From the minute a spouse says, “I want a divorce,” (or they say it to their spouse), life completely changes, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s really really hard. Speaking from my experience, the first year is the hardest, and then things start to get better. But I want to say this: even though it’s hard, that doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t have enjoyment in your life. In other words, it’s not all bad. There are still happy, empowering moments and lots of wonderful lessons learned. But I want to offer divorce advice for the first year that I think might help.
Here is my divorce advice; a snapshot, or a divorce timeline with certain things that I think tend to happen starting from day one of the separation through 12 months (or four seasons.)
1. The minute your ex says, “I want a divorce,” or you say it, it’s almost surreal.
Sure, it’s been building for months, years, perhaps. You knew it was coming, but it still feels utterly shocking. Or, maybe you had no clue it was coming. (Yet, as time goes by you begin to realize that you purposely missed all the signs because you didn’t want to see them.) The first few weeks of going through a divorce, you run on autopilot. It’s almost like you are sleep walking through life. You seriously cannot believe this is happening.
My divorce advice:
Take things day by day. Just get through the days trying to get everything done, while allowing yourself to absorb what is happening. Be sensitive to your children. Remember, they probably don’t know yet, so try to act normal and try not to cry in front of them. Crying to others or by yourself, however, is in my opinion, a good thing. Grieving is healthy and normal. Lastly, try to enjoy moments. In other words, don’t write you life off. You still deserve to have enjoyment every day, even from little things.
2. Over the next month or so, reality starts to kick in.
There’s a pretty good chance, one or both of you will retain Lawyers, and you and your ex come to an agreement on temporary child support and other financial matters. You tell your kids (which I think if you ask most people if they were given a choice between telling the kids their parents are divorcing or being stabbed, they’d take the stabbing.)
My advice: tell the kids together. It’s the first step in showing them that you are still parents who are on the same page when it comes to them. Give them lots of hugs and kisses and talk to them A LOT. I would suggest getting a therapist at this point, if you don’t already have one because at this point, a lot of pent up resentment is coming out and there can be a lot of anger, and you really don’t want to express it in front of the kids. Therapy is a necessary outlet.
3. You or your ex moves out.
Now reality is really, really kicking in. This is real! If you are a man who moves out, I don’t know how you feel, but I can tell you I imagine it being gut wrenchingly sad and awful. If you are a woman, you come home one day and all his “stuff” is gone and it is so sad, it’s nauseating. My advice: Focus on your kids. They are probably really feeling it now. It’s okay to be sad together. There’s a fine line–you don’t want to bawl your eyes out and make your kids feel like you’re not OK, but you don’t want your kids to feel like you aren’t sad about the divorce, either. So, somewhere in the middle is good.
4. You spend time without your kids.
Another huge blow. You wake up and the house is quiet and you are alone.It’s the worst feeling in the world. If it’s a holiday, that makes it doubly worse. You start drinking wine by yourself (I did this and I would drunk dial my girlfriends and cry.) My advice: minimize drinking, use your support group (your friends) but for coffee or while working out. This is a great time to start networking for jobs, or focus on your current job.
5. You dip your toe in the dating water.
Yikes. This takes you to a new level of depression. There are no good guys (or girls) out there! Some of my dates were actually so ridiculous that they ended up as characters in my novel, “Free Gift With Purchase.” Or, you start dating a bunch of people and you love it for awhile.
My advice: Just enjoy the company of new people. Take them for who they are. You can meet someone who you’d never want to kiss in a million years and she could end up being a close friend. You could meet someone who ends up helping you in your career. And if you are having fun with dating, great! You deserve to be happy. Just go with it.
6. You find out your ex is involved with someone.
I don’t care whose decision it is to get divorced, when you find out your ex is dating someone it’s like a punch in the stomach. My advice: I wish I had better advice, but you have to just deal with it. Let time go by and see what happens, and focus on your own love life and other great things going on in your life. And don’t think he or she found their sole mate on the first try! Things are not always as they appear.
7. You delve into the legal part of your divorce.
Court orders, lawyer fees, possibly mediation. Thinking of all that still makes me nauseous even after all these years. My divorce advice: Be patient and make sure you trust your attorney. It’s a gut feeling. You know. If you are having a bad feeling, you can switch. It’s not as difficult as you think.
8. A year to the day he told you he wanted a divorce-or you told him.
You sit and reflect. You think about all the crying you did, all the times you consoled your kids or dealt with their behavior-acting out because of the change, you think about all the fighting and bickering you and your ex did, how much you felt his or her hatred, how many times you thought you might want him or her back, how many times you swore you hated his guts, and two days later, you remembered how much you used to love him.
You think about all the dating, partying, crazy things you might have done. But here is what (hopefully) you are thinking:
I’m in such a better place than I was at this time last year.
I have a job (or my job is going well), my kids are in a better place, not having to deal with the fighting and/or lack of love that was in their home, I’m dating someone I like (or I just don’t care about that right now), and my ex and I are civil and in a good place with each other.
I will always remember that first year as the most difficult year of my life. But it could be the year I learned more about myself than any other.
I think when you go through a divorce, it’s empowering to realize how strong you can be when you need to. How you can think you are falling apart and then realize you are way too tough for that. There’s a feeling of self-confidence and grace that is beyond rewarding, and it comes from rising out of a brutally difficult situation, handling it with courage, accepting what you can’t control, and having the guts to go out and grab the life you want.