Whether you have chosen to end your marriage, or the decision was made by your spouse, it may be hard to imagine how your life will unfold post-divorce.
Perhaps you are reeling with emotions like shock, dismay, grief, and anxiety, just trying to survive each day. You might be focused on the process of unraveling the marriage—the finances, the home, personal possessions, and the children’s schedule (if you have kids)—and working through a legal process.
It is hard to think ahead to what comes next. I have found through my own divorce, and in talking with many divorcing clients, that it is impossible to imagine the losses you will experience or how deeply you will feel them. Here are my top 10—and some thoughts on how to deal with them.
1. Less time with your children (if you have them) is the biggest loss for parents.
When you're not tucking them into bed every night, or sending them off to school with a kiss and a hug, your arms may ache for them. While you may have taken these little rituals for granted when they lived with you full time, now you treasure and appreciate the time they are with you.
You will probably feel lonely when they go to your ex, and this is painful. At the same time, many parents welcome the break to pursue other interests and relationships. When the kids are with you, you can focus on them more and perhaps even become a more attentive parent.
2. You lose a sense of partnership to share your kids’ successes or disappointments.
Over time, you will adjust to this, but it is painful for a while. If your child wins their soccer game or has a stellar performance on a test, you’ll find that your friends will share your pleasure. Perhaps your relationship with your ex will ease so that you can eventually share important events, such as graduations or weddings, without tension.
3. You may feel you’ve lost your best friend or someone you thought of as your best friend.
More than that, you’ve lost the person you once called when your kitchen was overrun by ants or you got a bad review at work.
One client struggled because she could no longer turn to her ex, a plumber, to fix a leaking toilet. It was a hard adjustment for me when I could no longer call my ex, a doctor, when I had a physical symptom. Another client was used to getting free legal and financial advice from her husband, but he was no longer interested in helping her out. Over time, however, you find different resources and connections, become more independent, and develop new skills.
4. You experience the loss of shared history, traditions, and memories, like family trips or holidays.
Perhaps your family had regular traditions such as camping in your favorite park every summer or celebrating Christmas with a trip downtown to see the lights. You may find that you no longer feel able to do those things, as they are painful reminders of a past that you have lost.
However, you can create new traditions and holiday celebrations. You may host Thanksgiving now, rather than always going to your in-laws. You may find a friend to go camping with you and discover new places to go.
5. You experience the loss of extended family that cuts you off or takes sides.
It is not unusual for extended family members to side with their blood relation, no matter the circumstances of the marriage and divorce.
It was surprising and hard for my client whose in-laws stopped talking with him when he thought they had been so close. The cutoff was total, although the children continued to see their grandparents, and he supported that. This is a situation when you recognize that you have no control over the decisions of others, and perhaps you will eventually forgive them. In the meantime, appreciate that your children (if you have them) didn’t lose grandparents in their parents’ divorce.
6. You lose some friends who choose sides or abandon both of you.
People you thought were good friends now may be awkward with you or perhaps avoid you. Sometimes a friend might intervene to try to fix your marriage or to offer well-intentioned advice you have not requested.
You will see over time who your true friends are. Those friends are happy to invite you along to dinner or a movie even if you aren’t part of a couple anymore. They are supportive without being intrusive. You can trust them not to gossip.
Those are your real friends. Reach out to them for support and for social events. My clients talk about the discomfort of being the “third wheel” or the “only” single person when socializing. Remember: No one cares that there is a single person in the group. If shame is causing your discomfort, let that go and enjoy the independence.
7. You may have a financial loss, less money to live on, and less financial security.
This causes a lot of anxiety when you wonder if you can ever retire, or if you will end up homeless on the street. You will have to adjust to living on a smaller budget and will become more conscious of where your money is going.
You might go back to work or increase your work in order to rebuild your sense of security. It takes a while, but you may find that you enjoy your work, that you can live on less, and that your future begins to look less frightening. Women usually have a harder adjustment than men; the idea of returning to work can be daunting to someone who has been out of the workforce for some time. However, you might find work exciting and a welcome challenge, especially if you are sharing kids’ time with your ex and have time when you might otherwise be feeling lonely.
8. Moving out of a beloved home into a small, rented room is part of a big change in your standard of living.
The home or apartment you lived in with your ex may have been created by you to be a welcoming and loving home, filled with memories and reminders of good times. Now you find yourself in a new place that does not carry the stamp of your personality.
To make your new place a home, bring photos and personal possessions that will make you feel comfortable during the transition to singlehood. Give yourself some time to settle in, meet your new neighbors, and get to know your community.
9. You experience the loss of a deeply held commitment to yourself.
You may have promised yourself you would never get divorced. I had a “rule” that I would “never” get divorced.
Whether it was your decision or not, divorce is like a moral injury, when you are caught in a bind because you couldn’t stay married, and in separating, you weren’t being true to long-held core values. You may feel you’ve let yourself down, or let others down, and struggle with your own sense of guilt or of not being a worthy person. You have to keep reminding yourself that your relationship may have failed, but that doesn’t make you a failure.
10. You lose your vision of the future that wasn’t playing out as you had hoped.
Sometimes the loss of the hopes and dreams you once had feels overwhelming. One client said she had to let go of the old hopes and dreams in order to allow new ones to come to her. Time can heal this wound, as you come to accept your new reality. You begin to think that the future doesn’t look so terrible, you forgive yourself and your ex, and begin to move on.
The losses you experience in divorce are unique to you. If you can acknowledge them, you are taking the first step toward healing. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes the tunnel is long and twisty, and you can't see the light yet.
You can journal or express yourself in other ways, and seek counseling if you feel stuck. Life will get better.
© Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 2019