Endings are inevitably difficult. While each divorce is unique, there are many things to keep in mind as you begin your next chapter. Whether you initiated your divorce, your partner initiated your divorce, or you and your partner amicably decided it was time to separate, there are a few things to consider as you navigate the road ahead.
The 1-Year Rule
The end of a relationship brings many immediate changes. You may have the urge to make big decisions during this turbulent time. Some of these decisions will be unavoidable, such as housing, childcare, finances, etc. With all of these changes, it is important to find stability in familiar places if that is safe and possible. With your personal situation in mind, try to avoid making any unnecessary life altering decisions until a year after you and your spouse decide to proceed with a divorce. This is a common rule of thumb people leverage when they are going through periods of transition. Keep this rule in mind when making decisions following a divorce.
This can be a tall order, after all, your entire life is already changing! Nonetheless, evaluate your situation before making rash decisions. With so many things up in the air, a sense of normalcy can help stabilize a turbulent situation. Each divorce is unique, so if you must make additional changes, it is helpful to have a team of people to help you through your next steps.
Build Your Team
It truly does take a village! Throughout and after a divorce, the people you call on for help become vital. You will benefit from new and familiar faces during this time. Consider seeking guidance from the following:
- Personal “Board of Directors”: just as a company has a board, individuals can also benefit from trusted personal advisors. While this is by no means a formal process, think of a few close friends you can rely on for sage advice. When selecting these people, be cognizant of their relationship with your ex-spouse. You should rely on people that you explicitly trust.
- Therapist or Coach: A trusted professional can assist you in navigating your thoughts and feelings. Find the right fit as this professional can be instrumental as you navigate life after divorce. It is normal to try a few to find the right fit for your situation.
- Licensed Family Therapist: Just as you are navigating your thoughts and feelings, if you have children, they may also have a lot to work through. Children benefit from structure and routine. A family therapist can help your children develop tools to manage stress and emotions as they begin their new lives.
- Financial Advisor: A divorce can create significant changes in your personal assets. A licensed financial advisor can assist you in creating a financial plan that helps add clarity to your financial picture.
Your Mental Health
Throughout your divorce proceedings, you will find yourself reflecting on details of your relationship. It is normal for this process to evoke emotional negative thoughts. Many people find themselves thinking that their relationship was a failure. These thoughts and feelings may become invasive or unmanageable.
The good news is that you don’t have to go through this alone; you’ve built your team after all. Many people that go through a divorce find therapy to be a helpful resource. Whether you are new to therapy, or been in therapy for years, trained professionals can help you walk through your relationship and provide helpful tools to manage your thoughts and feelings. While some prefer one on one therapy sessions, others find support groups to be helpful. Don’t be afraid to try multiple resources or providers when finding what works best for you.
If you have children with your ex-spouse, there are additional considerations. Remember, their lives will be impacted significantly as well. Divorce is stressful for both parents and that stress will find its way to your children. Be cognizant of this impact when fostering your relationship with your children.
- Family Therapists: Your children will have feelings regarding your divorce. Just as you may find it beneficial to have professional help from a licensed therapist, your children may find the same help valuable. Be patient with your children and their emotions during this time. Help them find the right fit and create a safe environment for them to express their feelings. A licensed therapist will be able to assist them in their journey to adapting.
- Your Ex-Spouse: It might be tough to hear, but when children are involved, your ability to have a productive relationship with your ex-spouse is paramount in caring for your children. Children are highly impressionable. Avoid disparaging remarks about your ex-spouse; that person is still the parent of your children after all. Any negative feelings you harbor may not be shared and can push your children away from you. Your children will remember what you say and how you made them feel during this process.
- Co-Parenting: Depending on the structure of your divorce, you may be required to split time with your children with your ex-spouse. Having joint custody means working together to continue to raise your children. Find common ground to ensure your children have a supportive home life. If disagreements arise regarding the care of your children, handle those conversations without the children. This will help build stability in their lives.
Framing Your Divorce
After the dust has settled, try framing your prior relationship in a positive light. When a relationship ends, many people will label that chapter as a “failure”. However, just because something ends, does not mean it fundamentally brought no value to your life. You and your partner may have children, spent many wonderful years together, or you may have simply learned more about what you need from a relationship. When you’ve had time to decompress, revisit this topic and try to pull positives from the relationship. It is okay to have invasive thoughts, but framing your prior relationship in the proper tone can start you off on the right foot for a new beginning.
Learning to be Single
When preparing for a marriage, there are many rituals people complete to start their next chapter. Sadly, many of those practices do not exist when exiting a relationship. Nonetheless, the steps following a divorce are crucial in helping you heal. Take time after your divorce to date yourself. Try spending time alone doing the things you enjoy. Whether that’s trying new restaurants, exploring local museums, or picking up an old hobby, learning to be comfortable alone is a key step in healing. It allows you to rebuild self esteem and confidence. It also allows you to explore who you are as a person without a partner. These steps can help you understand what you need for your next chapter.
Who gets the friends in a divorce? This is a question that plagues many divorced couples. It is common for couples to keep the friends they had before the marriage as those are the people who knew you before your life as a couple and likely have a stronger connection to one of the spouses. Think of your “personal board” – that should be a group of people that you trust to have your best interest at heart. This does not mean they need to “cut off” your ex, but that may be expected depending on the situation. This can be tricky as your friends may have come to know and love your ex. Only you can assess what you find acceptable in these situations.
On the other hand, as a couple, many friends are shared. Use your best judgement when engaging shared friends. If you are interacting with a shared friend, avoid negative comments about your ex-spouse. You do not want to sour a relationship with a friend or make them uncomfortable if they still intend to have a relationship with your ex.
While it is expected to have harsh feelings, keep in mind how you interact with friends following your divorce. Good friends should be there for you through thick and thin, but try to enjoy your time with friends. Do things together that you enjoyed doing as a couple. It can be tough on your friends if they know you are going through a tough time and they do not know how to help you. Keep in mind, it is common to lose some friends following a divorce.
Your Relationship with Your Ex
After a divorce is finalized, you will have to decide what amount of contact with your ex is appropriate. Consider your safety, children, personal feelings, and details of your divorce when assessing next steps. Some couples are able to have productive relationships following a divorce, but that is not always the case. Remember that relationships are a two-way street. You may find that your ex wants more or less contact than you prefer and that should be factored into how you engage your ex following a divorce.
Your relationship with your ex post-divorce may influence additional changes. Before attending an event where you suspect your ex may be in attendance, think about how you would feel if you saw them. If you do not feel comfortable seeing them in a public setting with shared friends, reconsider attending those events. This can be tough, but it beats apologizing afterwards for disruptive behavior.
Your Financial Health
One of the steps in many divorces is a divorce financial statement or financial affidavit. This is a road map to split assets as part of the proceedings. Divorce can substantially change your financial picture. The house, retirement accounts, bank accounts, and personal property can find their way onto this document and outside of your control. New expenses may become part of your budget including alimony and child support.
Following your divorce, engage a licensed financial advisor to help sort through your financial picture. A divorce can shift your financial plans and it is best to approach this head on once your divorce is finalized. You may need to consider getting a job, securing health insurance, purchasing a home, or calculating what you will need to save to stay on track for retirement. Financial planners can walk you through this process while giving you advice on how to manage your finances.
Depending on how long you were married, dating may have considerably changed since you were last on the market. However, you’ve also changed in this time. What fit when you got married may no longer be what you need to be fulfilled. First and foremost, it is okay to be single. It is also okay to get back out there. A big part of divorce is understanding what you want for the rest of your life. In many ways, a divorce can be a new beginning, the opportunity to start fresh. You may find you are happy living a single life, or you may have redefined what makes a great relationship. There is no rush to move quickly; take your time and discover what works best for you.
While divorce is stressful, taking these steps will help you as you proceed with your next chapter. It’s your time to reimagine what you want for yourself and your children. Use the opportunity to build a strong foundation for your life after divorce.