Divorce is a major traumatic event in a person’s life. To have your world come crashing down on you is hard enough. Rising from the ashes and rebuilding your life all over again can cause major burnout. A fascinating study has proved that breakups create pain and sadness akin to real physical signs of heartache. The odds are so daunting that getting your life after divorce back on track can sometimes seem too overwhelming a task.
Going through a divorce is difficult. Building back your self-esteem, soldering your purse strings for a secure future, learning the ropes of co-parenting after divorce, being emotionally vulnerable again with new people, and rediscovering sex – there is a lot to unlearn and learn here. Surviving it all is not merely a question of strength, courage, and will.
Starting over after a divorce can be an arduous, confusing, painful, and lonely journey. But it doesn’t need to be. Support from your friends and family should help, along with some gentle hand-holding and a bit of professional guidance like this article can provide you with. With insights from counseling psychologist Megha Gurnani, (M.Sc Clinical Psychology, UK), who specializes in helping people deal with relationship issues such as breakups, divorce, parenting conflicts, premarital counseling as well as suicide prevention, let’s discuss the challenges you might be currently facing in rebuilding your life after divorce and how to deal with them.
The Challenges Of A Life After Divorce: Men Vs Women
Most people experience similar emotional turmoil post a breakup, a separation, and a divorce. However, a long-term marital relationship with joint finances, common property, and shared responsibility of kids or other dependents may bring in some new set of challenges to deal with.
Similarly, both genders experience heartache, social rejection, fear, and unpredictability. However, life after divorce for a woman and the problems faced by a broken man after divorce may sometimes be unique to each of them.
Many studies have analyzed these gender-based experiences of divorce. Understanding these vital differences may help you to identify the sore spots in your healing journey and pay special attention to them. It may also help you develop sympathy for your ex, who went through the same divorce, allowing you to shed some of that resentment and anger you may have been holding on to. This will ultimately benefit your attempts at starting over after divorce. Here are the major differences:
|Life after divorce for women||Life after divorce for men|
|The burden of single parenting mostly falls on women, leading to adverse effects in other aspects of their lives||Men often feel isolated from their children and their sense of home, leading to a loss of identity and self-estrangement|
|Financial Stress||There is a disproportionate decline in standard of living of women post-divorce and an increased risk of poverty||Divorced men almost always see a major chunk of their finances allocated to their ex-partners and children building up emotional resentment and a sense of unfairness|
|Emotional Stress||Women often take up major parenting responsibilities, which leaves them with less time for themselves. They also face more social scrutiny post-divorce||Men often are burdened with a (stereotyped) assumption of blame in case of a divorce.|
They often have poor social skills and smaller support networks to rely on for emotional support
|Physical Health challenges||Women have a chance of suffering from poor physical health because of being overburdened with added responsibilities such as single-parenting, compensating for the loss of double income, and neglecting their own needs||Men often suffer from poor health post-divorce because of a lack of motivation, feeling isolated, and a proclivity for risky behavior and unhealthy ways of coping|
|Re-partnering challenges||Women find themselves with less time and energy to date as single moms. Children pose a major challenge in dating and re-partnering||Men often “push through” in a forced way, not allowing themselves to deal with emotions from the divorce, often jeopardizing new relationships|
Related Reading: Divorce at 50: How I Found a New Life and Happiness
Rebuilding Yourself After Divorce
A divorce is going to affect every single other aspect of your life. Megha says, “A divorce is a major blow to your identity. A big chunk of your life doesn’t exist anymore. It’s normal to feel absolutely lost.” Fixing your ability to deal with the new stress by strengthening your emotional response system should be the first thing on your agenda. This is why the journey to fixing your life after divorce must begin with healing the emotional trauma you have suffered:
1. Give yourself permission to grieve
Grief is a normal emotion and it doesn’t come in a box with an expiration date. Neither should you force a timeline on your grieving process. Divorce grief is complex. The person is still alive but you can’t have them in your life. If you were the one who initiated the divorce, you can have mixed emotions. You might expect to feel happy and relieved. But your mind may respond in unpredictable ways.
Whatever it is that you are feeling, know that what you feel is normal. Give yourself permission to perform other tasks sub-optimally for some time. Before even thinking about moving forward, allow yourself time to grieve as much as you need to make peace with the end of this relationship.
2. Introspect, preferably with a counselor
This part is so essential to your recovery that your mind will organically try to move to this step on its own. If you find yourself thinking too much about the divorce, replaying incidents, blaming yourself, blaming your partner, know that your mind is trying to make sense of the trauma it feels. Your job is to give this task a constructive and healthy shape.
Megha strongly recommends therapy. “Benefits of therapy include learning about yourself. Your behavior pattern, your thought process, and your worldview. Perhaps, there were things you could have done differently to minimize the negative impact if not save the marriage.” While these insights cannot undo what you’ve gone through, they can help you steer clear of unhealthy patterns in future relationships.
3. Find a balance – Grabbing on vs losing control
Megha says, “To move forward after divorce, be aware of what you are feeling. Once you are able to tap into your emotions, you can find out if you are overwhelmed or triggered by something. You can allow yourself time to calm down. At the same time, don’t let your divorce be an excuse to completely lose control of your life.
You may often feel so strung up trying to analyze everything and extract meaning out of every little thing that you lose perspective of what is essential and what is an overreaction. Avoid that urge.
4. Rekindle other relationships
“It is exactly in the moments you feel lost that you need to reconnect more with your support network. Through work, friends, children, and family, you will be able to retain a sense of identity,” says Megha. Share how you feel with your friends and family. Actively seek them out.
Join a support group where you can discuss your emotions with other people in the same boat as you. Its benefits are aplenty. Opening up in front of complete strangers may feel easy. The empathy you feel can work wonders. And, you will always find someone in a more difficult situation than you. This perspective may be crucial in your healing journey.
You can consider finding a local support group in your area or explore these online options:
- CirclesUp – A therapist-led group
- Woman’s Divorce – For divorced/soon-to-be divorced women
- Men’s Divorce – For moving on after divorce as a man
- Mid-Life Recovery – For middle-aged divorcees
- SupportGroups – For divorced parents
5. Reconnect with yourself
The longer you were married, the more closely intertwined your lives may have become. Couples, as they grow old together, come to recognize themselves more in the sense of “us” or “we” than their individual selves, or “I”. A split may cause a shocking disassociation from that identity.
Megha says, “You need something that reinforces the idea that you exist, that you are valued as an individual. Those feelings are diminished so much during a divorce that it’s really hard to just say, “I love myself“. You need to work at it.”
Your job now is to find yourself again. Who am I? What do I like? How do I like to spend my time? What would I want my future to look like? Ask yourself these questions. Revisit old hobbies and find new ones. Find meaning in your work. Protect your space. Take risks, go on adventures. Find out who you are when left alone to decide for yourself.
Tips on Co-parenting After Divorce
“It’s not just you and your partner who went through the divorce but also your kids,” says Megha. Plenty of studies have shown the effects on the long-term mental health of the children of divorce. Megha adds, “The way you handle the entire situation, as well as yourself, will affect how your kids see you and your ex and relationships in general.”
Moreover, as parents, we tend to put a lot of value on this role we play in our lives. The satisfaction of doing good by your children, or the guilt of the opposite, significantly affects our self-image and ability to lead a satisfying life after divorce. As mature parents, you would want to handle co-parenting after divorce effectively. Here are some tips for co-parenting after divorce:
1. Do not bad mouth your ex to your child
“You may have issues with your partner. As an adult, you can have your opinion about your partner. But it is not fair to your kid when you pass your opinions to them and make them dislike their other parent,” says Megha. This behavior creates guilt, sadness, and insecurity in your child and is on top of the list of toxic co-parenting behavior to avoid. Here are some ways to avoid this tendency when going through divorce with children:
- Don’t ask your children to pick sides
- Don’t break down in front of your children
- Don’t keep them away from their other parents for selfish motive
- Don’t use your children to communicate with your ex
- Don’t ask your kids to spy on their parent for you
Disclaimer: These suggestions may change in the case of divorce due to child abuse. It is best to seek professional help from a child psychologist or a family therapist to have these difficult conversations with your child.
Related Reading: Should You Stay In An Unhappy Marriage With Kids?
2. Focus on what’s best for your kid
“You do not have to be husband and wife to raise children. You can be parents,” says Megha. As responsible mature adults, you should be able to co-parent peacefully in a cooperative manner with your child’s welfare in focus. For example, at times you might feel that a decision related to your child benefits your ex-wife or ex-husband but feels unfair to you. But you must not forget that it is ultimately about your child and not you.
Your discussions should revolve around what’s best for your children. You can have differences of opinion on many decisions, such as which school your child will go to, when they should own a communication device, etc. But these should not lead to you talking about your issues with your partner or engaging in personal attacks.
3. Have a clear co-parenting plan
A clear parenting plan is the no.1 requirement after a divorce with children. Children benefit immensely from routine and predictability, giving them a sense of security. In the case of divorce or separation communication becomes much more difficult. Besides, children’s lives get spread over households, which is why a clear co-parenting plan is a must to give them consistency. When divorcing with kids, both former spouses should come up with co-parenting rules based on the following discussions:
- Visitation timings and routine
- Rules about things like permissible screen time, curfew timings, homework schedule, etc
- A clear “rise and shine” time and a bedtime
- Food habits, dietary routine
This does not mean that you can not have individual rituals with your children, a playful secret that they share with you. But you are the best judge if the activity is constructive and harmless, or if it is messing with their core routine. Do not try to compete with your partner for the “fun” parent trophy. Don’t forget, children grow up, and they will be able to look back and judge your behavior as immature or irresponsible.
Securing Your Finances After Divorce
The financial realities of divorce are tough! Not only is divorce expensive, but there are also several challenges in recuperating financially post-divorce. It is seen that divorce almost always results in a drop in the standard of living of both partners. Here are some tips to prepare yourself better for the financial effects of a divorce:
Related Reading: Everything You Need To Know About Transactional Relationships
1. Get your finances evaluated
The first step to financial planning for divorce is to get a fresh and accurate review of your finances. Seeing your financial means halved or reduced even beyond that can come as a jolt. Mentally prepare yourself for it. A thorough evaluation of your assets and liabilities post-divorce can tell you how to allocate your funds efficiently.
Do you have a prenuptial agreement? What do your retirement savings look like? What about life insurance? Do you need to update your health insurance policies? Social security benefits? If you are retaining the house you lived in as a couple, be sure to accurately gauge its maintenance costs. If it is high, where should you cut expenses from? These are just a few of the pertinent questions to consider to deal with the financial hurdles as efficiently as possible.
2. Create a new monthly budget
A new household needs a new budget. If your household income has decreased and expenditures have disproportionately increased, you might have to cut back on older expenses to avoid financial stress now or in any future relationships. Your financial review will allow you to create a new monthly budget according to your priorities. At the same time, do not forget to update your bank accounts to ensure continued access to your funds.
3. Set new financial goals
Your changed primary identity and a changed financial situation mean you need a new set of financial goals. Ask yourself:
- Where do I see myself in five years, ten years, twenty years?
- Where do I see myself post retirement?
- When will I like to retire?
- Where do I see myself living?
With the help of a financial counselor, you can come up with a list of the things you need to set aside money for. Here are a few examples of the financial goals you may consider saving up for or investing toward:
- Emergency fund: Now that you are single and especially if you have an inconsistent income, you must have an emergency fund
- Retirement savings: You need to review and update old retirement fund holdings and see if you need new ones
- Homeownership fund: Do you have a home? Would you like to own one? How should you go about saving up for it?
- Child-college fund: How much have you and your ex saved up for your child already? Do you have your ex’s assured contribution? How much will you have to chip in?
How To Nail Dating After Divorce
Opening up your heart to the possibility of finding love again and making space for it in your life are essential parts of moving on after divorce. However, dating after divorce for a man is often considered a less difficult process than for a woman. Dating after divorce for a woman is affected by factors like children’s needs, society’s (biased) disapproval, financial burden, gender-based ageism, etc.
However, regardless of gender, anyone just out of a long-term relationship may find starting over with a new partner painful. Since we are fed concepts of “soulmate” and “the one” since childhood, not only does it feel like hard work but also wrong. You might think you have already had your chance with your soulmate, and that’s it, your time is up! But this couldn’t be further from the truth. You can find love again, but you must approach this process right. To that end, here are a few tips on dating after divorce to keep in mind.
1. Don’t let your past relationships affect your present
Megha says, “It’s important you don’t let your past interfere with your present. And this sounds simple on the surface but is really hard to put into effect because you have spent so much time with your ex. You must have picked up their mannerism, their expectations, their likes and dislikes, and become accustomed to the tone of your previous relationship. It can be very hard to not let those biases and perceptions affect you when you meet a new person,” she adds.
If you let your past affect your present, you wouldn’t be giving your new relationships a fair chance. This is why before venturing into new territory, it is important to fix your relationship with yourself. Head back to the first part of this article about self-love and personal growth for ways to do it.
Related Reading: Fear Of Relationships After Divorce. Face These 10 Fears First
2. Do not be cynical
You might notice that you have become hyper-aware and jumpy when it comes to taking risks and trying to find love again. Your apprehensions and fears may manifest in thoughts such as:
- “I had a failed relationship and marriage. This is not going to work out”
- “I am difficult to be around. Why would anyone like my company?”
- “I am hard to please”
- “I play hard to get. Who would want to make the effort to win me over”
“Don’t make it hard for people to get through to you,” says Megha. You must resist the urge to make dating after divorce intentionally difficult for you. Notice self-sabotaging behavior and let it go.
3. Don’t be over-eager to jump back on the dating scene
This is the opposite end of the extreme we just discussed. While you must not keep people away, you also need to make sure you are not making any desperate moves. Over-eagerness may look like:
- You are quick to put people on a pedestal
- You think they are the ideal person for you immediately after meeting them
- You ignore red flags in new relationships
- You ignore your intuition
- You have several short-lived rebound relationships after divorce
- You are getting into relationships for fixing loneliness after divorce
Megha says, “The way things might have ended or the way your own personality is, you might be completely put off by relationships altogether or you might be waiting to get into the next one. And both these stances are unhelpful, both in the short term and long term.” It is all right to stay away, take time to heal from within, and let love happen naturally for you.
Related Reading: 15 Best Places To Meet Men (Out Of Dating Apps)
4. Make sex after divorce less awkward by being aware
Sex after divorce can be either the easiest of them all or the most difficult, depending on how you approach it. When you’ve been in a long-term sexual relationship with someone, you become accustomed to the rhythm of your chemistry with them. Being intimate with a new partner means unlearning all of that and opening up your body and mind to new experiences. That takes mindfulness and sensitivity.
Megha points out a few unpleasant situations that may arise in the case of a new relationship. Watch out for them when being intimate with someone:
- Your mind wanders to your ex: This is extremely normal. Don’t read too much into it. Snap out of it, and consciously bring yourself back
- You compare your new partner with your ex-spouse: This too is normal. However, your new partner deserves a fair chance. Look your partner in the eye, talk to them and try being in the present in the moment
- You say your ex’s name out loud: Apologize to your new partner if they recognize it. Tell them it is more out of habit and be more mindful to not do it again
5. Try new things
Maybe you and your partner did things a certain way and the person you’re now dating has a whole different approach. You might be too set in your old ways. But it is time for a change. You must let different people and different experiences in. Megha says, “Don’t go with the assumption that sex is going to be the same with every person. Be open to change.” Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Be open to the sexual expectations of your new partner
- Be open to listening to them or trying out new things if it feels comfortable to you
- If it doesn’t feel comfortable, you can and should say no
- Challenges faced by women and men after divorce can often differ
- Coping with the aftermath of divorce involves a multidimensional approach
- First and foremost, do the inner work to heal and make peace with the divorce. Grieve, take your time, introspect, nurture other relationships and rediscover yourself before fixing anything else in your life
- Divorcing with kids requires a solid co-parenting plan and prioritizing your child when doing so
- Financial planning for divorce involves a thorough evaluation of your assets and liabilities
- When dating after divorce, do not let your past affect your present, be cautious of rebound relationships, and try new things
When rebuilding your life after divorce, you can consider looking for divorce support groups and other similar resources in your neighborhood or online. Additionally, you may feel the need to consult various professionals to deal with different aspects of life after divorce. Should you need that help, Bonobology’s panel of experts is here to help you.
This article was updated in November 2022.
Initially, it might not feel like it at all. But eventually, you will get there.
There certainly is. In fact, there is something very beautiful and compelling about being single at 40!
Between the couple, the one who forgives first is probably happier. The one who keeps revisiting old memories and thinks of what could have been, is probably not.