When you go through a divorce, the earth beneath you shakes. You tumble into an open pit of unwelcome change, confusion, emotional isolation and frequently, financial crisis.
These emotional, psychic and spiritual disruptions arrive in varying degrees of intensity, but even the most agreeable divorce has some of these consequences. Let’s be realistic. There was enough discord to poison the home slowly over many years or in one sudden, shocking tear in the fabric of your life. No matter how necessary the separation, the trembling of the earth beneath your feet leads to a period of disorientation, often a change of residence and work situation, and complications in relationships with family and friends.
Then, of course, there’s the raining down of adult troubles onto the children. Many adults repeat the phrase, “Children are resilient.” But do parents really believe that the children suffered through the destruction of life as they knew it as if they were watching a movie and came out happy and full of popcorn?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Just because divorce has become common doesn’t mean it’s easy.
While emotional pain and disruption may feel like they’re going to last forever, the truth about most people who divorce is that they find ways to heal and build a new life, often a more authentic life. Some do it with the help of a therapist, others just do whatever seems to help get life back into balance, or more precisely, into a new balance.
In The New York Times Sunday Review in February 2015, Josh Max wrote, “To a Friend on His Divorce.” First, Max describes his own previously wonderful marriage and its unexpected collapse.
“There was no one else in the world for me back then but my love. We were partners, friends, lovers, and when life was full of death, job loss, car wrecks and money struggles, we stuck together,” Max wrote. “I saw it coming before she did. The money ran low, then it ran out, then every month was a struggle. Both of us knuckled down and worked harder.”
Then Max tells his friend what it will be like when he moves out of the house.
“At first it will be a huge relief. You’ll have no idea until it actually happens what it’s like to live a life with no one to argue with, and brother, it is sweet.”
But the sweetness hits reality, said Max.
“I spent three months on an uncomfortable mattress on a freezing floor… in a relative’s apartment feeling like a loser. For a good year, I called suicide hotlines almost every night. I’m saying I’ve been at the bottom of that well, and I’m telling you there is a way out if you just hold on and show up. Listen – you are going to go through hell. Then one day you’ll come out the other side.”
Recovery and healing brought Max to, “… my solo life in a new town. I have an actual circle of friends, male and female, young and old. I am invited to parties, to dinner, to music performances and out on dates. It took a while.”
Men and women may or may not deal differently with the despair, even depression, recovery and healing from divorce. Who’s to say? It’s an individual experience.
We can eavesdrop on a conversation among four women, all with grown children, to get another look into the process of healing and recovery.
“I have to say I was partly responsible for the divorce,” said one, admitting she probably didn’t try hard enough to work things out.
“Isn’t that part of the healing? That you admit it was partly your fault?” asked her friend.
All four succeeded in taking what they agreed was a critical step in the healing process. Each has established a friendly relationship with her “ex.”
That made long-term family relationships healthy and all four women have good, and in some cases, daily interactions with grown children, and grandchildren.
Humor helps. One woman developed a lighter perspective on dividing up the possessions: “I didn’t mind. I gave him all the old stuff and I got new things.”
Another common element they shared in the healing process was finding ways to enjoy life after the difficult time eased up a bit. It’s an important milestone when you re-discover how “to have fun.” For these four women, fun included dance lessons, hiking, boating, travel and activities with friends. They also welcomed new friends into their lives.
Those new lives may be more authentic. Or maybe these new lives simply had to be created because of changes in the marriage relationship over the years.
Just as each person is unique, each divorce is different. States have different laws. Couples have different income levels, lifestyles and varieties of support networks, or lack of support networks. Same-sex couples may have to resolve legal issues. Couples who have been together but are not married have most of the same issues, and some different ones.
As unsettling and troubling as divorce is, it can provide the impetus to “rediscover who you are,” said Joan Winberg in “Seven Ways to Thrive after Divorce,” in a September 2013 article in Psychology Today.
Here are her recommended seven steps that help you not just to survive - but to thrive - after divorce:
Max, Josh, “To a Friend, On His Divorce,” The New York Times Sunday Review, Feb. 13, 2015