I just got divorced… Now what do I do?

Unfortunately, this is something that I hear often from new clients in my therapy office. Despite the best of efforts from both partners, some relationships struggle so intensely that they decide it’s best to part ways. While divorce is very common in our society, I’ll venture to say that no one enters a marriage with the expectation or even the thought that divorce is a possibility. You love your partner very much and often couldn’t imagine a world without them. Still, sometimes life delivers circumstances that couldn’t have been imagined, and some find themselves apart from their “other half” for the first time in many years, wondering how to move on.

The emotions that surround a divorce are vast, deep, and varied. You may feel anger more vehement than ever before, a deep sense of sadness and loss, a fear of what’s to come, a combination of these and so much more. Your world has been turned upside down, and yet life continues to demand that you keep moving forward. At the beginning, it can be difficult to know how to do this – and I believe this is why many individuals come to therapists like us, here in Bethesda – to help themselves discover how to move on.

The truth is that there isn’t a perfect formula. Please trust me when I say that, as a Bethesda marriage counseling therapist, I wish I had all the answers for how to begin to feel better, or that there was a magic potion that could speed up the process. It’s going to be different for everyone, and it’s not going to get better overnight. The most important thing to remember throughout is to take care of yourself and to be in touch with what you need. Below are some ideas that previous clients of mine have found valuable as they navigate the difficult times following their divorce. Feel free to post in the comments if you have any additional suggestions or things that worked well for you.

Connect to your support network. This may be perhaps the most important – in a time when you feel lonely, it can be extremely helpful to reach out to family members, friends, co-workers, or others you trust to support you through this process. Whether they give you a shoulder to cry on, an activity partner to distract you in healthy ways, or just check in on you and let you talk it out, having them around is important. There may be times when you feel hesitant to reach out to them, to “bother” them with your troubles, but what I always ask my clients is: “How would you feel if they reached out to you in a time of need?”… (The answer is almost always “Oh, I would be so happy to help.”)

Take some time to reflect. A therapist can be especially helpful with this process. Give yourself time to grieve the losses you’re experiencing right now. A divorce can also involve a great deal of self-doubt and/or self-discovery, and it will be important for you to take time to think about what happened that resulted in the relationship dissolving. What can you learn from this experience that can help you to better understand yourself and what you need in the future?

Self care. Even if your divorce was amiable, it can bring a tremendous amount of stress. Taking the time to take care of yourself by finding a few go-to coping strategies can begin to reduce the stress you’re feeling. Trying things like exercising, eating well, relaxing with some music or a movie, writing in a journal, or any other healthy activity that calms you is very important during this time.

Establish some expectations and ground rules with your Ex. Depending upon your situation (How contentious was the divorce?, Do you have children together?, etc.), you may or may not continue to have contact with your ex-partner. Believe it or not, you may have different ideas of how you want to handle situations that might arise. Do you still want to talk to each other as friends, or do you hope to never see or speak again? How much or little contact would you prefer that they have with your extended family? If you have shared custody of your children, when and about what topics do you expect to touch base about your child’s well-being? If it’s possible in your case, try to imagine what expectations you have regarding your Ex now that you are divorced, and try to have a civil conversation with them to share your expectations and theirs, ideally coming to a set of “ground rules”. A couples therapist or Bethesda family counseling therapist can be very helpful during this process as well.

Perhaps be mindful about beginning a new relationship. While there is nothing at all wrong with desiring (or not desiring) a new partner in your life following a divorce, it is key to understand your motivation behind your decision to seek or not to seek out new partners. If you find yourself wanting to date new people and begin a new relationship quickly – think about what motivates you to make those choices. Could it be helpful for you to spend some time alone to cope with the divorce, first, for example? Are you ready to open yourself up to someone else? If, after some time has passed, you find yourself reluctant to search for another partner – is it scary for you to think about being hurt again? Do you want to focus on yourself and your children / career right now? Again, there is no right or wrong answer here – the goal is to understand your own motivations so that you can work through any emotional walls that might be keeping you from what you truly need.

Of course, divorce is not ideal in the first place. If you and your partner are having difficulty in your relationship, feel disconnected, aren’t communicating the way you’d like, or have recently experienced an important transition in your life, I very much hope that you will seek out guidance from a Northern Virginia marriage counseling therapist. During the most difficult times, it can be very helpful to have a professional third party who is trained to help you reconnect before it’s too late. Please call us to set up an appointment if you’re worried that things are heading in this direction for you and your partner; we are happy to help.