|Whether by death or divorce, to
suddenly find yourself alone can
Interesting, June 3, 2007
By K. Weichmann (Austin,
Single women should read
this book. It was very easy to
read and hard to put down. I
felt like at times it was my life
being told in this novel. Very
funny at times.
by Kay Moffett and Sarah Touborg
Wherever your love went and however the split finally happened, you're here now, in this strange new land of
Sudden Singleness (otherwise known as separation). We say "sudden" because, for one thing, the separation
may have come as a surprise if it was rather abruptly initiated by your husband. But, even if you expected the
separation and had thought about it, dreamt about it, had nightmares about it, and played it out in your wildest
imagination, there is still a time when life starts over again in a qualitatively different way, and it can be something
of a shock.
No matter if it was your choice or your husband's or a mutual decision, you are most likely not quite ready to be
out in the world on your own. Extricating yourself (or being ousted) from a bad situation is one thing; recovering
from the divorce and re-building your life is another. In Delia's words, "It was dreadful. I was heartbroken.
It was sort of ironic because I'd been the one who left and made the positive choice for me, but I was still
emotionally floored." The loss through divorce is massive --- it's the death of a relationship, of a future together, of
hopes and dreams, and of a good portion of your idealism about romantic love.
As all the experts will tell you, it's important to realize that a divorce is second only to the death of a loved one in
how profound the grief is and how enormous the stress is. This chapter is all about being kind and patient with
yourself while going through one of the most difficult periods of your life. And, trust us, you will come out the other
side eventually, so know that while the pain might be intense at times, it's only temporary.
The shock of the new
Not long ago, you were safely ensconced in the bosom of coupledom. You belonged to someone, you fit in, you
had the ground and planet beneath your feet. You had someone on your team, someone who was yours alone.
You had a life that more or less made sense to you and your neighbors. You were married.
For years you had imagined the rest of your life with this person. You saw the children in your head and wondered
whose eyes they would get, if they would look more like you or him, what beautiful and gifted creature the
combination of your genes would produce.
You had learned how to manage the in-laws and come to some kind of fragile acceptance of the fact that you
would be spending the rest of your life interacting with this second set of parents.
You were part of a twosome and everyone always used your names in conjunction with another, like Bonnie and
Clyde, Bogey and Bacall, Ernie and Bert. You shared many of the same friends and had each other to mull over
all their quirks and idiosyncrasies.
You imagined getting older with him and played out how the two of you might look and putter about as
octogenarians. You were part of something bigger than yourself. You were part of an institution, for God's sake.
You were married.
Welcome to a brave new world
You may or may not have chosen this destination, but you're here now. And this new world is not necessarily
inviting; there are no girls with hula skirts and leis welcoming you as you arrive at the gate. In fact, you deboard
the plane and no one's there to greet you. It's late at night and the airport's empty, all lit up with fluorescent lights
and pitch-black outside, everyone else is asleep in their houses. All you know is you have never been here
before, and it feels like no one else has either.
You are bewildered and even the familiar looks strange. You want to go home but you don't know where it is. You
are suddenly single when you never thought you would be again.
Speaking of home, you might ask yourself, what do I do when I go home? TV or rental movie? Trashy novel or
magazines? You may discover new cable channels you never knew existed. Basically, you have no idea what to
do with yourself because you're so used to doing everything with this other person.
You may also have trouble deciding the smallest things. What do I wear to work? How do I get from point A to
point B? What do I have for dinner? Kit Kat or Snickers? Cheetos or pretzels? You're incredibly used to functioning
one way (i.e., with a companion) and you haven't yet learned another way, so every decision seems like a new
You might find yourself having an out-of-body experience and becoming a curious observer of your own life. Wow,
I go to McDonald's when he's not around. I buy six pints of Ben & Jerry's when I just shop for myself. Hmmm, I
take up the whole bed when he's not here to take up half of it. Interesting how light the laundry load is when it's
just for one person! You notice who you are without him, and in some ways it's similar but in lots of ways it's
different. You are your own separate person, you realize, even if you'd forgotten. You talk to yourself because you
are so used to having someone else in the apartment to announce things to or bounce things off, and you
wonder whether you're now psychotic (you're not).
However, you are in a state of shock. Your soul is undergoing an earthquake, and everything feels shaky and
new. Know that this state won't last forever. Someday soon a degree of normalcy will return to your life and things
will fall into place again -- you'll develop new routines, new shopping lists, and alternative evening plans to prime-
time television. You'll develop a life of your own, filled with things you enjoy.
Losing a bed, a bank account, and a roommate -- physical and financial separation
"Thank goodness for sofas and jointly owned automobiles. As soon as the argument can degenerate into a
battle over property, the personal emotional ground can begin to be abandoned." -- Ellen Gilchrist, "Meditations
As writer Ellen Gilchrist suggests with some wry humor, beginning the physical separation and the negotiation
over concrete things in your shared life can feel like a strange relief after all of the emotional battles you've
probably waged with yourself and your ex. But the reality is, the heartache will linger for a while, and your
emotions will probably find a new way of expressing themselves in the division of assets.
Moving and physically separating yourself from your ex is one of life's more challenging processes, and it's made
all the more delightful by having to adjust to life on a single income. When your feelings are still raw and rough,
it's incredibly hard to think sensibly and practically, but no matter where you are in the process (considering a
separation or already in one), at some point you'll need to sharpen your pencil and start to plan your new solo life
in all of its practical glory.
In this chapter, whether you're the one staying or going, we'll offer ways to go about it all that can help make the
logistics and all the attendant emotions as bearable and future-focused as possible. We'll also cover some
basic steps you'll want to take in separating your finances, your material possessions, and other kinds of assets
that need to be sorted out in order to make your separation and divorce a reality.
Even if you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, we promise you, things will get better. And if you're
like us and the scores of women we interviewed, you'll find that the physical separation, once under way, gives
you a new sense of the relationship and a new sense of your own strength, wisdom, and capacity for happiness.
Economics get emotional
Even if you're on excellent terms with your husband, be mindful of the fact that for many couples, the moving
process and the division of money and shared belongings is an area where much of the pain, or the reason your
marriage is ending, comes into play.
This is because, in many ways, it's easier to argue about these seemingly objective, concrete and tangible things
than it is about the subjective, hazy, and hard issues of the heart. This means that it's important to keep your wits
about you as you negotiate the new terrain and, in all areas, try to be true to yourself. While we're not suggesting
that you treat your husband like an outright foe -- and in fact, we were both fortunate to have husbands who
generally acted graciously during this process -- we do know that there are many instances among our
interviewees of husbands who became absolute gladiators in this arena (and we don't mean in a cute Russell
Crowe kinda way). The bottom line is, we want you to keep your interests front and center, and we believe you can
do this while being a decent and honorable person to your soon-to-be ex.
Should I stay or should I go? Staying put or moving out
While many books and other authorities might suggest that you should stay put for better bargaining power --
especially if you're a homeowner, or if there are significant assets in the shared space -- this decision is highly
personal and highly specific to your individual situation. Nevertheless, in our experience and research, the
person who initiated the divorce is usually the one who has to move out, and the person who didn't (at least
initially) want the divorce usually gets the option of staying.
There are exceptions, of course, and sometimes finances or ownership will dictate what happens. Our friend
Megan, for example, who had initiated her divorce, stayed in their house because she was the one who could
afford the mortgage payments. Similarly, our friends Greta and Caitlin, who both decided to end their marriages,
stayed in their places because they owned them prior to marriage. Other times, your emotions just tell you what
to do, as was the case with Vickie who, though she didn't want their divorce, moved out for some fresh scenery.
In either case, whether you stay or go, this is the time when you are undertaking the separation in earnest, so you
should be mindful of the fact that you're about to experience a fairly crazy time, complete with some soaring new
highs and some less-than-lovely new lows. This is often the time when the reality strikes you (and your soon-to-
be ex) most acutely. Realize that this is part of the process. Give yourself over to those cathartic opportunities that
arise as you move, purge, clean, renovate and redecorate. Soon you'll be well on your way to starting life anew
and letting the healing begin.
Interim arrangements: Gimme shelter!
It's possible that even though you've figured out who's staying and who's going, you don't have the resources to
move immediately into something permanent. If this is the case, don't be shy about asking friends and family to
put you up for a few weeks, even a few months. If you're not near your friends or family, get recommendations
from them for friends in the area who could give you shelter for some period of time. Or, if these ideas just aren't
possible, consider moving into a hotel for a few days or a week until you get your bearings. Credit cards are for
crises like these. There's no harm in putting some mileage on your plastic for the peace of mind that you'll get by
living on your own, even in a hotel.
Suddenly Single? The 5 Stages of Grief
Death of a spouse or breakup of a marriage or long-term relationship can trigger similar responses in a person.
Each person mourns a loss differently. However, there are 5 common stages of grief a person goes through
when mourning the loss of a relationship. These were adapted from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, 'On Death and Dying'
You may not experience these stages in one fluid order. You may go through some of the stages more than once.
Sometimes an event will trigger you to experience one of these stages again. For instance, cleaning out the
basement and finding an old shirt of your deceased spouse or hearing your ex-partner is to remarry might cause
recurrence of certain stages. The five stages of grief are:
This stage is filled with disbelief and denial. If your partner has died you still expect him to walk through the door.
- Denial – The "No, not me" stage.
If your partner has asked for a break-up you think that she/he will change her/his mind.
2. Anger/Resentment – The "Why me?" stage.
Anger at the situation, your partner and others are common. You are angry with the other person for causing the
situation and for causing you pain. You might feel anger at your deceased partner for dying. You may feel anger at
your partner for asking for a divorce and breaking up the family.
3. Bargaining – The "If I do this, you’ll do that" stage.
You try to negotiate to change the situation. If you’ve lost a spouse to death you might bargain with God, "I’ll be a
better person if you’d just bring him back". You might approach your partner who is asking for the break-up and
say "If you’ll stay I’ll change".
4. Depression- The "It's really happened" stage.
You realize the situation isn’t going to change. The death or break-up happened and there is nothing to bring the
other person back. Acknowledgement of the situation often brings depression. This could be a quiet, withdrawn
time as you soak in the situation.
5. Acceptance – The "This is what happened" stage.
Though you haven’t forgotten what happened you are able to begin to move forward.
Suggestions when you find yourself suddenly single:
• Avoid long term legal decisions. If you are in an emotional state its better to put off long term legal decisions
until your thinking is less cloudy.
• Drive carefully. It’s easy to become distracted when you are grieving so use care when you get behind the
• Seek support for your kids and yourself. Your kids are grieving along with you and will need support. It might
be wise at this point to have separate grief sessions apart from your children if you're experiencing anger and
• Maintain rituals. The children most likely will feel insecure and abandoned at first. Maintaining the same
patterns of holidays, birthdays, Saturday outings, etc. will give them a sense of normalcy and consistency.
• Nurture yourself. You need to care for your spiritual, emotional and physical health. No one else will do it but
you. Take care of yourself as well as you take care of your child. Eat healthy, exercise and take vitamins. Allow
yourself to grieve and give yourself as much time as you need to adjust to what has happened
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