How Long Should It Take To Get Over A Divorce?

2018-06-14T01:06:47+00:00

Do you feel like it’s taking way too long to get better after your divorce?  Take a look at why you feel that way.

My first counselor told me that the trending opinion of therapists about divorce recovery was that it usually takes about one year of recovery for every five to seven years of marriage.  I shot back, “I don’t have that long. I might be dead by then!”

Other divorce recovery experts said to expect one month of recovery for every year you were together.  That would have put me at about three years of recovery. I shook my head. Still too long.

The grief work of breakups – especially midlife divorce – is difficult, complicated and long.

The unique grief of heartache is hard work.  You feel like crap. You wonder if you’ll ever be happy again.  Nothing tastes good. You can’t sleep. Concentration is almost impossible.  You sigh a lot.

Here’s the deal:  Recovery from divorce after a long marriage, always takes longer than we want it to and longer than we think it will.  And according to our friends and family, longer than it should. People who care about us (who haven’t been through divorce) just want us to hurry up and feel better.

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Family and friends often just don’t get it

People who have no experience with a divorce after a long-term marriage say dumb things like, “Just get over it.  You’re better off without him (or her.)” Or they give advice like, “You need to move on!” “You should be over this by now!” Or the worst:  “You need to start dating.”

Here’s a tip:  If the person who is advising you has never been in your shoes, where the person you have invested your life energy and time and love into for 10 or 20 or 33 years like me, they simply don’t get the devastation and loss you feel.

They don’t understand your despair that your partner didn’t think you were worth being faithful to.  Or that you weren’t fun enough or sexy enough or attentive enough or smart enough to stay married to.  And not only that, by the time you find this out, your ex has usually already hooked up with someone who fits their new definition of who they want.

Our culture is unrealistic about divorce and recovery

Another roadblock to divorce recovery is that our culture doesn’t get it either.  In the movies, you seldom see the children having to shuffle back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house and wonder “where is my house?” Our screens seldom show the dysfunction that is the norm with many divorces.  There is rarely the mortgage that can’t be paid, or the second job you have to take or dealing with how complicated every single holiday or family function becomes.   

Celebrities show up together holding hands and do “Conscious Uncoupling” as Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband did …. and who are now “better friends than we’ve ever been.”  Really?!

Plus, there are no cultural rituals to get closure.  There is acceptance, but as you’ve probably heard, there is no closure like there would eventually be if your partner had died. With divorce you have to keep seeing the body over and over again and your ex is usually beaming because he or she is finally with, “the love of my life,” while you’re still in the fetal-position-stage of grief.  

If your spouse had just been hit by a truck, there wouldn’t be all the doubts about yourself or your worthiness or your faults.  You wouldn’t have to realize that they wanted to be in someone else’s bed instead of yours. You wouldn’t keep second-guessing yourself and obsessing about what you could have done differently or what they are doing together now.  

On top of that, our culture doesn’t give us time off for divorce grief.  We’re expected to be able to move on from the end of our marriage with no trouble at all.  If your spouse dies, you get some time to deal with that. Not so with divorce. No one’s dead even though it feels like you are, even though you’re still breathing.  

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There is no straight line of recovery

Grief work means you have to go through those aggravating “Steps of Grief” on that little card your therapist gives you.  It looks so neat and tidy, but in reality it is all tornado and desperation. Those five little steps look like they should take a week, maybe, to get through. In reality it can take years, and even then, one day in the future you find yourself back at the anger stage all over again.  

The (not so simple) Steps of Grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Letting Go
  5. Acceptance.  

Divorce grief doesn’t mean you do a Step of Grief one day and cross it off the list and move on.  Steps you’ve already crossed off sneak back in when you hear a favorite song or see a couple laughing and kidding around.  Or something out of the blue slaps you down just before an important meeting, and you find yourself trying to pull yourself together in the bathroom at work.

The despair and rage and exhaustion you feel after divorce is hard enough, but then you start feeling incompetent that you’re not dealing with this more quickly. Just remember: you’re lamenting the loss of not just your partner, but the loss of your dreams, the loss of what you thought your future was going to look like, the loss of relationships and connections that went along with your marriage.  Those are losses that change almost everything about your life.

Deciding to get better

So, now that we’ve explained how difficult it is to get over midlife divorce, let’s face the fact that we have to get better, or else we condemn ourselves (and people who love us) to a life of heartache and self-pity, which isn’t a pretty picture.  In fact, setting up your tent in “Camp Misery” forever would be a tragedy. Sadly, some people end up there.

10 Practical steps that will help you grieve and move forward

  1. Take care of yourself physically: (Good things you know, but need to do!) Keep your diet simple and clean, dink healthy liquids, get outside every day and walk briskly for 20 minutes.
  2. Smile, even though you don’t feel like it.
  3. Move forward at your own pace.
  4. Simplify your life as much as possible.
  5. Hit the pause button on some of your obligations.
  6. Hit the pause button on relationships that are not helping you move forward.
  7. Avoid numbing yourself with drugs, alcohol, shopping, constant activity.
  8. Find supportive people who will let you be yourself through the process.
  9. Set boundaries on your grieving.  Set a timer.
  10. Give yourself a Wallow Weekend.
  11. Go to church.  It can provide everything you need:  
  • A place to belong
  • Inspiration
  • Great music
  • A place to serve
  • A purpose bigger than yourself

Bonus Advice:

Decide you’re not going to let one dumb person destroy your life and then get help to make that decision a reality.  I heard this comment from someone in one of my 10-Week RADiCAL divorce recovery classes: “If our partner is dumb enough to leave, we have to be smart enough to let him go.”  We can help with that process.

Join women from all over the world taking their lives back and getting RADiCAL. Creating your best life is the best revenge!

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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.

17 Comments

  1. Kim Markiecki May 26, 2018 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    I divorced 4 years ago, I’ve been in divorce recovery but I still don’t seem to be moving forward, I feel stuck, lonely and tired. I need help.

    • Shoshanna June 30, 2018 at 11:03 pm - Reply

      Kim, how long were you married and who is it that wanted the divorce? What were your circumstances? Are you in counseling/Therapy? If not, then you really have to be in order to recover and care for/love yourself again. That’s number 1. You have to find yourself again and that takes a long time. I’m still not fully recovered, but I am trying so hard!
      My husband of 31 years walked out of the house a year ago in March. He never intended to return, but lies to me and said he had a 6 month lease. He didn’t. He’s gone. I’m the one who has had to figure out the taxes, financial support and even file for divorce. It’s since been pure hell for me. I’m 65 years old and am on disability for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. He’s 60. Since he left, I’ve discovered so much about the secret life he’s led behind my back: prostitutes, hookups, and several “girlfriends” he’s dumped, then found another, all in heir early 20s. He’s a pretty mentally sick guy even though he wears several masks that make him look like he’s that “great guy”. He physically assaulted me twice, threatened again twice. Yeah, no one needs to be abused in any way, whether it’s emotionally, verbally, sexually (including sexual abandonment), and/or physically.
      If any of those above abuses happened to you, you need to look inside yourself and ask why you’d want to stay with a man who repeatedly abused you? I tell people this: “Why would I want to stay married to my own murderer?” Get some help, Kim! Please. Before your depression gets worse. You were a codependent just like I was. Read about codependency. Learn about his behavior. You can google just about everything these days, so please do it and research the heck out of who and what he is and what how he created that codependency in you. YOU were the high-value woman he chose to marry because HE valued himself less, was more lower in value. HE wanted to learn how to become YOU. So you see? YOU were the better person in the relationship. You need to realize your self-worth, learn about yourself, become self-aware, and start enjoying life again. You might require an antidepressant to help you. Do it. Live life to the fullest! We only have this one life on this huge planet. Take advantage of it and break out of that bubble.
      We can all help you, Kim, but you have to want that help. You have to want that change and put some work into yourself. Can you do that for all of us and for yourself? Please?

      • Sarah Louise Nicholson November 17, 2018 at 12:59 pm - Reply

        That was helpful to read, thank you

      • J April 3, 2019 at 11:24 pm - Reply

        That was a good article that reflects a lot about how I feel. I was disappointed though that it is once again another article about women facing difficulty with divorce. Our cultural Society seems to think that it only affects women and men are the bad guys. Before we divorced she would tell me about all her friends cheating on their husbands and her other friends who were already divorced scamming their exhusbands out of more child support than they need. Now my ex-wife has jumped on the bandwagon using child support money to pay for her own emotional spending.. meanwhile I have to get a second job to pay for it as well as my own expenses. The system favors the custodial parent. The system says kids need to be showered with money and there does not have to be any accountability where that money goes. Whether it goes to them or the custodial parents entertainment. I don’t want to talk about my personal situation any more than I already have but it was she who was unfaithful and sounded a lot like the person written about in this article

        Together for 17 yrs. It’s been 2 1/2 years.

        • Melissa Sharp May 9, 2019 at 3:09 pm - Reply

          Hi J,
          Thank you for your comment. Our blog is written from our experiences so we can only address this from our point of view. I understand what you are saying about accountability, and our courts are frustrating. I feel the more we all talk about it and bring the inequities out in the open, the more the system will be forced to change. Good luck.

        • Jenn Jenn May 17, 2019 at 2:34 am - Reply

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  2. Numila Parker August 12, 2018 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Excellent article. As always Suzy , your words are inspiring and empowering. My most valuable support came from those friends who have gone through this. Validation through lived experience will be of great value in my work as I move into the next step of this recovery process . Thank you

  3. Ray September 9, 2018 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    I was dating a woman that I cared for very much. The most special woman I had ever met in my life. She had been divorced for 4 years and was still not over her husband Dusty. She left me to take time to try to heal herself. I pray for her healing everyday and hope she heals and is ok after. A wonderful and amazing woman like her is a great catch. I don’t see how he would have ever left her. I just hope she is ok.

  4. Jenny February 21, 2019 at 6:04 am - Reply

    I found out this past December my husband had a couple month affair. He came back after living with her for eight days, he is sorry, remorseful, has a mentor and is doing counseling. But I am hurting. Now, I am trying to decide if I should leave. The infidelity hurts more than I have ever hurt before, and when I think of divorce my pain lessons. But I wonder, am I just trading one pain for another? We have been unhappily married for 20 years and have six kids together. I am just loss at what to do. I never thought he loved me through our whole marriage and I thought I didn’t love him. But when he left I felt like I was being torn in two. My pastor says that if I didn’t love him I wouldn’t be feeling so much hurt. I really know nothing anymore.

  5. Vicki March 21, 2019 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    My divorce has been final for a year, we were married 21 years and one morning while I was working I received a text message from my husband that simply said “I moved out”. When I got home everything was gone, the house was empty, our bank accounts emptied. Shocked and devastated does not begin to describe my new normal. Over the next several months that followed I was learning so many things about my husband that I did not know or perhaps I did not want to know.
    I am 60 years old now and he is 45 years old. He was my world. I could not believe that someone as handsome and kind as my husband wanted me, I mean truly wanted me. To realize it was all a lie has been unimaginable.
    My husband had not worked in about 10 years (bad back) so, I worked two jobs and supported us, I made wonderful meals and kept a spotless home. I thought that is what a good wife does. Now, I work from home so that I almost never leave my house, I can’t see people I am terrified that people will see me as being so stupid. I have not talked with anyone about what he did but seems like others know and he lives in the same town. I have grown children from a previous marriage that I raised alone, they completely do not like my ex husband and a few months before he left me I was not feeling good, but being a hard working person who never gave in to being sick. I kept saying I was fine and my husband was making coffee every morning for me which he had never done.. I now know that my ex husband was putting drain cleaner in my coffee and discovered other things he did to me.
    I am not sure that learning to live again is even possible after all these years and being 60 years old, all my retirement is gone, and I had to start completely over buying furniture and things I needed.

    • Kayla March 31, 2019 at 5:15 am - Reply

      Vicki- I am so sorry to hear your story. That’s absolutely horrific. What he did to you is devastating. It seems you were married to a narsassist (monster). I hope you’re able to heal!

      • Natasha April 3, 2019 at 4:09 am - Reply

        Reading some of your stories are sad. I am now 31 yrs and was married for 5 years but was with my husband for 8 yrs. We found each other in school, fell in love, graduated and got married. We had a few fights because pictures and text I found in his phone and over the course of our marriage he left me a few times (fla few days). We would go to counseling, then we had a fight and he left when I was 5 mths pregnant. I cried everyday couldn’t eat or sleep. He told me he wanted space and for a whole year I prayed and was good wife so he would come back to me and now our son. We got carried away once and I got pregnant and he came back but I had a miscarriage with was devastating. He later left me again after it was revealed that he was cheating. He also admitted to having feelings for someone else. Although our divorce isn’t final he has been seen openly with someone. I am still in shock and I am dying a little each day. I try to pray and talk to my friends but I still feel like trash and have realized he never loved me. I see him almost everyday when he come to pick up our son and he looks like he is happy. Why do they lie… I thought he loved me and I was living in hope ….

  6. Ana May 9, 2019 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    I’m so tired of people demonizing the person who leaves or moves on or finds the love of their life afterwards. Why should we be called “dumb” for staying in a relationship that wasn’t working for us? It doesn’t mean we think the other person isn’t good enough for us. Not everyone is suited for one another and when you are young and stupid you don’t know who you are enough to always make the right decisions about who to marry. You aren’t old enough or wise enough to know what makes a relationship work. Enough of demonizing people for their decisions just because you can’t handle that for whatever reason you weren’t right for them.

  7. Kelly May 20, 2019 at 3:46 am - Reply

    Ana- “so tired of demonizing the person” The person has choices and made vows to the other. If the person decides to have an affair, abruptly end the relationship, poison the other- these are all wrong and unkind ways of handling it. That is why they are “demonized”. There is a more humane way of handling this. The victim in the marriage deserves that courteous and respect. Some choose no to..so they can have their cake and eat it too, some for financial reasons, and some simply don’t have any care or consideration.

  8. Sophie Peter May 29, 2019 at 11:28 am - Reply

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  9. Cindy June 10, 2019 at 5:05 pm - Reply

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  10. Canton August 1, 2019 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    Divorce is so much easier for women than men. The world is filled with a surplus of men to women (gender ratio imbalance). Men are all too eager to financially look after and take care of a woman. Men do all of the work in starting the relationship; initial approach, planning dates, facing rejection, etc. Women just have to show up. It’s innate biological survival of the species but it’s time to recognize divorce is much more difficult for men. Perhaps that is why 70% of divorces are initiated by women.

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