As I look back on myself as a newly separated 41 year-old–feeling scared and sad and angry and hopeless and lonely, I realize now how utterly lost I was. Those first several months going through a divorce with two young children were painful and difficult. Every day it felt like there was a new problem.
My ex would come get the kids and make an effort to barely look at me and make me feel like he hated my guts. Also, I felt like I was on trial (because I was.) When you’re in divorce litigation, you feel like you are constantly being watched and judged, and if you do one bad thing, it could cost you in a custody battle. It’s a terrible feeling, especially if you feel like you’re a good parent!
There was also the issue of my kids acting out as a way of coping with the divorce. Throw in the fact that I was heartbroken, felt lonely and isolated, had no one to talk to, who I truly felt understood me.
But perhaps the most difficult and stressful aspect about being newly separated, however, was fear. Fear is normal and understandable, and stems from the unknown; from not having any idea of what to expect.
When I was newly separated, I didn’t know what to expect.
I was in uncharted territory. I had never been to court before I got separated. I didn’t even know what the word litigation meant. And, I didn’t know what life was going to be like after the divorce, next year, next month, even the next day!
Life back then was like a roller coaster, and I remember that winter, I got the worst flu I’ve ever had in my life, probably my body’s reaction to months and months of some of the worst stress I can ever remember.
Back then, I wish I would have had someone to tell me what to expect. It wouldn’t have made my divorce problems go away, but it would have made the stress so much more manageable, having an idea of potentially might happen. So, I want to offer that to you.
Here are 20 things I wish I could have told my newly separated self:
1. Prepare for the roller coaster ride.
Life during a divorce is filled with ups and downs, and unexpected good and bad things coming at you every day. For example, you might wake up feeling pretty good, like, “OK, this is manageable.” But then you get a call from your attorney that starts with, “Uhhh…” and goes on to say your ex wants more parenting time and wants to pay less alimony.
Things might seem really bad for the next few weeks, and you have to drag yourself out of bed, but then something good happens, like someone from your past reaches out to you and it means the world, or you have a great parenting moment, or you get called for an interview for a job, and then you think, “OK, I can do this!”
Believe it or not, there are some really wonderful times during this journey filled with both jabs and surprises. The surprises are in the things that happen to you and the people you end up meeting, but mostly, the surprises come from within; the times you look in the mirror and realize that you’re proud of yourself, that you are making your own money, that you are a great mom, that you are pretty-inside and out, that you have respect for yourself because this isn’t easy and you are doing it!!
2. Your ex is hurting too.
It’s hard to think of your ex because when you are newly separated, you are so focused on yourself. But the fact is, he/she is hurting too, and from that hurt comes anger. So, try to be understanding of erratic, unreasonable behavior. I’m not saying accept it. It’s not okay. Just understand why it’s happening.
3. Getting divorced does not mean you are a failure so stop looking at it that way.
I remember just feeling so bad about myself because I felt like I had failed. Why were most of my other friends able to keep their marriages together? I felt like a loser, and looking back, that was such the wrong way to look at things. You are NOT a failure, you are taking steps to make your life better, as well as the life of your children.
4. Be careful who you talk to while newly separated.
Airing your dirty laundry to the wrong people could have consequences. You don’t want to become known as that person in your community who can’t stop talking about her divorce. People will eventually forget about your divorce, but they will never forget if you acted in a negative, mean-spirited, or unstable way.
Also, when I was newly separated, I went out with my neighbor and basically told her everything; things I didn’t tell anyone else. Guess what she did? She ended up dating my ex husband a few weeks later! Watch out!
5. Reach out to the people who love you.
They want to be there for you. Don’t sit in a room and cry by yourself. There are times you need to call your girlfriends or sisters or family and just sob. When people ask, “Is there anything I can do?” take them up on it! They want to help. Ask them to babysit your kids if you need to go to therapy or the grocery store or for a run. Ask them to introduce you to connections in the field for a job you are trying to get. Ask them to pick up your kid if you are too exhausted. Don’t try to do everything yourself or you will become overtired, stressed, and angry, and your parenting might suffer.
Lastly, If you think you are in real trouble, meaning you are a danger to yourself, you need to call 9-1-1. PLEASE. Don’t be ashamed to do it. You are not yourself right now.
6. You won’t be alone and single the rest of your life, so don’t waste time and energy worrying about it.
At the beginning of a divorce, it’s hard to imagine ever loving or trusting someone again. I get it. But most times, divorced people who want to find love do. Being in a healthy relationship again takes time, patience, an open mind and self-love. It doesn’t happen overnight and if it does, it’s just a rebound Band-Aid. Waiting for the real thing is worth it, and healing yourself first before jumping into a serious relationship is wise. I’m not saying don’t date, but don’t start your divorce journey off by looking for husband #2. He’s not the answer to your happiness, you are.
7. Your kids might act out, cry a lot, and possibly act angry.
Their behavior is not your fault and it doesn’t mean you made a mistake getting divorced. Try to be patient with your kids, and get them some therapy . You can also talk to a parenting coach who can help you help your kids. I personally think all kids and parents getting divorced should be required to go to therapy, at least for a little while. It helps so much more than you can imagine. Lastly, do not feel guilty for your kids suffering. That is the worst, most wasted emotion on the planet. It won’t help your kids and it will just make you feel worse.
8. Your ex will have a girlfriend really soon.
Be prepared. And, he will still be cold and distant to you, no matter how blissful he seems with her. He will most likely try to rub it in your face. Don’t play his game. You focus on your life and try not to think about his. It might seem unfair. Why does he get to have his happy ending? Don’t think like this. You have no idea if he’s happy. He’s hurting just like you are. Shift your focus on getting to your happy ending.
9. Your in-laws will act like strangers to you.
This was heartbreaking to me. Upon becoming separated, my in-laws stopped talking to me. They basically pretended they didn’t know me, and when I saw them –for years and years, even at my own kids Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, (which I paid for) they acted mean and cold and like strangers.
It hurts like hell, but you will be okay. I know this is hard to understand, but don’t take it personally. They have to take their son’s side. Accept it and try not to be bitter about it. And, it could end up changing after the divorce is over. I get along with my former in-laws great now, and I think of them as family. But, it took a long time to get to that place.
10. Some of your friends will stop calling you or returning your calls the second you are newly separated.
This is so hurtful.It might make you feel angry. Try not to be that way. Try not to take it personally. Your divorce is THEIR issue. Some of your friends will start calling you and want to get together to hear the dirt on why you got separated. After one get together, you will never hear from them again.
The good news is, you will start meeting new friends and they will mean the world to you. You will find out what real friendship is when your true friends–the ones who were in your wedding, are still there for you–before, during and after your divorce.
11. Yoga is your best friend while newly separated.
Start doing yoga. Today. Trust me on this one. It slows you down. It helps you breathe. It is one of the best stress management tools I can think of, and you reap the benefits even hours after the class.
12. You’re going to get calls from your attorney telling you what is happening in your case.
Some calls will cause you to cry so hard you will hyperventilate. Remember that it will all turn out fine if you make good, ethical choices, be the best mom(or dad) you can be, try to be patient, and realize that you don’t have control over what your ex and his/her attorney does. Just make sure you trust your attorney.
13. You’re going to meet a lot of men who will paint a bleak picture of what the dating scene after divorce is like.
Dating apps can be so depressing, meeting Mr. Wrong after Mr. Wrong after Mr. Wrong. It’s frustrating, exhausting and can leave you feeling hopeless. That said, there are so so so many good people out there, too! Lots of them. And so many people are looking for a happy, healthy, monogamous relationship. I promise. Don’t lose hope.
14. One day or night, you will be out and you won’t be expecting anything, and a guy who you never thought would be interested in you will be.
Love hits randomly. You can be on Facebook and meet someone–a friend of a friend, you can be set up, you can be at a party, you can be at Starbucks and start talking to someone, and of course, you can be on a dating app and meet someone.
When I was younger, I used to hate it when people would say, “You’ll meet someone when you least expect it.” But now, I agree! There’s a fine line between trying too hard to meet someone, and sitting on the couch expecting love to come to you. My advice is, stay authentic, stay humble, and believe you are worthy of finding love and being in a healthy romantic relationship. Make a small effort to dating apps, but focus more on spending time with the people you like and love, doing the things you truly enjoy, and pursuing your passions. That’s how love finds you.
15. There will be many nights you will feel exhausted and lonely and like things will never get any better. They will.
I promise you. And, as time goes by, there will be less and less nights like that, and more and more better days, until the hopeless nights become almost never.
16. If someone other than your soon-to-be ex tells you that you should consider getting on anti-depressants temporarily, consider the fact that they might be right.
Many men and women go on medication for the short term during the beginning of a divorce. There’s no shame in it! I didn’t, and I regret it. It would’ve made my life much easier back then. You don’t have to be so tough. If you have a broken arm, would you go to the emergency room and get a cast? Your emotional health is no different.
17. Worrying doesn’t really do anything except cause sickness and disease, and make you feel depressed.
So, when you start to worry about something, start to breathing like you would in yoga class, and just shift your thoughts to something positive.Your kids, people you love, your dog, simple life pleasures. All of these thoughts are better than worrying about something you can’t control.
18. Whenever you feel extreme anger, sadness, depression or anxiety, do one of two things (after the deep breathing and shift of thoughts): go for a run or walk or write in a journal.
Just do it. Don’t even think twice. Those two things are guaranteed temporary remedies. You will feel great after either one. Don’t send the journal entry to anyone, though. Just save it and read it another time. Writing makes a person feel cleansed, like they’ve gotten it all out. It also makes one feel validated, like you just told someone and they acknowledged that you are allowed to feel that way. By the way, if you go on the Divorced Girl Smiling mobile app, there is a page that has questions that will prompt you to journal your thoughts. You can save them on the app and go back and look at them anytime!
Smiling and laughing are so healthy and so good for you physically and emotionally. You’ll thank me. How do you laugh? Look through your old photos, watch a funny show or movie: Seinfeld, Sex & the City, Friends, etc., call your best friend, play with your dog, google “jokes,” whatever it takes!
20. Hating depletes your own energy.
I know you’re angry, and I know you might feel like everything is unfair.You might feel a lot of resentment and animosity towards your ex. It is healthy to express anger. It’s one of the stages of divorce. But try not to be hateful because all that does is exhaust you even more.
In closing, the bottom line is, I know being newly separated is a really hard time but you’re going to do just fine. Try to have patience, and try to enjoy your life even during these tumultuous weeks and months.
I promise things will change, and you will look back and think,”Wow, what a hard time that was, but I got through it and I’m stronger, wiser and happier.”