We've Decided to Get a Divorce Now What?
It doesn't matter whether you were the one who wanted the divorce or whether you were the one who was left - the first year following divorce is difficult. In all likelihood, you're living alone for the first time in years. That is either a shock or a relief, depending on the type of marriage you were in. Regardless, it's a big adjustment.
While you may have had other losses in your life, in my experience, there are few that disrupt a person as totally as divorce. It impacts your mental health, your financial security, your family relationships, your home and your children. It is probably an experience you haven't been through before, so you're unprepared for the many issues that arise.
If you were the one who initiated the divorce you may feel guilty and worried about what the divorce may be doing to your spouse and children. If you left because you felt abused in the relationship, you may still be angry. You might feel resentful towards your ex for putting you in the position of having to make such a difficult choice.
If you left because you were in love with someone else - you probably feel guilty but you may also be looking forward to the future. It's normal to have contradictory feelings. This goes with the territory when it comes to making any major life decisions.
If you were the one who was left, you are probably feeling abandoned and possibly in shock. The prospect of being alone and in the position of having to rebuild your life is surely overwhelming. Being left is experienced by most as a major rejection. It impacts a person's confidence and self-esteem. If your spouse left you for someone else it's a double injury.
Off and on during the first year following divorce, you may be flooded with emotion - sadness, anger, despair, guilt, hope, relief - any and all of these are normal. In time, the waves of emotion recede. You will eventually feel less emotionally disrupted.
In addition to being periodically flooded with feelings, the first year following divorce brings many changes. You may be faced with moving and resettling yourself and your children in a new home. Often this home is not as comfortable as the home you left. Hopefully your children will be able to remain in the same school. This will lessen the disruption to their lives. Even if you are a truly conscientious parent, your children may evidence some behavioral or emotional symptoms related to the divorce. These are more likely if the divorce was contentious or if you and your ex are still angry and fighting with one another.
If your children are in grade school, the most common symptoms they exhibit following divorce are aggressiveness towards their peers or siblings. Their teachers may report that they seem preoccupied and inattentive during class. They may begin wetting the bed or have nightmares and ask to sleep with you. They may be more clingy and get upset when you leave them at preschool or school. In fact, they may get upset with almost any separation from either you or your ex. For information about how teenagers and adult children respond to their parents' divorce, see Will My Children Be Alright?
The symptoms I've mentioned above are normal. The best way to deal with them is to spend one-on-one time with your child. Let them know both in words and through your actions that you are not leaving them. Children sometimes think their misbehavior caused the divorce. It's very important for you to make crystal clear that this is not the case.
Be especially attentive to making sure your children aren't triangled between you and your ex. In other words -- DON'T ask them questions about what your ex is doing, who they are seeing, what they are buying, where they are going, etc. Your children don't want to be the conduit between you and your ex and it's not fair to put them in this position. This sort of questioning is a way of hanging on to your ex. In addition, DON'T talk negatively about your ex to your children. After all, your ex is their parent too. In most instances, this negativity back fires. Children feel angry towards the parent who's being critical.
The best thing you can do for your children is to work through your own feelings of anger towards your ex. If you're unable to manage your anger, seek counseling.
During the first year there are many events that will awaken your feelings of sadness, anger or guilt. The first of these emotional events occurs when the divorce is legally finalized. Despite the fact that you and your ex may have been wrangling over settlement and custody issues for some time, the day the divorce becomes finalized may be traumatic for one or both of you. Once the divorce is legal - your marriage is truly over. This event affects people in different ways but it's not unusual to have some sort of emotional reaction to it.
Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and other family occasions are especially difficult. It's a good idea to have plans with friends or to do something special for yourself on these occasions. Creating new rituals is an important part of rebuilding your life. In time, you won't be so aware of these occasions, but during the first year you may be very aware of them and they will, in all likelihood, stir up feelings.
There is one exception to what I've said above. It concerns those who have been involved in an affair prior to divorce or those who immediately get involved in a relationship following divorce. These folks face different issues. See my article, The Rush to Remarry and The Affair.
It usually takes people two years to adjust after the literal and emotional upheaval of divorce. And it's not uncommon for this adjustment process to take longer. Each person is unique. The length of the marriage, the nature of the marriage, the reasons for divorce, the actual divorce process and whether you are the one who left or the one who is being left - all of these factor into how long it will take to recover.
The best thing you can do in the first year following divorce is to be patient and kind with yourself. Try to accept the conflicting feelings you have. Don't try to avoid your grief, sadness and loneliness by getting prematurely involved in a new relationship. Work on developing a support system and try to develop new rituals and activities that are fulfilling. You are entering a new chapter in your life. While there are many challenges, it is a time ripe for reinvention and for creating a life that's full.
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