reduce anxiety and manage stress. They can also help you improve your focus and help you think more clearly. While most people don’t think about it, managing your breath can help you manage your emotions and make better decisions. Both of those are critical skills when you’re coping with divorce and trying to get through it more effectively.
A simple yet effective breathing exercise is box breathing. To do it, you simply breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, and hold for four counts. After a few rounds you will feel your heart rate start to slow down and your mind start to clear.
You can use box breathing to calm yourself down whenever you’re starting to feel anxious or stressed. What’s more, because it is both simple and subtle, you can use box breathing even when you’re in the middle of an argument or a particularly difficult conversation. Unlike some other breathing exercises, you can reap all the benefits of it and no one will even know that you’re using it!
5. Allow Yourself to Have a Pity Party for 20 Minutes a Day … Then STOP!
Feeling sorry for yourself when you are going through a divorce is normal. Everyone who’s ever gone through a divorce has probably whined, “Why me?” at least a few times during the divorce process. That’s true whether you were blindsided by a divorce that wasn’t your idea or whether you were the one who initiated the divorce!
While some people might advise you that being too emotional isn’t helpful so you should just stop whining and just get over yourself, following that advice too strictly can set you back big time.
Yes, being overly emotional isn’t a good idea. But ignoring your emotions isn’t the best solution either.
If you want to manage your emotions effectively, you have to allow yourself to feel them first. That means that it’s okay for you to feel that life’s not fair and it sucks to be you! The key, though, is to feel the self-pity, but not wallow in it.
How do you do that?
Set aside 20 minutes every day when you can be alone. During that 20 minutes, allow yourself to scream, cry, wallow, or rage. Express every emotion you have in any way that makes you feel better ( …but doesn’t destroy anything!)
After 20 minutes, stop. (I’m not kidding! Set a timer.) Then go out for a walk or a run. Do something to change your physical state. So the same thing every day as long as you need to let your emotions out. Eventually, you will find that your emotions have played themselves out and you no longer have any interest in being a victim.
6. Get a Therapist or a Coach.
Everyone knows that divorce is emotional. What most people don’t know is that when you’re going through a divorce you will have to make more important and life-changing decisions than you will at any other time in your life. Making those decisions while you’re in an emotional fog almost always gives you poor results.
Because of that, it is absolutely imperative that you get your head clear WHILE you’re going through your divorce! If you wait until after your divorce is over, you will have waited too long. You’ll be stuck living with the results of whatever decisions you made when you couldn’t remember what time of day it was.
Unfortunately, clearing your mind when you’re an emotional wreck isn’t easy. Even the strongest, most self-sufficient and together person can crumble under the emotional weight of divorce.
As a professional, a therapist or divorce coach will have the experience and expertise you need to help you cope with your divorce productively. They can help you get a grip on your emotions, control your mind, and make better decisions. What’s more, unlike your friends – who will eventually get sick of hearing you talk about your divorce – a therapist or coach will always be there to listen.
(And, yes, you will have to pay a therapist or divorce coach to be there for you. In the end, the money you spend on getting your head back on your shoulders will be nothing compared to what it will cost you if you leave it somewhere else until after your divorce is over!)
7. Do Your Best Not to Overindulge in Anything.
Let’s be honest. When you are going through hell, drowning your sorrows in a bottle of wine or a tub of ice cream can help dull the pain.
Unfortunately, as we all know, overindulging in anything is a temporary fix. What’s more, it can have permanent side effects.
Drinking too much or indulging yourself in the use of recreational drugs will leave you feeling like garbage the next day. It can also jeopardize your ability to get custody of your kids.
Consuming an entire super-sized bag of potato chips or a jumbo box of Oreos probably won’t affect your parenting, but it will affect your waistline. What’s more if you start regularly overindulging in anything, you’ll start feeling like crap long term. Given that divorce itself already makes you feel crap, using any substance to dull your pain can start you plummeting into a downward spiral.
Coping with divorce is already hard enough. You don’t need to make it harder by getting yourself addicted to something that will ultimately hurt your health and damage your relationship with your kids.
Because of that, you need to be careful about what you do. Allowing yourself to get drunk, overeat, over-shop, or do anything else one in awhile won’t kill you. But doing any of that too much is usually not worth the price you’ll pay for it in the long run.
8. Let Yourself Grieve.
When someone dies, those who loved that person grieve. They grieve the loss of their friend or relative. They grieve the loss of their relationship, for the future experiences they will never share, and the love that they feel ended too soon.
Going through a divorce causes the same kind of grief.
Every divorce is a death. It’s the death of a marriage, of a friendship, of a life together. It’s also the death of your dream of having the perfect family, of living happily ever after. In order to navigate through that death, and heal from it, you have to let yourself grieve.
Bucking up and “being strong,” or pretending that you’re okay only makes going through a divorce harder. You can’t get through your grief if you deny that it exists, or you try to just push it away. You must let yourself feel your grief.
At the same time, as with any other emotion, you can’t let yourself wallow. You have too many important decisions to make as you move through your divorce to let yourself be consumed with grief the whole time.
That’s why getting a good therapist or divorce coach is so critical. You also might want to join a divorce support group or work with a grief counselor as well.
9. Give up Needing to be Right.
Human beings love to be right. We love to “win.” That’s especially true in divorce.
When your feelings are hurt and you’re unhappy with your life, being right makes you feel good. It makes you feel justified and satisfied. Showing the world that you’re right and your spouse was wrong makes getting a divorce feel like it’s not your fault.
The problem is, when you’re going through a divorce, your spouse probably wants to feel like s/he is right too! Because of that, you and your spouse can easily get locked into a battle over who is right.
That’s when you find yourself fighting over all kinds of things. You fight over whose behavior caused the divorce – even though every state in the Union has no fault divorce so it really doesn’t matter who did what to whom. You fight over which of you is the better parent, who is entitled to get what, and whether your spouse’s proposed divorce settlement is “fair.”
Then, while both of you are fighting over who is right, your legal fees mount, your drama increases, and your divorce starts spinning out of control. In the end, you ultimately discover (usually after your divorce is over) that both of you were wrong, and that needing to be right cost you an enormous amount of time, money, peace, and personal happiness.
How do you avoid letting your need to be right make a train wreck of your divorce? It isn’t easy, but it is simple. Let go. Decide that you’d rather be happy than be right. Then swallow your pride, tame your ego, and just let go.
10. Lower Your Expectations.
We all have expectations about how life “should” be.
For example, you probably thought you “should” stay married forever. You “should” have kids, and they “should” be perfect. You “should” have a certain job, make a certain amount of money, and live in a certain place.
Even in divorce (which was probably NOT something you expected!) you still have expectations. You have expectations about how long your divorce should take, how much it should cost, and how it should go. You have expectations about what your spouse should or shouldn’t do, and what your settlement should or shouldn’t be.
All of those expectations are an invitation for disappointment. They make coping with divorce 1000x harder. That’s because just like marriage, divorce often doesn’t go the way you think it “should” go!
The divorce process is inefficient, complicated, and usually full of conflict. Your spouse often starts doing things that s/he never did before – things you would have never expected him/her to do! Your kids may start behaving in ways you didn’t expect, and your life in general may start going down a path you could never have even dreamed of before your divorce started.
While all of that can be extremely unsettling, the truth is – you probably can’t change it. The only thing you CAN change is your own mind. That means letting go (as much as you can!) of your expectations. The more you can let go of your preconceived ideas about what “should” happen, the happier you will be able to be with what actually does happen.
BONUS TIP: Reconnect With What Makes You Happy.
Going through a divorce rarely makes anyone happy. Even if you know that getting divorced is absolutely the right thing for you to do, living through the process is not going to make you bound out of bed every morning shouting, “I’m so happy to be alive!”
Even still, just because divorce won’t fill your life with sunshine and kittens, that doesn’t mean it has to be complete misery either. You CAN find pockets of happiness, even while you’re going through something as unhappy as divorce.
The key is to consciously search for, then do, things that make you happy.
Can’t think of anything? Ask yourself what you liked to do when you were young? Did you have a hobby or an activity that you loved to do? Did you love to read, run, hike, knit, or do wood-working?
Whatever you liked to do before, try doing it now.
Re-connect with the “you” that existed before you got married. Even if you only have a few spare minutes a day, take the time to do something that makes you happy. Believe it or not, just doing that one simple thing can immediately help you feel better.
The Bottom Line
Coping with divorce is a learned skill. It may not be a skill you ever wanted to acquire. That doesn’t matter anymore.
What matters now is that you start practicing those skills now. Use these tips. Take baby steps. Don’t give up.
You’re going to be okay.
This was originally posted in May, 2016 and updated in November, 2021.