Marital divorce is a major traumatic event in a person’s life. To have your world come crashing down on you is hard enough. And after that, to rise from the ashes can cause major burnout. A fascinating study has proved that breakups create pain and sadness akin to real physical signs of heart-ache. You are faced with such tough resistance when trying to get your life after divorce back on track, that it may sometimes seem too overwhelming a task.
Going through a divorce is difficult. Building back your self-esteem, soldering your purse strings for a secure future, learning to co-parent with your ex and both your new partners, being emotionally vulnerable again with new people, rediscovering sex. There is a lot going on! What you need is not just regathering your will power. This is not merely a question of strength, courage and will.
Starting over after a divorce is an arduous, confusing, painful and lonely journey. But it doesn’t need to be. Support from your friends and family should help, along with some gentle hand-holding, a bit of professional guidance like this article can provide you with. We sat with Megha Gurnani, (MS Clinical Psychology, UK), currently pursuing her second masters in organizational psychology in the USA, to discuss the challenges you might be currently facing. Here are her expert tips on each of these facets of rebuilding your life after divorce.
The Challenges Of A Life After Divorce: Men Vs Women
Most people experience similar emotional challenges post a breakup, a separation and a divorce. However, a long-term marital relationship with joint finances, common property, and shared responsibility of kids or other dependents may bring in some new set of challenges to deal with.
Similarly, both genders experience heart-ache, social rejection, fear and unpredictability. However, life after divorce for a woman and the problems faced by a broken man after divorce may sometimes be unique to each of them.
Many studies have analyzed these gender based experiences of divorce. Understanding these vital differences may help you to identify the sore spots in your healing journey and pay special attention to those aspects. It may also help you develop sympathy for your ex, another individual who went through the same divorce, allowing you to shed some of that resentment and anger for them. This will ultimately benefit your attempts at starting over after divorce.
Here are the major differences:
|Life after divorce for women||Life after divorce for men|
|The burden of single parenting mostly falls on women leading to adverse effects in other aspects of their lives||Men often feel isolated from their children, and their sense of home leading to a loss of identity and self-estrangement|
|Financial Stress||There is a disproportionate decline in standard of living of women post divorce and an increased risk of poverty||Divorced men almost always see a major chunk of their finances allocated to their ex-partners and children building up emotional resentment and a sense of “unfairness”|
|Emotional Stress||Women often take up major parenting responsibility giving them less time for themselves. They also face more social scrutiny post divorce||Men often are burdened with a (stereotyped) assumption of blame in case of a divorce.
They often have have poor social skills and smaller support networks to rely on for emotional support
|Physical Health challenges||Women have a chance of suffering from poor physical health because of being over burdened with added responsibilities such a single-parenting, compensating for loss of double income, and neglecting their own needs||Men often suffer from poor health post divorce because of lack of motivation, feeling isolated, and their easier access to risky behavior and unhealthy ways of coping up|
|Re-partnering challenges||Women find themselves with less time and energy to date as a single mom
Children pose a major challenge in dating and re-partnering
|Men often “push through” in a forced way, not allowing themselves to deal with emotions from the divorce, often jeopardizing new relationships|
Related Reading: Divorce at 50: How I Found a New Life and Happiness
Rebuilding your self after divorce
This aspect is going to affect every single other aspect in your life. Megha says, “A divorce is a major blow to your identity. A big chunk of your life doesn’t exist anymore. It’s normal to feel absolutely lost.” Fixing your ability to deal with the new stress by strengthening your emotional response system should be the first thing in your agenda. Which is why, we begin with fixing your inner world before your set out all guns blazing fixing your life after divorce.
1. Give yourself permission to grieve
Grief is a normal emotion and it doesn’t come in a box with an expiration date. Neither should you be forcing a timeline to your grieving process. Divorce grief is complex. The person is still alive but you can’t have them in your life. If you were the one who initiated the divorce, you can have mixed emotions. You might expect to feel happy and relieved. But your mind may be responding in unpredictable ways.
Whatever is it that you are feeling, know that what you feel is normal. Give yourself permission to perform other tasks sub-optimally for some time. Before even thinking about moving forward, allow yourself to time to grieve properly and grieve enough.
2. Introspect. Preferably with a counselor
This is not only essential, your mind will most organically try to move to this step on its own. If you find yourself thinking too much about the divorce, replaying incidents, blaming yourself, blaming your partner, know that your mind is trying to make sense of the trauma it feels. Your job is to give this task a constructive and healthy shape.
Megha strongly recommends therapy for this task. “Benefits of therapy include learning about yourself. Your pattern of behavior, your style of thinking, your tendency to look at the world. There could have been things you could have done differently. Things that could have minimized the negative impact if not saved the marriage.”
3. Find a balance – grabbing on vs losing control
Megha says, “To move forward after divorce, be aware of what you are feeling. Once you are able to tap into your emotions, you can find out if you are overwhelmed or are triggered by something. You can allow yourself the time to calm down.”
“At the same time, don’t let your divorce be an excuse to completely lose control of your life,” Megha adds, pointing to the other extreme. You may often feel so strung up trying to analyze everything and extract meaning out of every little thing, that you lose perspective of what is essential and what is an over-reaction. Avoid that urge.
4. Rekindle other relationships
“It is exactly in the moments you feel lost that you need to reconnect more with your support network. Through work, friends, children, family, you will be able to retain a sense of identity,” says Megha. Share how you feel with your friends and family. Actively seek them out.
Join a support group where you can discuss your emotions with other people in the same boat as you. Its benefits are aplenty. Opening up in front of complete strangers may feel easy. The empathy you feel can work wonders. And, you will always find someone in a more difficult situation than you. This perspective may be crucial in your healing journey
5. Reconnect with yourself
The longer you were married, the more enmeshed your relationship may have become. Couples, as they grow old together, come to recognize themselves more in the sense of “us” or “we” than their individual selves, or “I”. A split may cause a shocking disassociation with that identity.
Megha says, “You need something that reinforces in you the idea that you exist, that you are valued as an individual. Those feelings are diminished so much during a divorce that its really hard to just say, “I love myself”. You need to work at it.”
Your job now is to find yourself again. Who am I? What do I like? How do I like to spend my time? What would I want my future to look like? Ask yourself these questions. Revisit old hobbies, find new ones. Find meaning in your work. Protect your space. Take risks, go on adventures. Find out who you are when left alone to decide for yourself.
Tips on Co-parenting After Divorce
“It’s not just you and your partner who went through the divorce but also your kids,” says Megha. Plenty of studies have shown the affects of divorce on the long-term mental health of the “children of divorce”. Megha adds, “The way you handle the entire situation, as well as yourself, will affect how your kids see you and your ex and relationships in general.”
Moreover, as parents, we tend to put a lot of value in this role we play in our lives. The satisfaction of doing good by your children, or the guilt of the opposite, significantly affects our self-image and ability to lead a satisfying life after divorce. As mature parents you would like to handle coparenting after divorce effectively. Here are some tips:
1. Do not bad mouth your ex to your child
“You may have issues with your partner. As an adult you can have your opinion on your partner. But it is not fair to your kid when you pass your opinions to them and make them dislike their other parent,” says Megha. This behavior creates guilt, sadness and insecurity in your child and is on top of the list of toxic co-parenting behavior.
On a similar tangent, make sure you are strictly adhering to following:
- Don’t ask your children to pick sides
- Don’t break down in front of your children
- Don’t keep them away from their other parents for selfish motive
- Don’t use your children to pass a message to your ex
- Don’t ask your kids to spy on their parent for you
Disclaimer: These suggestions may change in the case of divorce due to child abuse. It is best to seek professional help from a child psychologist or a family therapist to have these difficult conversations with your child.
Related Reading: Should You Stay In An Unhappy Marriage With Kids?
2. Focus on what’s best for your kid
“You do not have to be husband and wife to raise children. You can be parents,” says Megha. As responsible mature adults, you should be able to co- parent peacefully in a co-operative manner with your child’s welfare in focus. For example, at times you might feel that a decision related to your child benefits your ex-wife or ex-husband but feels unfair to you. But you must not forget that it is ultimately about your child and not you.
Your discussions should revolve around the priorities of your children. You can have differences of opinion on many decisions, such as which school your child will go to, when should they own a communication device etc. But these should not lead to you talking about your personal issues with your partner, or engage in personal attacks.
3. Have a clear co-parenting plan
A clear parenting plan is the no.1 requirement after a divorce with children. Children benefit immensely from routine and predictability, giving them a sense of security. In the case of divorce or separation communication becomes much more difficult. Moreover, children share their life in two households, which is why there should be a clear co-parenting plan to give them a semblance of uniformity. A co-parenting list of rules should include the following discussions:
- Visitation timings and routine
- Rules about things like permissible screen time, curfew timings, homework schedule, etc.
- A clear “rise and shine” time and a bed time
- Food habits, dietary routine
This does not mean that you can not have individual rituals with your children, a playful secret that they share with you. But you are the best judge if the activity is constructive and harmless, or if it is messing with their core routine. Do not try to compete with your partner for the “fun” parent trophy. Don’t forget, children grow up, and they will be able to look back and judge your behavior as immature or irresponsible.
Securing Your Finances After Divorce
Financial realities of divorce are tough! Not only are divorces expensive, there are several challenges to recuperating financially post-divorce. It is seen that a divorce almost always results in the drop of the standard of living of both partners.Here are some tips to prepare yourself better for the financial effects of a a divorce.
Related Reading: Everything You Need To Know About Transactional Relationships
1. Get your finances re-evaluated
The first step to financial planning for divorce is to get a fresh and accurate review of your finances. It can feel like a jolt to see it halved or even less now that you are single. Mentally prepare yourself for the same. A reevaluation of your standing assets and liabilities can tell you how to allocate your funds efficiently.
Do you have a prenuptial agreement? What do your retirement savings look like? What about life insurance? DO you need to update your health insurance policies? Social security benefits? If you are retaining the house you lived in as a couple, be sure to accurately gauge its maintenance costs. If it high, where should you cut expenses from? These are just few of the pertinent questions.
2. Create a new monthly budget
A new household needs a new budget. If your household income has decreased and expenditures have disproportionately increased, you might have to cut back on older expenses to avoid financial stress now or in any future relationships. Your financial review will allow you to create a new monthly budget according to your priorities. At the same time, do not forget to update your bank accounts to ensure continued access to your funds.
3. Set new financial goals
Your changed primary identity and a changed financial situation means you need a new set of financial goals. Ask yourself:
- Where do I see myself in five years, ten years, twenty years?
- Where do I see myself post retirement?
- When will I like to retire?
- Where do I see myself living?
With the help of a financial counselor you can come up with a list of the things you need to set aside money toward. Here are a few examples of the financial goals you may consider saving up for or investing toward:
- Emergency fund: Now that you are single and specially if you have an inconsistent income, you must have an emergency fund
- Retirement savings: You need to review and update old retirement fund holdings and see if you need new ones
- Home ownership fund: Do you have a home? Will you like to own one? How should you go about saving up for it?
- Child-college fund: How much have you and your ex saved up for your child already? Do you have your ex’s assured contribution? How much will you have to chip in?
How To Nail Dating After Divorce
Being able to meet new people with the possibility for love is an essential part of moving on after divorce. However, dating after divorce for a man is often considered a less difficult process than for a woman. Dating after divorce for a woman is affected due to their children’s needs, society’s (biased) disapproval, financial burden, gender based ageism etc.
However, regardless of gender, anyone just out of a long-term relationship finds the idea of seeking someone else to fill that gap a painful idea. Since, we are fed concepts of “soul-mate” and “the one” ever since childhood, not only does it feel like hard work, it also feels wrong. You might think you have already had your chance with you soul-mate, and that’s it, your time is up! But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are a few tips on dating after divorce to keep in mind.
1. Don’t let your past relationships affect your present
Megha says, “It’s important you don’t let your past interfere with your present. And this sounds simple on the surface but is really hard to put into effect because you have spend so much time with your ex. You must have picked up their mannerism, their expectations, their likes and dislikes, becoming adjusted with the tone of your ex relationship.
“It can be very hard to not let those biases those perceptions affect you when you meet a new person,” she adds. If you let your past affect your present, you wouldn’t be giving your new relationships a fair chance. This is why before venturing into new territory, it is important to fix your relationship with your self. Head back to the first part of this article about self love and personal growth for ways to do it.
Related Reading: Fear Of Relationships After Divorce. Face These 10 Fears First
2. Do not be cynical
You might notice that you have become hyper-aware and jumpy when it comes to taking risks and trying to find love again with new people. You might be thinking:
- “I had a failed relationship and marriage. This is not going to work out”
- “I am difficult to be around. Why would anyone like my company?”
- You act hard to please
- You act like you want to be chased around
“Don’t make it hard for people to get through to you,” says Megha. You must resist the urge to make dating after divorce intentionally difficult for you. Notice self-sabotaging behavior and let it go.
3. Don’t be over eager to jump back into the dating scene
This is the opposite end of the extreme we just discussed. While you must not keep people away, you also need to make sure you are not making any desperate moves. Over-eagerness may look like the following things:
- You are quick to put people on a pedestal
- You think they are the ideal person for you immediately after you know them
- You ignore red-flags in new relationships
- You ignore your intuition
- You have several short-lived rebound relationships after divorce
- You are getting into relationships for fixing loneliness after divorce
Megha says, “The way things might have ended or the way your own personality is, you might be completely put off by relationships all together or you might be waiting to get into the next one. And both these stances are unhelpful, both in the short term and long term.” It is all right to stay away, take time to heal from within, and let love happen naturally for you.
Related Reading: 15 Best Places To Meet Men (Out Of Dating Apps)
4. Make sex after divorce less awkward by being aware
Sex after divorce can be either the easiest of them all or the most difficult depending on how you like to approach sex. When in a long-term sexual relationship with someone, you learn it like a dance. To learn the dance anew takes mindfulness and sensitivity. Megha points out a few unpleasant situations that may arise in the case of a new relationship. Watch out for them when being intimate with someone.
- Your mind wanders to your ex: This is extremely normal. Don’t read too much into it. Snap out of it, and consciously bring yourself back
- Your compare your new partner with your ex-spouse: This too is normal. However, your new partner deserves a fair chance. Look your partner in the eye, talk to them and try being in the present
- You say your ex’s name out loud: Apologize to your new partner if they recognize it. Tell them it is more out of habit, and be more mindful to not do it again.
5. Try new things
Maybe you and your partner did things in a different way but the new persons wants to change things up a bit. You might get too comfortable in your old ways. But it is time for change. You must let different people and different experiences come in. Megha says, “Don’t go with the assumption that sex is going to be the same with every person. Be open to change.” Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Be open to the sexual expectation your new dating partner has
- Be open to listening to them or trying out new things if it feels comfortable to you
- If it doesn’t feel comfortable, you can and should say no
- Challenges faced by women and men after divorce can often differ
- To cope with the aftermath of divorce involves a multidimensional approach
- First work on your inner world. Grieve, take your time, introspect, nurture other relationships and rediscover yourself before fixing anything else in your life
- Divorcing with kids requires a solid co-parenting plan and prioritizing your child when doing so
- Financial planning for divorce involves a thorough re-evaluation of your assets and liabilities
- When dating after divorce do not let your past affect your present be cautious of rebound relationships, and try new things
When rebuilding your life after divorce, you can consider looking for divorce support groups and other similar resources in your neighborhood or online. Additionally, you may feel the need to consult various professionals to deal with different aspects of a life after divorce. Should you need that help, Bonobology’s panel of experts are here to help you.
This article was updated in November 2022.
Initially, it might not feel like it at all. But eventually, you will get there.
There certainly is. In fact, there is something very beautiful and compelling about being single at 40!
Between the couple, the one who forgives first is probably happier. The one who keeps revisiting old memories and thinks of what could have been, is probably not.