- Reflecting on the lessons of a divorce can help turn emotions like anger and shame into a commitment to grow.
- People can begin by exploring their role in the dissolution of the marriage, cultivating resilience, and not jumping into a new relationship.
- Learning how to co-parent, manage finances, and keep the peace when possible are important as well.
I admit that I got curious when I heard that Gwyneth Paltrow recently said, “In a divorce, I’ve learned so much from something I wanted least in the world.” What did she learn? When she coined the term “conscious uncoupling,” many of my divorcing clients quoted her. But what does she mean by that? It got me thinking about what one can learn from divorce, and I came up with a long list. Here are just a few.
1. Take a good look at yourself and own your part in the failure of the relationship.
- Breakups are never just about one of you. We all make mistakes, errors in judgment, hurtful actions. Intentional or not, these can erode or destroy a relationship.
- Be brave in learning about yourself, your history, what you want and need, and what you brought into that relationship. Invest in getting to know yourself, whether it is through reading, journaling, therapy, or self-reflection.
- When you examine your mistakes and learn from them, you are less likely to repeat them in your next relationship, and you may choose your next mate more wisely.
- Divorce statistics get much worse in second and third marriages because people tend to repeat the things that destroyed their previous relationship.
2. Build your resilience.
- This is about using skills to recover from the pain of the divorce. Learn healthy ways to cope with your anger, grief, pain, and fear.
- Think about what triggers you—we all have triggers, but there are ways to handle them. The best way is to talk with someone caring who will listen, and not inflame the situation. A supportive person knows how to listen without trying to “fix” the feelings.
- When you take control of managing your emotions you won’t need to broadcast them. You will begin to let go of grudges, forgive, and focus on the future. Turn to friends and family who help you stay healthy and feel loved.
- Focus on self-care and self-development. This is one way to build your resilience. Take the time to learn healthy ways to express your feelings and to have constructive conversations.
3. Learn to calm down before making any decisions in your divorce.
- During a divorce, the decisions you make have long-term consequences. You and your children (if you have them) will live with these decisions for years.
- Decisions are driven by emotions, and if you are flooded with feelings you won’t be able to make rational, well-considered decisions. You may regret them later.
- So, make your mantra: “No decisions in a crisis.”
4. Don’t jump into a new relationship.
- You are probably raw from the breakup and not ready for a new relationship.
- You may feel beaten down, your ego is bruised, you want to feel attractive or loved, you are lonely or bored and seeking distraction, but you aren’t ready for a relationship yet.
- Dating is fine—it’s important not to isolate and it’s important to find companionship in doing things you enjoy. For the present, explore and have fun, but focus on the three steps above before entering a committed relationship.
- It is helpful to meet many new potential partners—this helps you learn about yourself, what you want in a relationship, and it helps you test out your new communication skills.
- On the other hand, it is important to learn to be ok with being alone. You can develop new interests, and you can take the time to focus on yourself through meditation, journaling, or self-reflection.
5. Learn to co-parent if you have kids.
- Use the tools in the steps above to build a secure parenting partnership. This is necessary for your healing and the healing of your children.
- You will need to learn new skills that you didn’t have in your marriage when the division of labor was taken for granted. Perhaps you’ll need to learn to cook, manage your bills, improve your parenting skills, and learn home maintenance skills.
- You and your ex will both have a learning curve. If you can develop a cooperative relationship and cut each other a little slack, especially in the early stages of your divorce, you may even be able to help each other get up to speed in the areas that are new to you.
- Why do this? Because it benefits your kids to know their parents are working together.
6. Learn how to manage your money.
- Your financial situation has probably changed, and usually, this means a reduction in your lifestyle.
- Develop a realistic budget and learn where to cut your discretionary expenses so that you can live within your means. And if you need help, talk to a financial specialist.
- Be sure to pay your bills on time, and avoid racking up debt.
7. Build peace where you can.
- It is ok for both of you to stay friends with your mutual friends. Don't turn friends away from your ex through blame and shame.
- It is great to stay friends with your in-laws, especially if you have children. You and their grandparents all love your children.
- Your kids need to know that you aren’t rejecting the in-laws and that you aren’t turning your family against your ex.
- Speak kindly of your ex to others, including your children. Toxic stories spread poison that can infect others and yourself. Even if your ex is saying terrible things about you to others, it reflects well on you when you don’t. Talk about your ex as you would hope your ex talks about you.
8. Don’t fight over coat hangers.
- Material possessions and personal property are often divided near the end of your divorce. As the divorce draws to a close, one way to prolong it to fight over “things.”
- Material possessions carry emotional meaning, but the cost of fighting over them is more than the cost of replacing them.
- Ask yourself if you are fighting over things because of an emotional attachment, such as the memory of when you and your ex purchased it.
- Or are you fighting because of vindictive feelings, such as “my spouse doesn't deserve to have the baby books”?
- Or is the fight because you aren’t ready to finalize the divorce? The symbolic end of your relationship is when you sign your marital settlement agreement. The finality of the divorce can hit you hard, and sometimes you can delay the ending by arguing over unimportant things.
There is much to be learned from a divorce. Turn your feelings of shame, guilt, anger, or failure into a commitment to learning from your experience.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2021