5 Steps to Recover From a Divorce
It starts with accepting that divorce will happen, even if it isn't your choice.
Posted Nov 26, 2019
Divorce recovery takes some time—months or even years. How it unfolds will depend on many factors, including how complicated your marriage and divorce have been. While research varies (and how exactly does one measure "recovery?"), the general opinion is that it takes 1-2 years to recover fully.
Here are some important steps.
1. Acceptance: Whether you made the decision to divorce, or you are devastated by your spouse’s decision, recognize that if one of you wants a divorce, you will both be getting divorced. No one thinks about divorce on their wedding day, and yet almost 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. It isn’t what you wanted when you got married, and now it feels like a death. Accepting that a divorce will happen is the first step to recovery.
2. Take some time to reflect and process your emotions, ideally before a legal process is started. Get the support you need to do this: therapy, divorce support groups, journaling, meditation, creative expression, and simply talking with your trusted friends or family. Consider working with a Divorce Coach, generally a licensed mental health professional with a specialty in divorce-related issues.
Don’t rush into a legal process. After you have allowed yourself to work through your emotions, you may be more ready to face the legal phase of divorce. Of course, you will still have strong feelings, but you may be able to manage them better while making all the decisions required in a divorce process.
3. Make no big decisions in a crisis. When you first realize that a divorce is likely, you are thrown into “survival mode.” Your priority is to keep things stable for yourself and your children if you have them.
It may be tempting to immediately start a new relationship, move away, quit your job, or go on a spending spree. These things may tempt you with the illusion of pain relief. However, no one is capable of making excellent decisions during a life crisis, so take it one day at a time until you feel ready to think clearly and make rational decisions not driven by emotions. For many people, this might mean waiting months or even a year.
4. Choose a legal process that keeps you out of court, if at all possible. You and your spouse will have much more control of the outcome when you choose mediation or a Collaborative Divorce. Litigation puts all the decision-making control in the hands of a judge—a judge who doesn’t know you or your family, or what really matters to each of you.
Sometimes people want to have “my day in court” or “justice” or even “revenge.” None of this is realistic (divorce court doesn’t work that way), nor is it healthy for you. Litigated divorces are the most costly, both financially and emotionally.
The reality is that most litigated divorces “settle on the courthouse steps” and that only about 3 percent actually go to trial. If you have done the first two steps here, it will be easier for you to stay out of court.
5. Forgive yourself and your ex. You may also need to apologize, and in an earlier post, I wrote about how to make a good apology. Forgiving and apologizing are two of the hardest tasks when you divorce, and they are the two things that will bring you peace.
Forgive yourself for the things you think you should have done, or the things you wish you hadn’t done. Forgive your ex for whatever injury you feel he or she caused throughout the marriage or during the divorce. Your ex need not necessarily even know that you have forgiven, or you might choose to write a letter or let him or her know in person. Dr. Frederick Luskin’s book, Forgive For Good, has a very practical, step-by-step model of forgiveness.
© Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 2019