One reason that divorce is so hard is because divorce has a stigma associated with it that other losses don’t have. When a spouse dies, what happens? Most likely the entire community comes out to support the widow or widower, setting up daily meals for them, dropping by with offers of help, hugs and thoughts and prayers. When a couple decides to divorce, there probably aren’t many offers of help. People may not know what to say or think that the person wants to be left alone. In some instances, the couple decide that they aren’t telling anyone possibly because they’re ashamed. This absence of support from the community is a key factor of why divorce is so difficult.
Because there is a stigma, there’s less awareness about the impact of divorce. Most people don’t truly understand what you are going through. Divorce is not just one loss, it comes with many losses. You lose your “intact family” – a mom, dad and children all together. You may lose time with your children. Any time away from your children is a loss and you feel it deeply. You also lose people – obviously your spouse/partner, your in-laws and possibly some friends. You may lose your financial security. You may also lose your place in your community or invitations to events that are only for couples. There are so many losses at once and the grief can run very deep.
Most of my clients are surprised at just how difficult divorce is. They didn’t think it would be easy but never expected it to be this hard. The strong emotions of sadness, anger, denial, shame, fear and guilt are surprising to them. They tell themselves, “You shouldn’t feel this way. You need to be able to handle this better.” A woman shared with me that she went through cancer and it wasn’t nearly as difficult as her divorce. A friend apologized when she was going through her divorce because she felt bad that she didn’t help me enough through my divorce. She said that she never dreamed it was this hard. It’s one of the most difficult things you can go through.
So how do you make it through your divorce? Get support!!! I can’t emphasize enough how important support is. Find an understanding friend, join a support group, find people who are going through divorce and can relate to you. Get a therapist, divorce coach or other professional who can listen and guide you. The good news is you will get through it and when you do, you’ll realize how strong you are. Also, you’ll be empowered with your new life and all that you have to look forward to!
Being divorced can be lonely and being divorced during the holidays can be really difficult. Your friends who have intact families may not be able to understand what it feels like to be home by yourself while the rest of the world seems to be happily celebrating the holidays. You may feel emotional pain and lonely. Even if you have friends that invite you to join their holiday celebration, you may feel so different from them that it hurts.
These are all normal feelings. Give yourself the time and space you need to grieve the loss of your intact family. At some point, you will be more used to it and it won't hurt as much. If you can connect with others who are also divorced, that can be extremely helpful during the holidays. They can understand what you're feeling and be supportive when you need them to be.
Focus on your children - think about what would make them happy. Seeing your children happy can help you feel happiness during the holidays. Try to keep traditions going or start new ones so that children have a sense of family. Doing holiday traditions with friends or family is so important for children whose parents are divorced. They feel a sense of family and closeness that helps children feel good when their family is different from what it used to be.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to get a better perspective. Providing gifts for homeless families, working at a food kitchen or visiting sick children in the hospital can really make you appreciate what you have. It's amazing the difference you feel when you help others. You can do this with or without your children. Either way, it feels really great.
Two other important techniques for feeling good throughout the holiday season is to keep active and learn how to enjoy being by yourself. Walk, go to the gym or play tennis and you will find that you feel better. Do something by yourself like read, visit a museum or meditate. Learn how to be alone and you may like it. If you can enjoy spending time with yourself, you will be able to handle the holidays and anything else that comes up. You may find that the time you spend by yourself is not lonely - it's a gift that you give yourself that truly makes you happy.
Most of the time, when a couple goes through separation and divorce, many angry and resentful feelings occur and it's difficult to see any way to forgive an ex-spouse. However, there are ways to work toward forgiveness. Not only will you benefit from forgiving your ex-spouse, if you have children, they will benefit tremendously.
Forgiveness involves a change of heart and occurs at different times for different people. Circumstances can impact the ability to forgive. If there was an affair, an addiction or some other betrayal, it may take longer to forgive. But there are many reasons to forgive your ex-spouse, including the impact that not forgiving has on you.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
When you hold onto anger, you’re hurting yourself. You can become stuck in the feelings from the past and it can hold you back from moving on with your life. In addition, it doesn’t feel good to be angry much of the time. It’s not good for people physically to be angry and to hold onto anger. Finally, it can negatively impact children when one or both of their parents are angry at the other.
So how can you let go of your anger? The first step is getting it out. You can talk about it to a friend or therapist or write about it in a journal. Find a way to release some of the feelings and that will help you move on.
Forgiving yourself is part of the process of forgiveness after divorce. Being angry with your ex may be a way for you not to look at how angry you are at yourself. You may feel guilt, remorse and shame. If you develop empathy for your ex-spouse, you may then feel worthy of empathy and forgiveness also, potentially leading to self-forgiveness. This can lead to a journey of healing and the ability to move on in your life.
Although forgiveness may feel like the last thing you want to do, forgiving another and forgiving yourself may be exactly what you need. It will ultimately restore your personal power, reduce negativity and create peace in your life once again.
According to John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain healthy relationships, the greatest predictor of divorce is contempt. Contempt means attacking your partner’s sense of self with an insult and includes sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, rolling the eyes, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Some examples:
These statements are destructive to the relationship and make your partner feel defeated. Avoid these responses at all times. If you’ve said things like this to your partner, you can apologize and start working on eliminating them.
People communicate contempt to their partners because of several reasons:
What do you do when there is contempt when you communicate with your partner? Build respect and appreciation in your relationship. Regularly express the following:
Five or more positive interactions can counteract one negative interaction. There are simple ways to add positive interactions into your day which has shown to decrease conflict and improve intimacy in couples. Remind yourself of your partners positive qualities. Why did you start dating him or her? What was it about your partner that you fell in love with? If you can keep these things in mind and eliminate contempt, you will be able to have a happier relationship and avoid the path of divorce.
Sometimes you may feel your relationship is going well and other times you may be worried about the strength of your relationship. It can help to take a step back and see what’s working and what’s not. Here are some areas to look at:
These five areas are important when assessing the strength of your relationship. If you’re doing most or all of these, you’re probably doing pretty well. If you need work on one or more of these areas, don’t be discouraged. These skills can be learned. You can improve the strength of your relationship yourselves or you can always try couples counseling.
For most parents, telling their children about the decision to divorce is one of the most difficult things that they have to face. It is helpful for both parents to discuss ahead of time what they’re going to share with their children and how they’re going to respond to their children’s questions.
Parents should make several agreements:
If you don’t know where you’ll live, that will create some stress for children. Letting children know a plan for where you’re living, even if it’s just for the near future, will help lower children’s anxiety.
If there are issues that the children already know about such as substance abuse, sexual orientation or an affair, it’s better to acknowledge the issue rather than avoid it. If you discuss it with the children, it will enable them to ask questions and feel that they can come to you to talk about things that concern them.
Discuss what the schedule will be and anything else that will impact them. Children need to know things like will they be moving, where will each parent live, who they will live with, when will they see each parent, will they stay at the same school and what will happen on their birthday and holidays. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, telling children what’s happening in the near future will help.
It’s best for parents to tell their children about the divorce together. It helps children see that their parents are still working together. It provides a sense of safety for children through an unstable time. It also provides an opportunity for children to process the information in a safe environment as both parents are available for questions, reassurance and support. Choose a time where there's no distractions and everyone can be together.
If children don’t feel like asking questions or talking about anything, don’t push them. Allow them to have time to process the information. They probably feel a lot of conflicting emotions and may not be able to verbalize their feelings right away.
It’s ok to tell children that you’re sad about the divorce and that with time, you will all heal and adjust to the changes in the family. However, try not to show intense emotions like crying for hours or saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Even though you may be struggling emotionally, you need to deal with your emotions separately from your children. They need to know that you are strong enough to deal with the divorce so that they don’t feel obligated to take care of you. If you need help dealing with all of the emotions and overwhelm of divorce, see a therapist so that you can be there for your children.
Many clients seek counseling because they’re having difficulty with combining two families after divorce. They have children who are different ages, have different needs and personalities and they find it overwhelming and stressful. It’s not surprising considering how difficult it is raising children in intact families where there hasn’t been divorce!
Despite the difficulties, it is possible to have a happy family even if you have children from two different marriages. Some of the ways to make this situation successful are as follows:
These suggestions will help you develop a closer family when you have partners that have children from previous marriages/relationships. If these techniques don’t work, family counseling with an experienced therapist is an option. However, if you make children and your relationship a priority, respect boundaries and communicate effectively, you’ll be far along the way to having a happy blended family!
Marriage isn’t always easy and most, if not all, marriages go through ups and downs. The loss of a job, mourning the loss of a friend or parent or an illness can significantly impact a marriage. In some marriages, neither spouse ever considers divorce. But sometimes one or both spouses may think about divorce.
Thinking about divorce is very different from deciding you want a divorce. When you’re just thinking about divorce, you’re not ready to take that step. You may be very angry at your spouse or feel very hurt. You may realize that the stresses that you’re dealing with right now will not last forever. When you spend a night out with your spouse you may get along well and feel hopeful that things will get better. And many times things do get better.
In general, unless you’re seriously thinking about divorce, you probably shouldn’t mention it to your spouse. Threats of divorce or leaving a relationship can be damaging to a relationship. If there’s a discussion about divorce every time there is a fight, that can make the relationship emotionally unsafe. Divorce is a loaded word and shouldn’t be overused. Once you say it, you can’t take it back.
Most people who are seriously considering divorce have thought about it for a long time. But when do you talk about it with your spouse? It depends on a lot of factors. Is there abuse in the relationship? Are you concerned that your spouse may do something extreme if you have that discussion? Do you have children? Does your spouse react rationally to stressful situations? All of these things must be considered before you make the decision to talk to your spouse about getting a divorce.
One way of navigating this process is to work with a professional – a therapist who can provide a safe place where you can discuss your feelings with your spouse. Ideally you can come to the decision together whether or not to get divorced. Although that’s not always possible, if you’re working with a therapist, you’ll have guidance about how to work together respectfully. You can avoid some post-divorce anger and misunderstanding. This is especially important if there are children involved because children are significantly impacted by their parents’ relationship.
When you are going through a divorce, you may feel hurt, guilty, alone, scared – a lot of very difficult feelings. Starting a new relationship is appealing because it can help you feel less lonely and it can provide support when it may be difficult to get support from others who don’t understand what you’re going through. However, relationships take time, energy and a lot of compromise. Thinking through what is best for you and your family will help you determine when to move forward with a new relationship.
Some things to consider when starting a new relationship after divorce:
Look into your situation and assess where you and your children are emotionally. This will help you determine if you’re ready for a relationship.
There are parents who don’t consider starting a new relationship because they feel that they need to focus on their children. They feel that they can’t have a relationship at all until their children are out of the house. Although some may think that this is best for children, there can be some negative consequences to this.
A parent who focuses primarily on their children may find that they don’t have any time to develop their own life, hobbies, interests, friendships or take care of themself. This works for young children as they want and need their parent’s undivided attention. But as children get older, they start to develop their own life, friends and activities. If their mom or dad is solely focused on them, the children may feel responsible for their parent’s happiness and feel guilty that they don’t want to spend all their time with the parent.
There is a middle ground. You can have a relationship and your own life after a divorce while putting your children as a priority. One of the reasons to develop your own life outside of your children is that you are your children’s main role model. If you are happy and have a full life, it encourages your children to have that too.
There is no one right or wrong answer. Think through what you want and take your time with every decision. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist to help you think clearly. Balance your own needs with that of your children. You know what is best for your children and for yourself. Have faith in yourself that if you take the time and space you need, you will come up with what will be best for you and your family.
Relationships are tricky. In order to have a healthy relationship, you must compromise. You have to give up some things that you would want and hopefully your partner also gives up some things that they want. But how much giving up is too much? How do you both give to each other while making sure that you're meeting your own needs?
Communication is key to finding the balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of your relationship. Make some time to talk when you’re both relaxed and can focus on the conversation. Listen to each other and try to understand the other’s point of view. If you find that your partner doesn’t allow you to have your own friends or activities, that may indicate a serious problem in your relationship. If you can have a reasonable conversation about how you can work through this issue, that’s a very good sign for the health of your relationship.
Too many people get into relationships and find that everything they do revolves around their partner. The problem with this is that it may work in the beginning but after some time you'll most likely feel resentful. You'll wake up and realize that you’ve become distant from all of your friends and you don’t have any outside interests. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can give of yourself to the relationship while you take care of yourself.
The first step is to think about what’s important to you. Prioritize the things that you do that make you happy. Is it important to attend a weekly book club with your friends? Is it important to work out every day? Is it important to spend time with your sister regularly? You probably won’t be able to do it all but you can choose some things that you value the most. You need to feel grounded and happy. If you find that you’ve given up too much and you’re starting to feel resentful, that needs to be discussed.
Good communication is essential to finding the right balance for your relationship. Check in with your partner regularly and make sure you’re on the same page regarding time spent together and time spent apart. If you do so, you’ll develop the basis for a really strong, connected relationship.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.