So you're divorced: Now what?

The end of a marriage represents not only a loss, but also a new beginning.  If you're newly divorced, a lot more than marital status has probably changed.  This is a time to take stock and make some plans.  What sorts of goals do you have for yourself emotionally, socially, financially, professionally or as a parent?  You may have already begun to consider what your post-marital life looks like in some or all of these areas, the divorce process may have given you some tools with which to approach these, you may be working through these issues in therapy, or meeting with a divorce recovery group where discussion helps stimulate your thinking and introduce you to new ideas.  In any case, you are very likely asking yourself, "Where do I go from here?"

As with any loss, you will go through stages of grief, ideally arriving at a state of acceptance.  Not only does this afford you the peace and contentment you so richly deserve, it also positions you to make clear and thoughtful decisions regarding your future.  Take the time to process the loss:  accept the love and support of your family and friends, see a therapist and talk through your emotional experience, join a divorce recovery group, explore meditation or yoga.  Allow this loss to find a place in your identity that doesn't define that identity, but instead enriches it.  If you find yourself unable to break free of an overwhelming sense of grief, seek professional help.

Divorce frequently brings changes to your social life.  If your ex-spouse was the source of your marital social life, chances are you'll be taking on that role as you establish new friendships and support systems.  You may find that the relationships you and your ex had with other couples shift as a result of your divorce;  as a newly single person you may be craving a peer group of other singles.  Engaging in activities that you enjoy, that bring you into contact with others who have similar interests, can be an excellent way to explore new social networks and make new friends:  take a cooking class, join a cycling group, look up the local chapter of the Sierra Club, volunteer for an organization you support.  This is a time to explore and rediscover what brings you joy.  Keep in mind that feelings of loneliness and a longing for companionship and closeness are common when experiencing the loss of a love, and many people have the impulse to recouple when their marriage ends.  If you are feeling peaceful about your divorce, with some understanding of what happened and how to minimize the chances of history repeating itself, you'll bring a great foundation to new relationships.  If the wound is still raw, consider concentrating on new friendships instead of romance for the moment.

No matter how you and your ex managed finances, once divorced you are responsible for establishing and maintaining a household entirely on your own.  This is a good time to assess your financial situation, establish some goals, and begin working with a budget.  Draw up a new will, plan for retirement and organize your affairs to reflect your newly independent status.  Finances can be a tremendous source of anxiety as you launch your new life, and gathering information to help you understand your situation and enable you to make informed decisions can go a long way towards addressing that anxiety.  You may be going back to work for the first time in a while as a result of your divorce, or making some professional changes in response to other life changes you are experiencing.  See a career counselor, network with friends, and dust off your resume as necessary.  Again, gather information so that you are positioned to make thoughtful choices that ensure long-term success. 

If you're a parent, lots has changed for your family as a result of this divorce.  The best gift you can give yourself and your children is to establish a workable parenting relationship with your ex-spouse.   Start a dialogue as soon as possible to lay the groundwork for a two-household approach to parenting.  The parental role you assumed when you were part of a couple most likely covered part of the responsibilities involved in raising your family;  now you're responsible for all of those responsibilities when your children are with you.  If you weren't the parent in charge of your children's activities, get up to speed on those activities, including getting yourself on the mailing and email lists.  If you were the parent who provided structure and routine, now's the time to start incorporating some play into the mix. 

Establishing a life after divorce can be daunting, but it can also be exciting.  This IS an opportunity, with lots of changes and - perhaps - some tremendous improvements.  It's a time for exploration, a time to see what feels good to you and fits in your life.  You may try some things and say, "Never again!" but the opportunity is there to get in touch with some undiscovered parts of yourself.  As much as you can, stay open and courageous!

About Syd

Many elements inform my practice:  training in clinical social work, a 20-year career in business, and my role as a parent, to name just a few.

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