Your divorce is over. You’ve separated your finances and divided the furniture. You are officially done with lawyers and judges and the whole divorce system. You know that it’s time to let go of the past and start your new life after divorce. But at this point, you have no idea how!
The Usual Advice About Starting a New Life After Divorce
When most people think of starting over after divorce what they’re really thinking about is: dating! While dating is certainly a part of life after divorce, it’s not ALL there is to think about. You’ve also got the less sexy, more practical stuff to figure out.
You’ve got to learn how to change the storm windows, balance the checkbook, and cook for the kids. You’ve got to do all of the things that your spouse used to do. What’s more, you’ve got to learn to do all of those things alone.
That part sucks the most.
Plus, you may still not be feeling like you’re on top of your game.
Your divorce may have left you drained – financially and emotionally. You may feel broken and bullied, or possibly betrayed. What’s more, it may feel like you’re light years away from “getting over it,” even though that’s exactly what your friends tell you that you should do.
It’s as if everyone thinks that there’s some magic switch in your brain that you can just flip to become instantly happy and whole.
If only it were that easy.
10 Tips for Creating Your New Life After Divorce
Like it or not, there is no “magic formula” for getting over your divorce. There is no “average amount of time” it takes to put your divorce behind you and start creating your new life after divorce.
Every person is different.
Yet, there are things that you can do to make your healing after divorce easier – and faster. Here are 10 tips you can try when you’re building your new life after divorce.
Getting a divorce is the second most stressful life transition you can make. (The first is surviving the death of your spouse.) It makes sense then that most people experience divorce as a loss. In a very real sense, divorce is the “death” of your marriage. If you want to get over that death in a healthy way, you have to let yourself grieve.
Yet what most people don’t realize is that a divorce is way more than just the death of your marriage.
It’s also the death of your dream of “happily ever after.” It’s the death of your intact, nuclear family. It’s the death of your role as husband or wife. In many ways, it’s the death of your very identity – who you thought you were in the world.
If you don’t give yourself time to grieve all of these “deaths,” you will never be able to let go and move on. Without meaning to, you will hold on to your anger and resentment. Instead of creating a bright new future, you’ll find yourself clinging to the tarnished and distant past.
If you do nothing else to build your new life after divorce – grieve. Everything else grows out of that.
2. Remember Who You Are.
Lots of people lose themselves in their marriage. They’re so busy focusing on “we” that they lose sight of “me.” Their identity becomes completely merged into their role as husband, wife, father or mother. That’s totally understandable. In order to make a solid couple, you’ve got to compromise bits of yourself.
The problem is that when you get divorced, your identity as a couple disappears. Suddenly, there is no more “we.” But, after you’ve been married for years (or decades!) you may feel like there’s no longer a “me” either!
Re-establishing your identity as a separate individual takes time. It also takes a lot of soul-searching. It’s not as if you can open a book entitled, “Me … Before Marriage.” You have to work to dig up the pieces of you that you may have left behind. You also have to decide which pieces of “the old you” you want to resurrect, and which pieces are better left in the past.
How do you do that? The best way to start is by looking inside.
You need to spend time thinking about the things that you used to love to do before you were married. Think about things you wanted to do while you were married, but couldn’t do because they weren’t practical, or because your spouse wouldn’t have approved. Try doing those things now. See how you feel. Keep doing what feels right. Let go of what feels wrong.
3. Decide Who You Want to Be.
Remembering who you are is a great first step in rebuilding your identity and your life. But if all you do is remember who you WERE in the past you lose the opportunity to create an even better you in the future.
When you’re going through a major life transition, like divorce, you get to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. You get to DECIDE who you want to be, and what you want your future to look like. If that sounds simple and naïve, consider this.
Every person who has ever lost a pound on a diet started by deciding they wanted to lose weight. Everyone who has ever created a business, or started a new relationship, or learned to compete in any activity, did so by first deciding that that is what they wanted to do.
There is power in your decisions. But to use that power, you have to actually make decisions.
No matter what you do, life goes on. If you don’t take the time to consciously create the life you want, then you end up getting whatever kind of life you get. Life doesn’t stop just because you haven’t decided what you want. That’s why making a decision now, when you’re at this point in your life, is so important.
4. Hang on to Your Therapist.
Just because your divorce is over, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to take on the world alone! Keeping your therapist by your side, at least for a little while longer, can make your transition into your new life after divorce much smoother.
Remember, once your divorce is final, you officially start your “year of firsts” – your first set of holidays alone, your first single parent experiences, your first time checking the box on the form that says “Divorced.” While not all of those “firsts” may be a big deal to you, some of them may trigger emotions that surprise you.
Your therapist can also help you work through any lingering negativity from your divorce. S/he can help you deal with any stifled anger, unresolved resentment, and feelings of hurt and betrayal that you may still be grappling with.
Finally, your therapist (or coach!) can also help you deal with your relationship with your ex. While you may think that won’t be necessary, if you have kids – it’s necessary!
Therapists and coaches are uniquely qualified to teach you the communication skills that will make co-parenting with your ex easier. As a bonus, if your kids have problems adjusting to their new family situation, your therapist can be an amazing resource. S/he can help you understand what may be going on with your kids. S/he can also refer you to a good child psychologist if you need it.
5. Learn to Rely on Yourself.
When you’re part of a couple, it’s normal to divide responsibilities between you and your spouse. You can get a whole lot more done if you’re responsible for certain daily chores and your spouse is responsible for others.
It’s definitely more efficient for you and your spouse to do different things when you’re married. The problem is, once you get divorced, you often have to become a jack-of-all-trades. Either that, or you have to be willing to pay someone else to do what your spouse used to do for you.
Since money is usually tight after you get a divorce, most people find themselves having to learn to do all kinds of things that they never thought they would have to do. Believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing.
There are few things in life that are more empowering than being able to say, “I did it myself!” Being reasonably self-sufficient gives you a tremendous amount of control over your life.
You don’t need to spend money hiring someone to do things for you. You also don’t need to hang around and wait for the person you hired to show up, or to do the job well. You can do what needs to be done yourself AND feel confident and accomplished in the process.
6. Consciously Cultivate New Friendships.
You lose a lot of friends when you get divorced.
Couples that you and your ex used to hang out with now avoid you like you’ve just contracted a highly contagious case of MERSA. Friends you’ve had for years take sides with your ex. Neighbors keep their distance as if getting a divorce was some sort of social disease that they’re afraid they’ll catch too.
Losing all those friends – on top of losing your spouse! – can make you feel isolated and lonely. That’s why getting out and making new friends now is so important.
If you haven’t got the faintest idea how to make new friends, start small. Go to lunch with a co-worker. Join a health club or a Meet Up group and start talking to people. Volunteer to work at a church or a charity. Once you get used to it, you’ll find there are a million ways to meet new people.
Of course, if your divorce has left you feeling rather anti-social, that’s okay too. It’s perfectly fine to hibernate for a while. But if your divorce has been over for months (or years!) then it may be time for you to force yourself to come out of your cave!
7. Release, Rearrange and Redecorate.
Whether we think about it or not, our homes have a huge impact on how we feel. Our surroundings directly affect our mood.
Unfortunately, when you’re going through a divorce, you’re not always in control of your surroundings. They’re also generally one of the last things you have time to worry about. But, once your divorce is behind you, focusing on your environment can be a quick, easy way to dramatically improve the way you feel.
If you got the house in your divorce, chances are that it is still full of all kinds of things that remind you of your ex. Even if you didn’t get the house, chances are you still have all kinds of “stuff” that brings back memories. If those things make you feel good, awesome! Keep them. If not, then now may be the time to do a little household purge.
While you’re throwing out what you no longer want or need, you may also want to think about redecorating in a more major way. Believe it or not, this doesn’t have to be expensive.
A fresh coat of paint in a new color can totally change the way a room feels. Re-arranging the furniture can make your house look and feel completely different. Not only will changing your environment change the way you feel, but it’s also a symbolic outward sign that you’ve started a new life.
8. Tie Up Your Loose Ends.
Just because the judge pronounced you divorced, that doesn’t mean that you’re done with your divorce paperwork! (Sorry!)
If you and your spouse have any joint accounts, or are co-signors on each other’s credit cards, now is the time to separate those things. If you need to formally divide your retirement accounts – do it now!
It doesn’t matter that dealing with all this legal stuff is the LAST thing you want to do. Not dividing your assets or debts immediately after divorce can create a legal and financial disaster later. Plus, putting off dealing with all your “loose ends” only makes you dread dealing with them more. (It also makes it less likely your loose ends will ever get tied up!)
Now is also the time to re-do your will and change the beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Notify your employee benefits department of your divorce. If you need to get your own health insurance after divorce, make sure you do that right away. Health insurance companies have strict deadlines. If you miss the coverage deadline, you may end up going without decent health insurance for months until the next open enrollment period comes around.
Finally, if you have kids, you may want to set up a joint “kids’ calendar” with your ex. This could be a simple Google Calendar. Or you can use special co-parenting software. Setting up a joint calendar will help you and your ex keep your kids’ lives running as smoothly as possible after your divorce.
9. Create a Bucket List.
When you’re married, you have to compromise. You put aside your dreams of going to exotic places where your ex doesn’t want to go. You don’t do things you’d love to do if you know your ex would hate doing them.
Now is the time to dust off your dreams and create a “bucket list” of things you’d love to do and places you want to go.
Not everything on your list needs to be expensive or unusual. If you’ve always dreamed of planting a garden in your backyard, or getting a dog, that’s fine. It’s YOUR bucket list. What matters is that the things you put on that list matter to you.
That’s not to say that you’ll be able to do everything on your bucket list as soon as the ink is dry on your divorce decree. But that’s not what matters anyway.
The point of making a bucket list is not to DO everything on the list at once. The point of making a bucket list is to let yourself dream about what you want. Creating those dreams is the first step in making them real.
This is, by far, the hardest part of building your new life after divorce. It’s also the most important.
If the thought of forgiving your ex still makes your blood boil, go back to tip number 4 and talk to your therapist. (Sorry, but you’ve still got some work to do!)
The truth is the anger and resentment you carry against your ex doesn’t hurt your ex. It hurts you. It makes you unhappy and upset. If you hang on to it for too long you become bitter. Meanwhile, your ex can live his/her life in whatever way s/he wants while your anger eats you alive. (True, you can go out of your way to create drama for your ex. But, that ups the level of drama in your life – and in your kids’ lives – even more!)
Your ex isn’t the only one you have to forgive though. Step by step you need to work through your anger against your ex’s lawyer, the court system, the judge, your ex’s “sweetie” and all the friends you lost in your divorce. Most of all, you need to forgive yourself.
Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re human. Humans aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. You probably did too. It’s okay. Resenting yourself, or constantly feeling like you are a failure, or a helpless victim, or a bad person, is counter-productive. Those feelings stand in your way. Until you let them go they will keep you from moving forward with your life.
Creating the Life of Your Dreams
Divorce may not have been what you wanted for your life. It plucks you out of your comfort zone and shakes you to your core. It turns your world upside down and threatens everything you hold dear.
Yet, even the worst divorce can have a silver lining. But, you have to look for it. To start, you have to want to look for it. You have to be willing to let go of the pain and the drama. It’s hard. But, if you do, in time you may find that the worst experience of your life also brought with it the greatest opportunities to create the happiness you crave.
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