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How Long Does "Typical" Divorce Recovery Take?

If you're not moving beyond your divorce, you may be doing something wrong.

One of the most common questions newly divorcing people have is, "how long will it take before I'm over this divorce"?

My answer is always the same: "How long it takes to "recover" from a divorce depends on a number of factors, including how long you were together, how good the relationship was and how committed you were to your spouse, whether the divorce was a surprise to you or not, whether you have children together, whether you or your spouse are involved in a new relationship, your personality, your age, your socioeconomic status and on and on.

I liken the undoing of a marriage to trying to disentangle two trees that have grown next to each other for years. The more intertwined the root systems are, the longer it will take for the trees to go their separate ways.

In addition, grief has a life of its own and you are done* when your grief process is done, and not a minute before. There is no magic formula and no way to get through your grief on the fast track. But you can do things to slow your process down, which I discuss below.

*(I'd like to qualify this statement by saying you're never completely "done" grieving if you had a sincere love and attachment to your spouse. By done, I mean recovered to the point where you are no longer weighed down by thoughts and feelings about your spouse or your marriage and the pain of the split is a distant memory.)

While no one can tell you exactly when this will be, I can tell you there are things you can do to make the process harder, and there are things you can do to ease the process. I've created a chart so you can see the difference by comparing actions side by side.

Top Ten Don'ts for Divorce Recovery

  1. Don't ask for help and try to do it all alone
  2. Don't talk about your grief/feelings
  3. Count on others to tell you what you need (don't be in your own power)
  4. Stick your head in the sand and hope it will go away
  5. Pretend you're fine or try to hold it all together
  6. Be upset with yourself for "still" feeling bad, sad, scared, or angry
  7. Try to push your "negative emotions" away for better feeling emotions
  8. Don't accept your new reality and move on
  9. Don't trust that things will work out
  10. Be a perfectionist and think you mustn't make any errors

Top Ten Do's for Divorce Recovery

  1. Ask for help and let help in
  2. Talk about your grief with others
  3. Get as much information as you can about the divorce process
  4. Face each obstacle as it arises
  5. Let others know when you're not feeling well
  6. Allow your feelings to come to the surface
  7. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel
  8. Accept your new reality and move on when it's appropriate to move on (this doesn't mean you have to like it)
  9. Have trust, faith that things will work out
  10. Be willing to make mistakes (mistakes are going to happen no matter how well prepared you are, it's just part of the process)

While I know there are more ways people have to impede or improve their recovery process, this list gives you a general overview of the do's and don'ts as well as the reminder that you can get through it but you'll need a good set of emotional and mental "tools."

I will add a note here also to those may be beyond the time it "should have"taken. If you are three or four years post-divorce and you find that you are not letting go, my best guess (without assessing you personally) is that you are practicing one of the top 10 "don'ts" and that you don't have adequate emotional support.

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I highly recommend that you seek out a local therapist who specializes in divorce or feel free to contact me (415) 257-0830 for guidance on how to find local support.

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