- Divorce may be the most stressful experience of your life. Coping with stress in healthy ways is essential.
- When you speak kindly about your ex, you model resilience and healing. You take the burden of your emotions off your children.
- Part of recovering from divorce is shifting attention from the pain of the past to future opportunities.
If you are thinking about making some changes or renewing commitments to yourself, New Year’s is the perfect opportunity to make resolutions.
If you are divorcing or have been divorced, there are eight New Year’s resolutions that are sure to make 2022 a better year.
1. Let go of anger and blame, and forgive (yourself or your ex). Whether you have been divorced for years or are in the divorce process, your anger and/or blame for your ex is unhealthy. The Amish have a saying, “Bitterness corrodes the container it’s in.” Practice letting go of the anger by focusing on things you are grateful for in your life. Letting go of grudges will make for a more peaceful year. One way to let go of anger, blame, and grudges is to forgive. You may need to forgive your ex for betrayals.
Take Carol for example. She told me that she realized that Carl’s betrayal was in the past after the divorce. “Staying enraged wasn’t punishing him at all, but hurting me a lot. I decided I was ready to move on with my own life. My happiness would be my best revenge!
You may need to forgive yourself for things you did that contributed to the breakdown of your relationship. For example, Adam’s divorce was “when I hit bottom,” he said. “I finally got sober, which I should have done years ago.” His sobriety came too late to save his marriage, and he worked hard to forgive himself for his drug use, as well as the destructive things he did when he was high. To forgive himself, he wrote a sincere apology letter to his ex. He said, “She may never forgive me, but I can forgive myself now. That will help me with my recovery.”
2. Speak respectfully and kindly to and about your ex. If you have children, they will be acutely aware of how you speak to or about the other parent. When you speak kindly about your ex, you model resilience and healing. You take the burden of your emotions off your children.
Speaking respectfully and kindly provides more physiologic calm to your nervous system. This self-soothing will make each day a little bit better. Sophie told me she overheard her dad talking on the phone to her mom. He said, “Sophie’s such a good athlete! I know she gets that from you!” Sophie felt moved. She said, “I felt my heart expand.”
3. Learn to be a good co-parent. Be cooperative and make compromises when necessary. Being a good co-parent means communicating about the children to make their transitions seamless. It means working with your ex when your child has difficulties in school, social concerns, or health issues. Be flexible when your ex requests a change in the schedule and ask for what you need in a friendly and clear way.
4. Keep your kids out of the middle of your divorce or post-divorce relationship. Protect your children from the details of the divorce. 8-year old Lindsay complained to me that there won’t be birthday presents or Christmas anymore because “Mommy took all our money.” Your children shouldn’t hear about your financial settlement, your ex’s affairs, or any of the other problems that adults face in their marriage or divorce. Let your kids be kids.
The roles kids sometimes assume in a divorce put them in the middle. They are:
- Spy (“So does Daddy have a girlfriend?”)
- Messenger (“Tell your mom she needs to get a job!”)
- Confidante (“Let me tell you why your dad left us….and why the only reason I don’t kill myself is because of you…”)
- Ally (“You need to support me and be on my side, now. Your mom doesn’t care about us anymore.”)
5. Keep your promises, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you are still negotiating your divorce, you won’t know whether you will have to move or sell your home. You won’t know if you’ll be able to afford the private school or the traditional summer travel. Despite your best intentions and dearest wishes, you may have to move, sell your home, pull your children out of the school they attend, or cancel your summer vacation.
Kids always have questions about what will change after the divorce and what will stay the same. Since things are uncertain during the divorce process, let your children know that you and your ex are working things out as best you can. Reassure them that while you can’t answer all their questions now, you will let them know as soon as you figure things out.
As Marty said to his kids, “Now that mom and I are divorcing, we have a lot of decisions to make. There are many things we don’t know yet, and we know that you’re worried. We promise that you’ll be the first to know when we figure it all out.”
6. Focus on the future. Part of recovering from the divorce is shifting your attention from the pain of the past to the opportunities in your future. You may dwell on your grief, guilt, or anger for a while. But then work to look forward. Create a vision of how you’d like your life to look in a year, two years, five years. What will you be doing? What new activities will you have? What can you look forward to?
Bringing your vision to reality starts today, one small step at a time. When you drift back to the wounds of the past, remind yourself to look forward. Recall your vision and focus on that.
Caroline, who has been divorced for eight years, told me that she’d loved to bake when she was married. After her divorce, she turned her hobby into a business, selling cakes and pies to local restaurants. While her self-esteem plummeted when her husband decided to divorce, she built her self-esteem back up by creating a successful business.
7. Stay on top of your finances. In most marriages, one person handles the finances, pays the bills, and stays on top of the budget. Often the spouse doesn’t fully understand the family finances, investments, retirement planning, and debts. If you were that spouse in your marriage, you need to address this right away. Some things that can help are:
- It may be a steep learning curve, and you may need help from your CPA or financial advisor.
- Usually, there is a drop in living standards when people divorce. This is because the same income that supported one home is now supporting two homes. It is important to understand your spending, your debts, how to manage your savings, and your budget.
- You may need to improve your credit score, so stay on top of your expenses.
8. Take care of yourself. Divorce may be the most stressful experience of your life. Coping with stress in healthy ways is important. This seems obvious, but many people neglect their health when highly stressed, especially if you focus on your children. “I was just trying to survive,” said Maxine. “I didn’t have time to think about exercising or even seeing my doctor for the stomach pain I had.”
Above, I've suggested many self-care practices that you can cultivate.
As you move into the New Year with these resolutions, you will be building a better future for yourself and your children.
Happy New Year.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2021