Whether you have a high-conflict divorce or are just struggling to find your identity and purpose now that you’re single, you don’t have to let your circumstances define you. Here are some tips for turning the pain of divorce into positive transformation:
Be selective about responding to emails and texts. Chaotic high conflict exes tend to use electronic communication as a weapon. Everything is urgent and dramatic. Unless there is a true emergency – your child wiped out on his skateboard and broke his arm – you do not have to reply immediately, or at all, to every call, email, or text. This is especially important if you tend to match your ex’s intensity with your own.
Set boundaries. If you had trouble setting boundaries in your marriage, you will have to double your efforts now that you’re divorced. Don’t let yourself be bullied or manipulated into letting your ex control your life and your choices. If your former spouse thinks he or she is too special to follow court orders, contact your attorney. Your ex will continue to steamroll you until you refuse to be steamrolled.
Set up “no-divorce zones.” Set limits around the time you spend dealing with divorce-related items or communicating with your co-parent: for instance, nothing after 9 pm, or all day Sunday. When you’re in your no-divorce zone, focus entirely on something else! Our thoughts determine our moods, so if you think about your divorce 24/7, you’re likely to feel anxious, depressed, and sleepless.
Deal with your own psychological issues. Your divorce is no doubt amping up your lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety, but these conditions existed before your divorce (and probably before your marriage). Don’t wait for your divorce to “get better” before you feel good. It’s your responsibility to manage your mental health symptoms: go to therapy, see a psychiatrist, attend a 12-step group, etc.
Go to a divorce therapist. Your friends and family are there for support, but they don’t always have the best advice. And if you treat them as a crisis hotline, they may start avoiding your calls. A divorce therapist can help you move through the stages of divorce, as well as offer you strategies to make your divorce more manageable.
Be social. Some people feel so ashamed and or/overwhelmed by their divorce, or embarrassed about being single, that they pull away from family and friends. Don’t do this! Now more than ever, you need to feel connected to others. Hang out with people who make you feel good and allow yourself to enjoy life.
Take stock of other areas of your life that need attention. Divorce can be a catalyst for positive change in other areas of your life. Get honest about your relationships to money, sex, food, and work. Are you compulsive? Do you use people, substances, and things to numb yourself – or to feel? The grass will not be greener on the other side of divorce if you don’t fix the things about yourself that need fixing. Once you identify your unhealthy behaviors, work on changing them: see a coach, attend 12-step groups, get out of toxic romantic relationships, and use positive coping skills.
Write a mission statement. Divorce is a great time to write your personal mission statement. Clarify your values and how you’re going to align your choices with them. Write down personal and professional goals, and what actions steps you will take to meet them. Once you get clear about who you are and what matters to you, go out and live a life of purpose and integrity.
Develop coping skills. If you find yourself having dramatic reactions to your ex – and then feeling about yourself — you need to develop and strengthen coping skills. Make a list of positive things you can do when you’re triggered. Identify what works for you: exercise, long walks, 12-step meetings, reading inspirational books, journaling, meditating, and any other healthy activity you can think of. If you’re disciplined about using your coping skills, you will feel more empowered and in control of your actions.
Be ambitious. You don’t want to look back at the end of you life wishing you had written that memoir or started your dream business. Don’t sabotage yourself by being married to your divorce. Harness the energy you spend obsessing about things you can’t control and use that to pursue your passions.
The difference between people who never get over divorce and those who do is not the nature of the divorce itself. It’s the ability to approach this painful event as an opportunity for growth — not continued despair. With chaos comes opportunity, so commit to personal house-cleaning and live an abundant life.
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