How To: Conquer Fear After Divorce

How To: Conquer Fear After Divorce


In a recent Washington Post ABC News poll a great majority of the respondents said they were stressed, with more than half reporting serious anxiety.  Loss of income or loss of financial security were big concerns. Enemies around the world flexing their muscles; terrorism;  health care;  the economy.  There is a lot to be scared about.  Welcome to the daily world of divorced/divorcing women!

If we’re honest, especially at the beginning of this trip, the fear that we might  suddenly become a wrinkled, friendless bag lady seems to be simmering just below the surface. The key is to take a deep breath, get some help and face your fears head on.

It’s normal to be scared after divorce. When it comes to the stress and worry and fear that shows up during an unwanted midlife divorce, most women are not just slightly concerned, they are terrified. Not only are financial issues sometimes in a complete mess,  your social connections are altered, and you have to figure out a parenting plan and how to support yourself. Often you have no retirement or safety net.  And all of this is happening just when you thought things were going to get a little easier.  All that adds up to more than your share of personal fear and trembling.

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In my studies about developing the best strategies to help women going through divorce, I came across the “Warfighting” book that the Marines use to get battle ready. Amazingly,  there are many similarities in getting ready to go into physical battle and going into the battle of survival after divorce.

Very simply, here are four principles the Marines and Navy Seals teach about conquering stress and fear.  These tips will help RADiCAL Women, too.  These tips sound simple, but their practice is extremely powerful.  They get results and help overcome fear after divorce.

  • Set Realistic Goals
  • Get Mentally and Physically Fit
  • Practice Positive Self Talk
  • Utilize Arousal Control

#1 Goal Setting

Set concrete, realistic goals:  Know where it is you want to end up.  I know at first, sometimes the goal is simply survival. Get solidly in your mind what you want in a situation and then do what it takes to get there. Women after midlife divorce want to physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially overcome divorce, but we want to do more than survive.  We want to have an invigorating, adventurous, joy-filled life!  So spend some time figuring out exactly where you want to be in a year, and then start taking small steps every single day to move to that destination.  It’s hard to get someplace if you don’t know where you’re going.  Think seriously about what your goals are now, and then keep pressing on until those goals are accomplished.  Start simply and then keep refining your goals as you grow stronger and your dreams become more clear – the fear after divorce will subside.

#2  Mental and Physical Fitness

Marines start getting in shape the minute they get to basic training. The military knows that getting in shape physically prepares soldiers for every stress they will face.  That’s true for you, too.  Taking care of your body is one of your most important jobs during divorce recovery. Fear after divorce will drain your energy: Eating right; exercising; getting enough sleep; being around positive people all help with getting fit physically and emotionally.  Exercise to even out your erratic emotions.  Get resources that stimulate your positive thinking.  Read inspiring uplifting literature.  Find a support group of women who understand your situation and will encourage you on your journey.  Do whatever concrete actions you can to get yourself to a better place physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Soon other parts of your life will begin to fall in place as well.

#3  Positive Self-Talk

Marines recruits go from saying, “There’s no way I can do this,” to  “I can’t do this,” to “I’d better try to do this,” to “Other people are doing this, so maybe I can do this,” to “I think I can do this,” to “I’m learning to do this” to “I can do this,” to “You just try to stop me from doing this!”

We think much faster than we talk.  Those words filling our heads need to be positive and proactive.  No matter what catastrophe happens in your life, your self-talk determines what happens next.  You can tell yourself that you will be sad and mad and bitter for the rest of your life, or you can tell yourself that you will make something amazingly wonderful of your life.  Whatever you continually say to yourself,  happens.  The cool thing is:  Self-talk is your choice.  Concentrate on what you want instead of what you’re worried about, and you’ll find your life starts moving toward what you desire instead of what you dread.

#4  Arousal Control:

This doesn’t have anything to do with sex.  It has everything to do with strategies to control our body and our physical systems when under extreme stress. In training, Navy Seals are taken underwater with their oxygen tanks over and over again, and they practice taking them apart and putting them back together.  Then one day when they go underwater and their instructor unexpectedly rips their tank off and dismantles it, they know exactly what to do.

Practice calm responses to things that upset you.  Write them down if you need to.  Recall what has worked in the past.  What are your core strengths?  Review the successes you have had in your life and build on those.  What calms you?  Prayer?  Taking a walk?  Listening to music?  Here’s another tip from the Marines:  Take four deep cleansing breaths when you are faced with a situation that causes you immediate stress or fear.  Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth with a longer exhale.  Get as much oxygen in your body as you can.  This allows you to think more clearly and calms you so that you make the best response possible.

These straightforward tools work for the Marines and the Navy Seals, and they will work for you to overcome fear in the middle of your divorce.  Early on, make early recovery as simple as you can by putting into practice these common-sense suggestions.  If you’re new to the divorce struggle, don’t look too far into the future.  Be patient with yourself. If you consistently do the four suggestions listed above, day by day you will get stronger. Soon you can stop worrying about survival, and you can starting creating the amazing life you desire and deserve.

Below is a link to our report on Conquering the Loneliness of Divorce.  Rebuilding happens in taking those small, good actions every day.

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About the Author:

Suzy developed Midlife Divorce Recovery as a safe refuge for people healing and surviving the overwhelm of divorce. Starting her first RADiCAL support group in 2003 she's been helping women navigate the journey of divorce ever since.


  1. penny westgate August 5, 2012 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Thank God I don’t have young children to think about right now. My biggest bugaboo is the no retirement or safety net issue.I’m not as afraid of it as I was because I’m learning to accept I’m doing my best and believing God is plenty capable of doing the rest.I have my worst

    • penny westgate August 5, 2012 at 11:11 pm - Reply

      Cont….time when I get to tired.I am surviving this. It may just be a blessing in disguise!

    • Yorman October 18, 2012 at 10:25 am - Reply

      , I hate him, the pastor said, Now, you don’t hate him. You’re just upset. I hsitaly retracted my words, of course. How dare anyone tell me what I feel or don’t feel? Never mind that I really was deeply wounded. I was just told by implication that I was not allowed to speak freely. I think it would’ve been far more productive to acknowledge what I said without making a judgement, because at that point I still loved my husband and wanted to make things work. Instead, I learned to squash what I felt and to paste on a happy face on Sundays. I grew increasingly disgusted with it, and with my husband’s repeated trips to the altar in repentance, and eventually stopped going to church altogether.I was lovingly embraced and supported by a different congregation so much so that I relented from my previous vow never to step foot in church again. (I knew the pastor socially and her compassion and nonjudgmental counsel won me over.) The church helped me in practical ways one Christmas I received a basket that contained over $1000 in gift cards for groceries and clothes and gifts. And not a single comment not even a look of judgment. Just love and a helping hand.

    • Angela July 20, 2018 at 5:39 pm - Reply

      Yes, I have to say to myself a lot these days, I am doing my best right now. And yes, you feel what you feel and you need to be allowed to express it and be validated even if they may be scared of that feeling themselves and not agree with it, they still need to just listen and say it’s ok, you are where you are right now.

  2. Rebecca Lynn Mayo September 17, 2012 at 6:03 am - Reply

    I’m finding it rather difficult to type as the tears are streaming down my face. I’m at the beginning of this whole process, but the papers will be signed very soon. My husband and I have been married for 20. I love him so much it hurts, but apparently the feeling is not mutual. I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to deal with friends and family that we have known for years and years? They are so close and dear to me, but not sure how to proceed because it has always been the two of us…….until now, that is. Lost and broken hearted, Becky

    • Suzy September 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Becky,

      We all know exactly where you’re coming from. While we are curled up in a ball of sadness and despair, many of our wasbands are moving on with life without any trouble at all. In fact, they seem to be thriving in their “new life.” My advice is to join us in the MDRcommunity. You can try it out for 15 days for just one dollar and if you don’t like it, just cancel. But on the MDRcommunity site is a discussion room where you can post your question about advice on how to deal with friends and family. In fact, there may already be a thread with that question. You can check out the “A Place to Talk” part of the discussion room. In the meantime, remember that most friends and even family simply can’t relate unless they’ve been on this journey. They mean well, but don’t usually know what to say or how to help. Join us and talk to women who will listen and really “get” how desperately sad you’re feeling and can share what has helped them.

    • Sandy September 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      Hi Becky,
      My heart goes out 2 u. We were married for 23 yrs and I understand how u feel; it took an addl 2 yrs just 2 get rid of him. Your true friends will b there 4 u. He tried 2 engage r friends w/ his gf. That didn’t quite work out the way he wanted. Be patient, time heals all wounds.

      • Sachiko October 18, 2012 at 10:58 am - Reply

        Some kids experience pain in ways that are easy to see. Sometimes you can’t see anhiytng. Kids are very resilient but they are not without feelings and they don’t miss much. Often children carry a self imposed burden that makes them believe that the divorce in some way is their fault.

    • Tori December 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm - Reply

      I was married twenty three years. A battle of sadness, fear, loneliness and hurt has lived in me. I know prayer is all that is seeing me through. Best wishes!

      • Suzy December 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm - Reply

        I agree that sometimes on my journey, the only solid thing I had to hold onto was God’s promises. I want to reassure you (from 13 years out) that God was working continuously behind the scenes every single moment. I believe now he was rescuing me from a situation that I would have never left on my own and his blessings just keep showing up around every corner. Hang in there. And watch for God to act.

    • Isabella May 4, 2015 at 9:26 am - Reply

      How do you feel now almost 3 years later? I just started this journey and feel I am dying because I do not want a divorce but he does.

      • M December 1, 2018 at 2:24 pm - Reply

        I certainly know what you mean. I was in the same situation for several years and still have pain. I also look back and blame myself more than I should. Everyone is different but God my answer.

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  4. Sarah October 6, 2014 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Well, I can relate to each of you for sure. My divorce was final june 27th of this year. We were married for 41 years. After the children grew up I was able to find work and realized through being in the outside world and having a good counselor that my ex was a master manipulator and emotional/verbal abusive fellow as well. He handled money is a most sorowful manner; I am not able to get off my mortgage and he has the house around one hundred grand under water. That will most likely follow me. I am moving to be with my son and family, to start anew. I need to find a place to live and work. So many changes.

    Bless all of us walking through the valley. Joy cometh in the morning.

  5. Doris September 19, 2015 at 3:53 am - Reply

    I too have found myself alone after 34 years married and have good and bad days. Thankfully I have work to fall back on and try to concentrate on my grown up children and my grandchildren but still feel very lonely and lost.Have no idea how to move on with my life.

    • Pam O November 13, 2015 at 1:02 am - Reply

      Doris, I know how you feel. I was married 43. I am 64 and also have no idea how to move on. He moved to AZ, no other woman, just not happy. Our sons and I believe he is bipolar. I loved him with everything I had.

  6. Jay December 7, 2015 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    I am 62 years old, and it was July this year, 2015, on my birthday when I last spent time with my husband. Working on contract in London from March, I became a Lady in Waiting, aching for the time we could spend quality time together … which sadly grew less and less until Saturdays was all we had. I sent him an email, writing down my thoughts, my feelings, my loneliness, suggesting we think about moving closer to his work to have more time together. His response came in an email … he didn’t want me, wasn’t coming home, he had a house in London where he was living, with an Italian girlfriend … I collapsed on reading his words. I’d had no idea. What made it worse, was that he was also my Carer. Disabled since birth, there are everyday things I cannot do around the house.

    He didn’t even try to make our marriage work, didn’t talk, didn’t share. I’ve had a breakdown. Caught bronchitis which became pneumonia because it became literally a case of ‘heat or eat’ with his ad hoc payments. Now the divorce is going through on the grounds of his adultery, not because I wanted it, but he wants to be free. I find I don’t know this man any more, capable of manipulating, controlling … and yet I can’t switch off the love. I feel so helpless, so empty, not knowing what is lie, what is truth. I have no idea what my life is for any more. Why get up of a morning? Why bother eating or getting dressed? This is the third time this has happened to me in my life … but this time it has destroyed me. A part of me feels dead inside.

    I don’t have family living nearby, nor friends. Days when I can’t go out, especially when I had pneumonia, if it hadn’t been for my sister living hundreds of miles away, I don’t know what might have become of me.

    I’m sorry. I’ve gone on. But thank you if anyone out there is listening. I was on my way to bed, coming to switch off the computer, when I came across your site, and my Need touched base … wondering, wishing, hoping suddenly if anybody really cared whether they might feel my words and understand.

    • Vickey May 29, 2016 at 6:13 am - Reply

      You are lucky that you have Social Security at 62. Quality time, ….yes. What this really means is that you are going out of your way to spend time with someone who does not spend time with you. I burned a lot of energy doing this too. On my birthday, my husband of 18 years, bought me my first birthday present of a telescope, then did not even stay to see me put it together. He went to his mistress’s niece’s birthday party. I threw the gift into the street in pieces. I did all the lets move closer to your work, but he couldn’t do that because her house was just down the road from his work. Funny because when he divorced me, he drove her to work and catered to her job. And forget about being sick, I felt if I died in the back room it would be days before he would find me. Why we give our whole selves to anyone is beyond me. We nurture, take care of children, our husbands, our houses, etc. I think men are spoiled to the idea that all they have to do is go to work. I took care of all, worked part time, went to college, etc. I wish all I had to do was go to work. Of course, in the end I was told I am “just a house wife”. What men do not know about women is a lot. It is all about everyone else when it comes to women and all about ego when it comes to men. Yes he married a women 16 years his junior. But you know, he did not deserve me. My son says that when he is sick she doesn’t care about him. It is all about her and her needs. I call her the NE Blueberry from the Willie Wonka movie. She is spoiled and a big mouth. We women need to stick together. You have a friend. I am sitting her alone…thinking that the only thing that stands in my way of being the best me is a JOB. But I must admit that even at 40 society did not embrace me and at 51 it is scary, but at 62 and disabled I can not even imagine it. I hope you get SS. At 51, I will have to rely on my son until I can get independent. I know it is a year later, but know there is an epidemic of men walking out on their wives and children and society just looks the other way like it is normal. What ever happened to the days when adultery was looked down on and it was the adulterer and the mistress that were shunned and chastised? In the old days if a man had an affair, he left the mistress and went back to his wife and family or society made it really hard on him. But now the mistress is embraced and even throws a big white wedding while the wife and children are send away and forgotten about like they did something wrong. I have pain enough for getting married and having a child. And young women now don’t care if they walk right into your home and kick you out. Very selfish! But don’t worry, what comes around goes around. My husband’s mistress is the same age I was when he left me and they do not work together anymore. I am sure he will find another ticket agent to talk to about his latest bitchy wife. I just want to find me again and be happy. Marriage has been a bad deal for me. Would not recommend it to young women. If I could do it all over again, I would have focused on my career and got a sperm donor or adopted. Take care Jay. Peace and happiness. God loves you.

  7. Vickey May 29, 2016 at 5:42 am - Reply

    Mine lasted 18 years and left me to finish raising a 13 year old child who today graduated from college and is working. I talked to everyone till no one wanted to talk to me anymore. Then I remarried, but he turned out to be controlling which in the beginning I gave in to because I wanted someone to think for me, because I was in too much pain. Now after 10 years, I have come to the surface of the water and taken a good long breath and realize where I am. I am 51 years old, married to a man who is a Narcissist. I gave 10 years to someone who really did not care about me. He is slowly moving on, because he is a Narcissist and because he refuses to get help for his alcoholism. I suspect Independence Day will have a new meaning for him when he visits his daughter. So here I am over my 18 year marriage, and the latest 10 year old marriage is slipping away. I feel like I have been asleep for 13 years letting someone else make the calls and think for me. I love my present husband, but I do not like him or the way he treats me or my son. And frankly, he is not good for me. I am not co-dependent; except financially. However, trying to figure out what I should do for employment is difficult, because I am 51, have little to no experience in the last 10years and do not know what I even what to do or what society will allow me to do. I am too young not to work, and too old to start a whole new career over. I feel like a ghost or I have been asleep and lost my way. How do you get back into the working world in my situation. Everyone sees you are retired or a volunteer. It is hard to convey to an employer that you have rent and food to buy, and that you are not just doing this because you are a bored housewife.

    • Terri June 27, 2017 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      I am exactly where you were only a year later. I hope you have some advice to offer to someone in very similar shoes.
      Thank you,

  8. Blythe June 15, 2016 at 12:27 am - Reply

    I am 62, was married for 24 years and have 1 daughter who is 25 and has moved out. It’s been 4 years since my ex and I broke up. He initiated it, but I followed through. I was tired of the arguing and thought he was abusive emotionally. However, during this time, I have come to realize how much I was to blame and how I didn’t give him the love he needed. Guilt. I am a person who has always lived with depression and anxiety. I now realize how I was too irritable for him to stand. I tried very hard to make things right between us, but it was too late and he has moved on. I apologized to him many times. Despite much counseling and prayer, I dread time alone and I can’t forgive myself for all I did wrong. My daughter grew up in a home where her parents argued all the time. I was too needy and needed him to always say how much he loved me. In hindsight, it was ridiculous what he had to put up with. If he looked angry, I was fearful. Such a waste of what could have been a good marriage. Now, as an empty nester, I am trying to cope emotionally and appreciate being able to read your painful yet inspiring stories. Thank you.

  9. CLM July 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    I was with the man I loved for 22 years. Saw him through some tough times and thought we would be together forever.
    Then I got the call from someone’s husband saying his wife had been having an affair with him for over a year. That was the moment I knew my life would never be the same again.
    At first, I was in shock and just wanted everything to be OK and for him to end it. He said he would and I believed him. HA! So stupid on my part. I found out months later (by seeing a text) that it was still going on.
    He moved out 4 months ago. I’m so shattered and can’t seem to stop feeling like I’m still part of the couple we once were. He has minimal contact with me by text and it’s only if I initiate it. I still can’t absorb that he did this to me and one of worst things for me is that all I wanted was for him to break off all contact with her and he couldn’t do it BUT with me (the whose loved him for over 2 decades) that’s who he can cut off contact with.
    It’s so difficult to stop the ruminating thoughts and move forward.

  10. Sylvia September 11, 2017 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    In understand. I feel the pain in each comment. It is so hard to believe it is happening and unfortunately you must go through the pain to get to the other side. The pain is so great that you don’t think you are going to make it. One day leads to the next, one breath leads to another and eventually you come to the realization that you are divorced. It takes time…. time you don’t want to spend, but there is no way around it. Plug away, one day at a time, stop yourself and take some deep breaths, really deep, until there is not a molecule of air that would fit into your lungs. Release the breath slowly and enough so that you have to push the final air out and repeat a few times. When you feel like you can’t do anything else, you know you can breath. When you get notice of his fortune, his new life, his happiness, it is normal to feel that gut wrenching pain again. It is like taking three steps forward and one to two steps back each time you hear or see him due the children you had together. Or you will hear of a wife being betrayed that is a friend of a friend, or you see something on tv that relates to the affair and you sink as the tapes in you head go on auto loop. It is normal. You are not going crazy. You are in pain and after a while you are so used to being in pain, it becomes harder and harder to overcome that pain. It is what you know right now, it is easy to stay in that pain, because it is what you are now accustomed to feeling. Your mind is incredibly powerful and fed by, in my case, my ego. He doesn’t care that you are suffering. The thought that if he only knew how much pain you were in, he would feel guilty is an illusion. He doesn’t want to think about you and he doesn’t care if you are sick, or that you have to start all over. So now what? Over time you will see you made it a week, a month, a season, a year, two years and so on. It was not easy and you still will struggle at times, but you can look back and see that you lived another day without him. Eventually and as you get stronger, you have to force yourself to change your thoughts, because everything else is changing, the earth keeps rotating, and time passes whether you want it to or not. None of this is fair and we may never understand the reasons why he did this and you did that, all you have is this second, and when that second passes, all you have is this second again. Tell yourself “I want to be happy.” When the scary, sad, angry thoughts come pouring in, repeat ” I want to be happy”. I want to help those struggling with this journey. None of us are perfect and no one has the perfect marriage. Make a conscious effort to learn who you are and accept the responsibility of being you. Know that your story is worthy of how ever long it takes you to be able to say those words with greater ease. I hear all of you.

  11. Sue April 1, 2018 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    I can relate with so many of you. My husband who I love dearly wants a divorce after 29 years. I found out one Sat night in Feb of this year. I’m so consumed with grief and heartache. I have a therapist, which I haven’t seen since the beginning of March..because I’m visiting my some point I have to go back and try to get through my divorce. I have great support from my children, my family and a few friends..just don’t know how to proceed?? Thank you all for sharing your stories and letting me know I’m not alone.

  12. Maria April 3, 2018 at 5:06 am - Reply

    My husband of 23 years wants a divorce. I am devastated. I want to try but he is so black and white about things and does not see the gray in things and he does not believe in forgiveness. At times I see all of my hopes and dreams fall apart. And some how some glimpses of sunlight help me see what a lousy person he is. How I have worked so hard for so little in return. I am tired of being stonewalled with logic, of being told that I am not rationale. With his intelligence comes a lack of emotion and defensiveness. Maybe this is the break I need to wake up and to stop tip toeing atound him. As painful as it is to give up and not to try, to not live as a family unit, to give up on my dreams for growing old together, maybe it is for the better. I pray for hope, for the love of new and old friends, for faith in my God, for a better tomorrow after the tears. Hang in there ladies, we can make it!

  13. Angela July 20, 2018 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    I am taking time today to read a lot of these blogs. I appreciate every single one of them and getting a lot out of them. I am glad I chose to take some time for myself today and get good advice on how to get through this divorce and move on with my life as terrifying as it is, it is good to be reminded and helped through the steps to be able to move on and not just survive but to eventually find a better happier life moving forward. And have a glimpse of hope that things will be better. Thank you for the hard work and support Suzy!

  14. Natalia April 15, 2019 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    I am almost 2 years past divorce. We were married for 18 years and have a 16 year old daughter together. Almost 3 years ago he told me he no longer loved me. I always thought we were soul mates so I was completely devastated. I could barely function in the beginning. I got help from my doctor and my therapist but it’s been an emotional roller coaster. He is now on vacation with his GF for the second time in the last six months and missed his daughter’s birthday. I am slowly coming to my senses and starting to feel like myself again though. I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts while at work on emotional health, relationships, etc. My realization is that I dissolved in our marriage and in him and didn’t know who I was as a person. I am starting to get to know myself and practice gentle self-care as much as possible. I don’t feel guilty, I did my absolute best and have nothing to blame myself for except for not being true to myself and my values towards the end of our marriage. I know this is a blessing in disguise but the pain is so so real. God is with me though and knowing His love for me eased my burden. I feel the same pain all of you are feeling and glad to find this community where we understand one another. Friends and family are wonderful but they don’t fully understand. I want to encourage you all to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Some days it’s almost impossible and then give yourself a break, this isn’t a race. God bless you.

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