Somewhere along the line, experts figured out The Stages of Divorce Recovery. They are sort of like the Stages of Grief. These lists make us think there is a mostly predictable line from one divorce recovery step to the next, and then the pain is over, and we can get back to normal.
As we know, divorce recovery doesn’t follow that tidy line from here to there. In the early days of realizing your marriage is not going to survive, most of us seriously wonder if we, ourselves, will survive such a catastrophic, life-changing event!
For me, the pain of my divorce was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was a visceral, knife-like pain in my heart. I went to the ER twice thinking I was having a heart attack. I learned about Broken-heart syndrome after divorce. I wondered if I would ever recover – divorce recovery steps or not.
Stage 1: Being Shocked & Devastated
We had been separated for some time. I was working on forgiveness. He was supposed to be working on ending the other relationship and figuring out what it would take for us to rebuild our marriage. He, like so many times before, told me he wanted to be a good husband and father. He said he had ended it with the girlfriend (or girlFIEND – as I thought of her).
When I discovered that he was still sneaking off to be with her and lying to may face, again, I was devastated. I had in good faith given him chance after chance after chance to end that relationship once and for all. He said he would. He said he had. But I finally had to face the fact that he never had and he was not going to. With that realization, I filed for divorce and pretty much fell apart.
I was shocked that he could throw away everything we had built in our 33 years of marriage. We had wonderful kids. Our life was good and now it was gone, and I was barely able to get myself out of bed every morning.
For way too long, I couldn’t believe that in the middle of my life, I was getting a divorce and absolutely everything about me, my family, and my future was going to change drastically, forever. The terms shocked and devastated don’t fully convey my despair about my divorce.
Stage 2: Experiencing Intense Sadness, Anger and Anxiety
If it’s anything, separation and divorce are overwhelming and exhausting. You’re not sleeping well. Nothing sounds good to eat. And during this fog of divorce, you’re faced with hundreds of decisions you have to make that will determine your future.
During the process of divorce, your life changes dramatically and immediately. The changes of divorce happen so fast that it’s hard to process it all. That’s all happening while you are spending a lot of energy just keeping yourself together from morning ‘til night.
So, even though exhaustion and overwhelm describe how you’re feeling during divorce, you are probably dealing with more intense emotions than you’ve ever felt before. Sadness and grief are usually first. The despair of divorce is overwhelming. Almost everything made me cry during this stage of the divorce process.
Next, in the so-called steps of divorce recovery, anger shows up with a vengeance! And usually, it’s not normal everyday irritation or aggravation. For me it was rage, pure and simple. I remember screaming words I never let my kids say. I took a hammer to gifts he had given “the girlfiend” which she returned when they had a “lover’s spat.”
In the process of trying to accept my divorce, I made my kids worry. They saw me on the floor of the closet sobbing. I showed up at my son’s house, devastated after a simple girls-only party where half of us were divorced. “I’m not supposed to be divorced!,” I sobbed.
Our culture says women aren’t supposed to get this angry. But women who have read my divorce recovery book, Radical Recovery are always relieved to hear that I had those erratic, unfamiliar and intense emotions on my own divorce trip. They particularly identify with the poem I wrote, entitled, “I Hate Him!” At the time, I honestly did.
In all of my years of doing midlife divorce recovery work, I have hundreds of stories of normal women doing outrageous things during divorce. Just don’t do anything that you have to do time for! He’s just not worth it!
Stage 3: Facing the Reality of the Divorce
After the rage and the despair ease up a bit, we have to do the hard work of coming to grips with the fact that our divorce is really happening. Being divorced is going to be our new reality. I hated that.
Usually, when I first woke up after a restless night, I would open my eyes and I would think, “Oh no!” (or “Oh — something worse!”) this divorce is really happening. This is my new real life.”
That reality was devastating to me at the time.
There are so many new things to figure out when we go from being married to being divorced. I was afraid that I couldn’t manage things on my own. I had rarely paid the bills. He took care of getting the cars fixed, taking out the trash, making the decisions on investments. It was dumb I let him do all that, but I did lots of other things, and it worked for us …. until it didn’t.
I think one of the most important things I did early on after divorce was to make an appointment with the friend who had always done our taxes every year. He helped me face the financial reality of the divorce and helped me figure out the best steps to take on that front. Find out your true after-divorce financial reality as soon as you can.
Stage 4: Adjusting to Being Single
After we have done some of the basics of accepting that we are officially divorced, we have to adjust to being single. One step that helps in that adjustment after divorce, it to figure out how we’re going to talk about our divorce.
When we run into friends at the post office or grocery store, figure out what you’re going to say when they ask you, “How are you doing?” Or “What happened?” We have an opportunity to say something that leaves them knowing that we are a good, gracious woman, or we can make them think, “Wow! I don’t want to run into her again!” In our MasterPlan divorce recovery program we help you figure out how to talk about the divorce in a way that people admire you and not avoid you.
Almost always, one of the divorce recovery steps is that we have to move or change our living arrangements. For me, our big house was too much for my one son still at home and me, and I could not afford it. Most of us dread that move, but in many ways it can give us a fresh start even if we have to move into a much smaller place. Remember, Home is where you are! Especially after divorce.
We also have to figure out who we want in our life now, and who we need to let go. Push the “PAUSE” button on friends and family who are keeping your stuck. Relationships take time and energy and we have to choose to be around people who help us move forward.
Realize that we often have to take the initiative to get together with people we care about. That’s sad but true. People don’t know what to do with us. One of our divorce recovery steps is learning to honestly tell friends and family what we need.
Stage 5: Finding a New Optimism
Even as we are adjusting to being single, something that can take longer than we want, we begin to get glimpses of a new feeling of well-being and optimism.
One thing that helped me get to that point was referring to myself as “single” instead of “divorced.” That small change in my thinking made me more positive and hopeful.
I also started feeling more confident in my ability to not only survive after divorce, but to create a life that was good and full and fun. I was on a tight budget, but I was able to pay my bills every month. I wasn’t going to turn into a bag lady like I worried about at the first.
Even though anger and sadness still show up, they are often less intense. If we do find ourselves outraged that he is taking his girlfiend to the Bahamas while we can’t afford a vacation at all, we hopefully have learned to let go of things we cannot control and cannot change.
Part of this divorce recovery trip is that we learn that we are in charge of our life, and we can make it as wonderful or as miserable as we decide. Our future is our choice, and when we realize that fact in real life after divorce, we know that our life can be good again, because we can make it good.
Stage 6: Experiencing A Life-Changing Transformation
Since I slogged my way through my own divorce, I have had this passion to help other women make the trip more gracefully than I did. (I set a pretty low bar, believe me!)
But I don’t want women to just survive divorce, I want a total life transformation! All of us must realize that even though “stuff” happens, we still get to decide how to react to that stuff. Plus we can also be a positive role model to people we care about.
We have been through one of the most challenging life situations ever … a divorce. And we hopefully have learned lessons that we could not have learned any other way.
After a midlife divorce, when at first all we could see was devastation, we now realize we have an opportunity to rediscover our best and most beautiful selves. Most of us have spent years being what we needed to be for those around us. Now we have an opportunity to revisit what we actually want our own life to look like going forward.
Let’s ask ourselves:
- What are my gifts? What am I good at? What do I love doing?
- What are my goals? I’ve helped my wasband with his goals. I’ve helped my children with theirs. What goals do I have for my life now?
- What are my dreams? What are the things I can do that I used to dream about? How can I shine my light in brand new ways as a single woman?
The steps and stages of divorce recovery are as varied as there are women on this journey. We each have to figure out how to get to the life we deserve after divorce. Getting help is a huge step in the right direction. Trying to do this on your own makes recovery take longer and more difficult.
Connecting with others who know what you’re going through can make you feel less isolated and alone, too. Getting help makes every stage and every step of divorce recovery easier. At Midlife Divorce Recovery, we’re here to help.