|6 Tips to Survive the Split
Dealing Delicately with Divorce
By Stephanie O'Neill,
Special to LifeScript
Are you divorced or considering a divorce? Even if it’s the right decision, dissolving a marriage is one of the most
traumatic experiences that life serves up. But you can ease your journey by anticipating – and coping with – these
six issues you are likely to face…
Everything in your life is about to change, including your relationship with your children, other family members
and even friends. You will change, too, as you mourn the loss of your relationship and the hopes you had for your
marriage. However, this transformation is an essential step before you can rebuild a better life, says Dr.
Nicholas V. Tornatore, Ph.D., a mental health counselor with a private practice in Brooklyn, New York. “Divorce is
an unpleasant solution to an unpleasant problem that has to be faced realistically and with the truth.”
Weathering the surprises can be tough, too, like the silence you may face about your divorce. People don’t show
up at the door with casseroles as they would if your spouse had died. And yet, emotionally, a divorce can feel like
a kind of death.
“People are shocked at the impact (divorce) has on every single area of their life,” says Deb Barela, director of
Single Adult Ministries at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she offers secular
divorce recovery workshops. And that’s true even when it’s you who initiates the split. (See related article: Should
You Divorce Him?)
The emotional journey, the surprises and the changes can all offer insight and wisdom, especially if you work
through the divorce with awareness and calm. Yet no matter how Zen-like you may be about the split, there are a
few land mines to watch out for. Here are six of the most common, and how to deal with them.
1. Apply the brakes
With one life-altering change may come the desire for a completely fresh start: a different job, a change of
address or even a new city. Curb that impulse for now. Although doing all three may ultimately be right for your
new life, now is not the time to make such drastic changes. It takes at least a year for the high emotions caused
by divorce to settle, Tornatore says. “If you have stress and a sense of alarm, your decisions are affected.” And a
year from now, you may regret such hasty choices.
2. Beware of new love
“If you start to date – even if you realize you just want to be emotionally rescued – then it’s healthy,” Tornatore
says. “It’s when you blindly romanticize about being rescued that you’re in danger.” If you don’t trust yourself to be
realistic about a new relationship, hold off on dating until your emotions and thoughts are clearer.
Barela, who counsels several hundred newly divorced persons annually, agrees. “To attract healthy, you have to
be healthy. What happens to so many people is they’re not willing to give themselves time to become healthy.”
The result? You’ll be far more likely to rush into another bad match and repeat the same mistakes.
3. Acknowledge tough emotions
After divorce, an emotional vacuum remains that often gets filled by loneliness, sadness and their unwelcome
cousin: desperation. “Such emotions are going to occur,” Tornatore says. “Don’t deny them.” Instead, try to
acknowledge and accept what you feel. Reading articles or books that help you reflect on your feelings and your
spirituality can be soothing. And try not to let those feelings isolate you: Reaching out to friends and family can
For some, divorce may actually ease the loneliness they felt within a marriage to an unavailable partner. “I don’t
think there is a lonelier place in the world than to be married and lonely,” says Barela, who teaches her
workshop participants that being single doesn’t necessarily condemn them to loneliness.
She advises joining singles groups (where you can meet both men and women) and inviting acquaintances to
movies, to dinner or just to hang out – even if this means stepping out of your comfort zone. (See related article:
Suddenly Single & Strapped for Cash?)
4. Consider the kids
If children are involved, expect the emotional repercussions to magnify. Kids want stability and a divorce is its
antithesis. What to do? Minimize their stress by refusing to bad-mouth your ex, no matter how much anger or hurt
exists between you. Don’t draw children into your marital strife and personal problems. Instead, turn to adult
friends, family, a therapist, or a minister. Allow your children to remain children.
“I tell parents, ‘I don’t care if you [and your ex-spouse] dislike each other for years. You’re adults. Rise above it
and mutually parent for the sake of the children,’” Tornatore says. Those who do may be rewarded by seeing
their children grow stronger in the process.
Instead of worrying about the damage that divorce may do to your children, remind yourself what your unhealthy
relationship with your spouse may have been teaching them. “Children are great mimickers,” Tornatore says. “If
a couple is not showing love, affection and appreciation of one another, children see active misery as a way to
live in a relationship.”
Children who see their parents make healthier life choices often feel more confidence and security, Tornatore
adds. “They come to trust their parents much more when they have [made] a decision to make their lives better.”
5. Find a divorce recovery group
Run, don’t walk to the nearest divorce recovery workshop, Barela advises. Gathering with other newly divorced
people helps quell the shame some feel from such a public failure. According to Barela, participants in her
workshops are universally surprised by how many other people attend. “They think they’re the only ones going
through a divorce so coming here provides an immediate sense of comfort,” Barela says.
To find a recovery group near you, check with local churches and social service agencies. The courthouse or
chamber of commerce may have a list of support groups. You can also try the phone book and the Internet.
DivorceCare.com, for instance, offers a group finder for people in the United States and Canada. It also offers
information about starting your own group.
6. Learn to forgive
If you have children, practice forgiveness: It will make their path through your divorce much easier. If you don’t
have children, do it for yourself. Forgiving your ex for transgressions is key to rebuilding a healthy emotional life.
Of course, forgiveness is one of the toughest tasks you’ll face, especially if either you or your ex is bent on
revenge. In her workshops, Barela depicts the impact of carrying spousal anger by strapping a dummy on her
back. Without forgiveness, she says, you become a prisoner to your ex-spouse. The anger keeps him with you
day and night, even controlling your decisions.
To break that imprisonment she advises writing a “forgiveness letter” to your ex. The good news is you don’t
even have to send the darn thing. You just need to write it. “You’ll feel so much better,” she says of completing
the exercise. “If you carry hurt with you for life, you hurt yourself, you hurt your children, and you never get to live the
life you were meant to live.”
Want to forgive, but don’t want to do it for your ex? Then do it for yourself. After all, the best revenge is living well.