Loneliness is part of every divorce. Even though those lonely feelings after divorce can be the worst feelings we have ever felt, they are normal. Normal or not, the loneliness can be so painful that we sometimes wonder how long we can survive those crushing feelings of rejection and isolation. In the back of our mind, we worry about becoming a hoarder with dozens of cats who simply disappears into her lonely house. That’s not going to happen! We can help.
Feeling lonely after midlife or late-life divorce probably reflects the fact that our children are off and running in their new, more independent lives. After I divorced at 53, and our last child left for college, it was the first time in my entire life that I had lived alone.
If you were a stay-at-home mom or are an entrepreneur who works from home, or are now retired, you may also not have the camaraderie of fellow workers to help fill up the day. And because we may be needy and complicated, our friends often don’t call as much as we wish they would.
Before the divorce you may have felt lonely and bored in your marriage, but at least there was a warm body to interact with. During divorce you’re lonely because most people don’t understand how devastating divorce can be. After divorce, loneliness is common even when you’re surrounded by family and friends.
If you want to know the truth, the loneliness of divorce is one of the most oppressive and debilitating challenges in this whole ordeal. Even if you want or need the divorce, suddenly being alone without your ex-spouse, can be disorienting and depressing especially after a long marriage.
You may expect your spiritual family to embrace you and include you in activities. But many churches focus mostly on keeping families together and have few, if any, connections for people whose marriages don’t survive. Sadly, sometimes our churches, synagogues or other places of worship are the loneliest places of all.
After a divorce, but especially after a midlife or late-life divorce when your children have already left the nest, extreme loneliness is almost always one of the top three most difficult challenges of divorce recovery, not just for you, but for everyone. Join the crowd!
So what are you going to do about it? If you’re living alone, how are you going to survive and overcome the agonizing loneliness you feel?
Be Lonely For A Bit – Accept the Feelings
One piece of advice: Really feeling the loneliness can eventually help ease the pain. It sounds crazy, but it’s true!
Another piece of advice: Look at your time alone after divorce as a time of solitude instead of a time of loneliness.
Take to heart the quote by theologian Paul Tillich: “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”
Or this from Lawrence Sterne, “In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself.”
Or how about May Sarton’s observation: “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”
The loneliness of divorce can contain the seeds of positive change in it, if we consider this time in the wilderness as a time for personal growth.
The Loneliness Of Divorce And The Grief Of Divorce
Dealing with the loneliness after divorce is tied up with the grief of divorce. Any kind of grief work is a solitary journey. People don’t look at the grief of divorce the same way they look at other kinds of grief. Even though they would never say this to someone whose partner has died, friends and family tell us with exasperation … “Forget about him. Get over it. Just move on!”
Those words are easy for them to say, but grieving takes time and space that people are usually not willing to give. We might still cry when we are with our friends. We might still be furious that our wasband did things that caused the divorce.
Sometimes if the divorce is a choice someone made to leave us, we’re lonely and depressed. We not only feel alone, but we feel worthless and rejected and somehow “not enough.” Sometimes after divorce trying to overcome the loneliness means we are also simply trying to get ourselves back together.
Set boundaries on your pity parties: Fully accept what you’re feeling for an hour, or a day or a weekend. Feel the sadness deep down. But don’t get stuck in that place of loneliness and depression after divorce.
Make A “Wallow Prevention” List
Socializing after divorce is an important step in our recovery. But early on we might not want to see anyone. We might still be crying all the time. Our faces and eyes look like we’ve been on a three-week binge. We want people around, but we sometimes don’t want to have to talk to them … or we may need to talk until they refuse to listen anymore.
Connecting with other women who understand is vital to overcoming the loneliness of divorce. Our MasterPlan program immediately connects you to our private, protected MDRcommunity which is full of women from all over the world who are also on the divorce recovery road. Click here for more information.
Even though I know that after divorce and especially while you are feeling lonely and emotionally isolated, you are sort of just going through the motions. If you’re working, you have to show up and do your job. That’s a good thing, but it’s difficult to focus and it’s exhausting if you’re barely keeping yourself together every day.
Try some sort of social volunteering. Pass out flyers. Fill backpacks with snacks for kids whose families are at risk. Volunteer for any worthy cause. You can find opportunities at your church, parish, synagogue or community center or at a neighborhood school.
Volunteering helps someone else (which always makes us feel better), and it also helps us be with other people who have big hearts. We can work side by side with people without feeling like we have a big D branded on our forehead.
Connect With Family & Friends
Being with our family and friends can help alleviate the loneliness after divorce and can be a huge benefit … or not! You may have to set the “pause” button on some relationships. If certain people are not helping you move forward but are making you feel guilty or stuck, you might temporarily have to hit the pause button until you feel stronger.
Your number one job right now is YOU! So whatever is best for you is what you should do. Part of the divorce recovery process is taking ownership of our own lives. We are responsible for figuring out how to deal with the loneliness after divorce and in our life moving forward,
Call a friend and ask if you can come stay for the night or the weekend and just let her take care of you while you hole up in her extra bedroom or watch mindless TV all night or want to talk nonstop about it. Ask your family for patience.
Go To The Gym
When I was going through divorce I signed up for a membership at a gym close to my house. That served several purposes. To go workout I had to do three of the steps of our “Survival Six” Morning Action Plan … get my feet on the floor, get dressed and then get moving somewhere.
At the gym, you get your body moving, work up a sweat and get to know other people. Even though I sometimes cried on the treadmill, and didn’t have enough focus power to do some of the group activities, at least I was back in the land of the living for that hour.
Sometimes when your whole life is turned upside down and you feel lost and alone after divorce, it can help to “get out of Dodge!” Taking a trip anywhere on your own is an accomplishment. You can also avoid running into anyone you know … and avoid having to talk about the divorce all over again.
You can also take a trip to another area of your own home-town and stay in a hotel. No one needs to know that your wasband (my term for ex-husband) is in the Hahamas with his girlFIEND (my term for his girlfriend) frolicking barefoot on the beach. Leaving your neighborhood might also keep you from doing anything that could land you in jail!
Another option is to sign up for a trip for singles (Backroads, MeetUp, etc)
Or just get a dog! (Really!)
Don’t start dating after your divorce if you are still in the “falling apart” stage of recovery. It’s much healthier to spend some time (yes, alone!) figuring out who you are before getting involved with someone else.
As I’m sure you’ve read, second marriages fail at a rate of about 75%. DO NOT START DATING JUST TO RELIEVE THE LONELINESS! Look at the alone time as a time of self-reflection and personal rediscovery. Then you will know more about who you are and what kind of people deserve your time and energy in the future.
I know, too, that missing the sex part of your relationship is a deep physical loneliness that is challenging. SOMETHING TO REMEMBER: Middle-aged men are less likely to practice “safe sex” than any other age group. STD’s are a real concern these days. Just saying!
Conclusion: When Dealing With The Loneliness Of Divorce
Be kind to yourself. Again, your #1 job is to take care of you! Get resources that will keep some of the loneliness at bay. Take a look at our MasterPlan. We connect you with a whole group of other women on this road. We also help you do the grief work and the healing work you need to do, but then we guide you in figuring out who you are and what you want moving forward.
It’s your life and you get to decide what your future is going to be. Use this loneliness after divorce to rediscover your own gifts and talents and how you want to use them in this one wild and crazy, but very precious, life you’ve been given!
Thank you for a wonderful article and sound advice. As an older man (58) 11 months post-divorce, I wish I had found this a year ago. The advice is equally important and helpful for men as it is for women. The current situation with COVID, however, has made things all the more challenging, with the gyms closing barely two months after my divorce was final. With so many regular day-to-day interactions now becoming virtual, it’s difficult not to feel isolated. Interaction with my friends, quality time with my still school-age children, etc., is all on a phone or a computer screen. Even the prospect of what (as awful as it sounds) essentially becomes “dating for sex” – because the lack of physical/emotional intimacy can be utterly soul-crushing – isn’t reasonably possible (not that it’s advisable under “normal” circumstances – i.e., with no pandemic). I’m close to wrapping up a master’s degree (I started it a year before the divorce), and am planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in my field, doing research, writing, and possibly teaching. So I have things to do. So there are plenty of interests, passions, and “vocation”. My friends tell me to stay the course – and someone to share all of these new achievements with will come along. Intellectually, I know they’re right. But the heartache of still grieving, trying to heal, of wanting companionship, intimacy (including but not just sexual intimacy), and questioning whether I can trust enough to love again – is at times overwhelming. I miss my ex-wife (and for that matter, my ex-in-laws) terribly, and in all honestly, I still love her. For what it’s worth, men cry too. Especially at night, when instead of holding someone and being ‘in the moment’ of holding that person, there’s only emptiness, memories of what… Read more »
I found this article informative.
This section was most helpful: Be Lonely For A Bit – Accept the Feelings.
Lawrence Sterne’s, “In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself” is wonderful!
Cheers & Best Wishes to those of us who find ourselves Alone in Midlife.