When coping with divorce (especially one we did not want), we are faced with the stress of managing a myriad of emotions and decisions. On top of that, we think we have to fix everything past, present and future right now.
But the reality is that we only need to worry about our present moment. We cannot do one thing about the past. It’s done. It’s over. And our future will be the result of what we are doing now.
Follow these nine steps to cope with divorce:
- Focus On The Present
- Stop Replaying The Past
- Avoid The Mental Anguish
- Make A Choice To Move On
- Find A New Path
- Be Thankful
- Find Your Happiness
- Cope Productively
- Take Back Control
Focus On The Present
I know back “then” I wasted a lot of time in agony and despair as I was coping with my unwanted divorce. Even though I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about what my wasband had done, I was still hurting. I was letting what had happened in the past dictate my feelings in the present, and that made the pain relentless.
You can either spend your present moments in gratefulness, praise and progress, or you can spend them in agony. I have a rubber stamp that says, “Don’t Postpone Joy.” I love that, We can always choose to do something that brings us joy. That’s important to remember in the middle of divorce.
We always have the choice to do something good for ourselves or for someone else. Think about it… Are you breathing? Can you see? Can you share some creative time with a child or grandchild? Are you doing productive work? Are you doing something that moves you forward? Can you smell the lilac bush in your backyard?
Stop Replaying The Past
I kept reliving the day I walked in and saw them in bed together. I kept rehashing the night she told me that they had seen each other or talked (and even exchanged Valentine gifts) every single day for more than two months during the time he told me he wanted to work things out in our marriage. I kept rethinking her words when she said he told her she was the “light of his life,” that she was “his very best friend” and that he “had never loved anyone like he loved her.”
Reliving the hard moments was agonizing for me. No matter how hard I tried to get them out of my head, they kept finding their way back. The heartache is an ugly and unchangeable fact of divorce. The grief and the pain of the past are real.
Even today, I honestly believe my wasband has no idea about the misery and grief he caused. He doesn’t seem to care about the disappointment and distress he left in his family’s heart or, what’s worse, he actually did realize it, but didn’t care enough to change his actions.
The Mental Anguish
But I discovered long ago that nothing I could say or do would alter his thinking or his actions. No amount of tears or anger ever changed anything, and it was keeping me in a state of intolerable hurt.
And while I was doing that, he was going about his business, spending time with his new love, showing her off at out-of-town meetings, doing his work and finding a brand new excitement and pleasure in life.
My mental agony was of absolutely no consequence to him. But it was destroying me… I mean physically, mentally and spiritually destroying my peace, my joy, my personality. I found myself becoming more and more sad, then more and more angry until at times I hardly recognized myself.
I couldn’t do a single thing to undo his choices. But somewhere along the way, I realized coping with divorce means taking control of the exact moment you are in. And within each of those moments in an opportunity to make a choice.
Early on in my divorce process, everything made me sad, and it’s probably the same with you. I was sad if it was a beautiful day or if I was looking at a soft, moonlit night. I was sad if it was raining. I was sad when I was at social functions. I was sad by myself. I was sad pretty much all the time.
During one episode of unbelievable despair, my older brother came to Kansas City and said to me, “Okay, Sis, you have 24 hours to come to a decision. You can spend it in your bed, riding your bike, howling at the moon in the backyard, praying, or crying… but after those 24 hours are over, you need to make a decision.
You will decide if you are going to let this destroy you, or if you are going to trust God and believe that He can bring about good out of this. A life of victory and joy.”
A New Path
Slowly, with the advice of my counselor, support from my family and friends, help from all the books I read, and laying my heart open before God in prayer, I knew the future was up to me. I could either let this situation defeat me or I could choose to cope with this damn divorce.
A path of new beginnings. A path of joy and gladness. A path of fulfillment and contentment. A path of healing and moving on. A path of hope and finding peace, and maybe even a path of wild, fun excitement — as improbable as that seemed. No one could make the choice except me.
I did finally realize that, even though my heart was still hurting and I was still filled up with all kinds of negative thinking, I could make things different. I couldn’t will myself to be happy. I couldn’t eliminate the grieving process, but I could appreciate something about the present moment. This very second, I could find some small thing to rejoice about.
I could be thankful for my work. I could appreciate my resilience. I could take cookies to a new neighbor. I could take my niece to lunch. I could weed my garden or wash the car.
Instead of regretting my situation moment by moment, I could appreciate the beauty of a butterfly landing on a flower outside of my window. I could start coping with my divorce by being thankful for every single blessing. My sight. My mind. My imagination. My dreams. My work. My loved ones. Birds. Spring. The list is endless. This was my way of coping with divorce.
Finding Your Happiness
Many years ago I bought the book, 14,000 Things To Be Happy About. When I was struggling through the early days of divorce, I got it out again and read a page every day. The first time I read it, I had marked with a red pen the things that I especially identified with. And there were always several things on every page that had a personal meaning to me.
After I finished the book the first time, I gave it to my daughter and she checked in a different color of ink things on the list that especially touched her. Then she gave it back to me. It was fun to see the things she checked. I got the book out again and I’m encouraging you to go get the book as well, just to give you a head start in Life Appreciation 101. It will make you realize how many beautiful wonderful simple things we take for granted every single day.
Here is page 476, 0f 14,000 Things to Be Happy About:
Having breakfast by the window on the occasion of a child’s first snowfall
New York: Manhattan, the Catskills, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty
a warm May day
always growing and thinking up new solutions
downtime to reset the mind’s clock
May’s great green canopy spreading along every tree-lined street
a “memory box”
stretch terry cloth
a 17-arm brass candelabra
a European whipped cream dispenser
leaving spaces in your day to do something spontaneous
peachy pudding (or warm home-made chocolate pudding with nuts on top)
a quote from a favorite novel
playing penny-ante poker
Blondie and Dagwood (or The Sunday Funnies)
red union undersuits
the sea offering an omnipresent rumble
seasoning salt: a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and other spices
Coping With Divorce
When you are feeling really down, stop a minute and ask yourself, “how do I want to spend this moment?” I can be angry, and that’s okay. I can be sad and that’s alright, too.
But I can also choose to be thankful. I can choose to feel blessed. I can choose to cope. I can choose to feel loved (and you are by many, many people). I can choose to be optimistic about my abilities and about the future.
If you believe in God, you probably also believe that if we put our lives in God’s hands, if we trust His promises and obey His precepts, we can expect a life of abundant joy and peace. As the apostle Paul tells the Christians at Ephesus in the first century: “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”
He will bless us more than what we ask for or can even imagine! Be bold. Ask for wisdom. Ask for joy. Ask for His peace which “passes all understanding.” We can expect him to bring us to a more intimate relationship with Him and that brings a very real, indescribable contentment of spirit and an unshakable sense of calm.
Taking Back Control
But to experience each of these things means taking control of our moments. It means choosing to do the right thing minute by minute. It means being willing to respond to these circumstances with love instead of hate, with courage instead of fear, with goodness instead of bitterness, with gratitude instead of despair.
Start your recovery now, let’s talk about our struggles, the things we are happy about, the strength we all have inside of us to get through this damn storm. Take charge of this very minute. Think of something you’re thankful for. Appreciate the beauty of the season. Send a note of encouragement to someone. Sign up for a class you’d like to take.
Or… go over in your mind again how much he hurt you. It’s your choice.