Rebuilding Your Life After Divorce

Faith Miller Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, authors the latest article for her blog. Read the full article below.

Divorce is an enormous transition in anyone’s life. At some point, you may experience feelings of sadness and loneliness, but you may also feel relieved. According to psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., Psychology Today blogger and author of Kid Confidence, here are some ways to minimize those negative feelings and boost the positive ones as you build your new life.

Build on the positive feelings buried in the mix of raw emotions. When you have positive emotions, take hold of them and cultivate them. Positive psychology research reflects a “broaden-and-build” phenomenon: your positive emotions both demonstrate and encourage you to flourish. This “flourishing” starts in that present, pleasant moment and keeps expanding to create more emotional and psychological resources in the future.

Build your social network. With any major transition, it’s important to react by building your social network, says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. This promotes healthy coping and bolsters happiness and well being for the next phase of your life.

For divorce in particular, it’s important to begin building your social network right away, to avoid slipping into loneliness. Where to turn first? Make a point of finding other single parents, says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. Remember: “We tend to be closest to friends who are like we are in terms of concerns and lifestyle,” she says. Just as you gravitated toward other new parents when you had a baby, you may likewise feel drawn to other single parents, or singles without children. Follow that instinct. Even if you’re reluctant to reach out, you will be grateful that you did. “Finding other single parents who have walked the path before you, or who can walk beside you, will help guide your transition with confidence and joy,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore.

Hire babysitters, if necessary, to forge and maintain important connections. In the age of coronavirus, you may need to find an online group to start. Parents Without Partners is one example. “Just finding someone to text or email can really add a sparkle to your day—I’ve seen it happen,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. The nice thing is, you don’t feel pressure with an online group because people don’t know your regular life, and you don’t necessarily have to depend on each other for anything, points out Dr. Kennedy-Moore. Because you’re going through the same journey, you can share tips and feelings.

Being proactive about your social life in this way will help to protect against awkward feelings arising from “third wheel” scenarios. Your efforts to establish new friendships with other single parents can also take the sting out of situations where old friends of divorced couples might pick one or the other spouse.

A bonus: A robust social life helps us to avoid leaning on our children emotionally. “It’s easy to turn to our kids whom we love and have relationships with. But they should not be our main source of emotional support. We want our kids to be able to take us for granted,” points out Dr. Kennedy-Moore.

Build your child’s social life: This will help your child to cope with the divorce, which will have positive ripple effects on your new home life together. Keeping your child’s life as normal as possible with this emphasis on friendship is crucial post-divorce. If you’re moving, make an effort to create friendships; signing them up for their favorite activities is an easy way to do this. FaceTime and Skype can help during the time of COVID-19. As soon as it’s safe from a pandemic standpoint, it’s a good idea to have another family over to your home, maybe for a family game night. Putting consistent effort into building a social life with other families emphasizes both the importance of friendship and the normalcy of your life. That, in turn, will help your child to realize that your divorce is not the most interesting or significant thing about him or her. Doing interesting and meaningful things are, and valuing friendship is part of that.

Build your new self-definition by joining groups. What do you want your life to look like now? If questions of new identity seem overwhelming to you at first, joining a group can be a small step forward and allow you to reap great benefits later. Although it’s more difficult now with COVID-19, you can still start by joining an online group that meets your interests: yoga, book group, art class, or a community advocacy group are just a few examples. Fill your life with meaningful and satisfying activities. Volunteering is a great way to accomplish those two goals at once. In fact, a new Harvard study showed that volunteering for two hours per week led to a greater sense of well-being, fewer health problems, and an increase in exercise among people over age 50. 

Build a new vibe in your home. Creating a new home space is part of establishing a new self-definition. It’s also a big part of caring for yourself, and a beautiful way to do so. Some newly divorced people struggle with low self-esteem, which is reflected in their living space. To curb that tendency, put a positive stamp on your home by painting a wall a bright color or moving the furniture around. Whether you hold onto your old home or buy (or rent) a new home, it’s important to create your own sanctuary that brings you joy. If you struggle with clutter, hire a decluttering expert or a junk removal company who can make it all vanish, painlessly.

Build a value-based budget. Divorce often means a financial hit—you may not have as much disposable income as you did before. But that doesn’t have to affect you emotionally. “As much as possible, think of money in terms of arithmetic and values,” she says. This will help you to put money toward things that matter most, and you’ll avoid those twinges of feeling deprived.

Being thoughtful about your spending choices also helps you to distinguish between wants and needs. Cut back where you can and take a moment to consider: How much does this add to my life or can I live without it? If you decide it’s important, then find a way to afford some version of it