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12 Ways to Rebuild Your Life After Divorce: Expert Tips
Starting Over: 12 Strategies to Rebuild Your Life After Divorce
“I want a divorce.” These words can be devastating for a wife to hear. Going through a divorce can leave you feeling depressed, lonely, and financially strapped, wondering what to do next. According to Vikki Stark, MSW, a Canadian family therapist and author of Runaway Husbands(Green Light Press), who experienced her own husband leaving her without warning, “Initially, you feel like you’re never going to get through because you’re just so turned upside down. But the chaos won’t last forever.” It usually takes around two years after a divorce to feel normal again, Stark says. But during those 24 months, there are ways to help women heal, including talking about your feelings, taking classes, and even dating again.
Here are 12 tips to help you rebuild your life:
Allow yourself to grieve.
The breakup of a marriage is like a death, so it’s natural to mourn the life and lifestyle you’ve lost, even if you wanted the split. Jennifer Freed, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, Calif., explains that “there’s fragmentation and a vacuum where there once was order and routine.” It’s essential to take time to process your emotions and grieve, even if it means lying in bed eating ice cream for a short while. “It takes about half the time you were in a relationship to fully mourn the loss,” Freed says. “Let go bit by bit.”
Keep a journal.
Writing about your emotional struggles may reduce some of your pain. A 2008 Syracuse University study found that journaling helped people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Participants wrote either about their distress or a neutral topic for three months. Those who wrote about their disturbing experiences showed a significant improvement in their moods and responses to memories of what happened. Even if you’re not experiencing PTSD, keeping a journal every few days can help track your healing process. “It provides perspective in a clear, simple way,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Mount Kisco, N.Y. “Look where I was, and where I am now. You can inspire yourself.”
Lean on friends.
Rely on close friends to prevent you from doing anything stupid or rash, like drunk dialing your ex, slashing his tires, posting nasty things on Facebook, or harassing his new girlfriend. When people are hurt, they often don’t think rationally and do really crazy things. “Your posse will keep you from falling off the edge,” Freed says.
Seek support from professionals.
Going through a divorce can be a difficult and emotional process. While friends and family can be a source of comfort, it’s important to seek support from trained professionals to help you navigate this new chapter in your life. Speaking with a therapist or spiritual advisor can provide you with the guidance and tools you need to move forward.
According to relationship expert O’Neill, divorce is a process, and having a professional outline one that fits you is useful in jump-starting your new life.
Rediscover your individual identity.
When you’ve been part of a couple for a long time, it’s easy to lose sight of your individual identity. After a divorce, it’s important to reconnect with yourself and figure out who you are as an individual.
Miami marriage and family therapist Lisa Paz recommends making a list of things you like about yourself that are separate from your former role as a spouse. This can help you identify your strengths and unique attributes, as well as what you value about yourself.
Paz says that these questions can be the starting point for the next chapter in your life.
Make new connections.
After a divorce, you may feel like the odd one out in a paired-up world. Your married friends may not have as much time for you, or they may distance themselves altogether.
According to relationship expert Freed, finding new single friends can be a great way to connect with people who are in a similar situation. Surrounding yourself with similar people can also help you move on from painful memories and feelings.
Freed advises avoiding people who constantly dwell on negativity about the ex. While venting is important, it’s also important to focus on what’s possible.
Start dating again.
Dating can be a great way to boost your confidence and get back out there. It’s also a chance to meet new people and expand your social circle.
According to marriage and family therapist Lisa Paz, if it feels good, it’s not too soon to start dating again. So, ask your friends for fix-ups or try reputable dating sites to meet new people.
Remember to keep things light and have fun. You don’t need to find a soul mate, just someone pleasant for dinner and a movie.
Rediscover your sexuality.
After a divorce, it’s natural to feel nervous or anxious about being intimate with someone new. You may feel out of practice or unsure of yourself.
To get reacquainted with your body, relationship expert O’Neill advises taking long baths, reminiscing about past sexual pleasures, or fantasizing about what a new partner might do. If you haven’t masturbated in a while, take it slow to discover what kinds of touch and rhythms lead to orgasm.
If you run into problems with arousal or orgasm, don’t worry. About 10% of women have difficulty achieving orgasm, according to studies. Talk to your gynecologist or see a sex therapist to identify the issue and find a solution.
Take it Slow.
After a divorce, it can be tempting to jump into a new relationship to prove your desirability. However, it’s essential to proceed with caution and take some precautions to protect your physical and emotional health.
Always use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. While the chances of getting pregnant decline with age, fortysomething women still have the second-highest rate of unintended pregnancy after teenagers.
Remember that casual sex may provide temporary relief, but it’s unlikely to soothe the deeper emotional pain. According to therapist Sarah Freed, “Women sometimes take sexual risks to boost self-esteem, but ultimately, women need men to care about them – not just their bodies.”
Get Smart with Finances: Reclaim Your Independence
Even if you handled the finances during your marriage, it’s essential to educate yourself about money matters. Taking control of your finances is crucial to regaining a sense of independence and control over your life.
To get started, consider taking personal finance management classes at your local community college or adult education center. You can also join an investment club to learn about investing in the stock market. The National Association of Investors Corp. (Better Investing Community) is a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to navigate the stock market and can help you find a club near you.
Make a Bucket List: Rediscover Your Passions
Divorce creates a void, but it also presents an opportunity to rediscover your old and new interests. During a marriage, we often give up parts of ourselves to accommodate our partners. Now is the time to focus on yourself and explore your passions.
As therapist Sarah Freed notes, “In any relationship, no matter how good, we give up parts of ourselves. Now it’s all about you. What do you want to experience before you pass away?”
Many women rebound from divorce and create fulfilling lives. As Vicki Stark, creator of the Sudden Wife Abandonment Project, shares, “They rebuilt [their lives] in ways they had never imagined. They went back to school, traveled, remodeled their homes, and started careers.”
Celebrate Being Single: Embrace Your New Life
Coming out of the divorce darkness is an achievement worth celebrating. Take a trip with friends or family or by yourself, if you can afford it. Or throw a “divorce shower” to recoup items you lost in the split.
As therapist Bonnie O’Neill points out, “A celebration marks that you’re moving forward with your new life.” Embrace your new life and enjoy the freedom and opportunities that come with being single.
Divorce is a challenging experience, but it’s possible to not only survive it but also come out stronger on the other side. By recognizing your emotions, prioritizing self-care, seeking professional guidance, considering your children’s needs, and taking financial precautions, you can cope with divorce and thrive in your new life.