- Gender and Relationships
Ways to Survive Divorce
Adjusting to Life After Divorce
We will discuss ways to move forward emotionally, socially, and financially after a divorce:
• How to move forward emotionally
• Adjusting to being ex-spouses
• Establishing a new social life
• Taking steps to strengthen your financial security
• Facing the future with confidence
Moving forward after a divorce is one of the biggest challenges you may ever face. Adjusting to life after a divorce involves emotional, social, practical, and legal challenges and changes. Moving through this
adjustment period takes time no matter how many years you were married.
Moving forward emotionally
Here are ways to cope as you move forward emotionally through a divorce:
• Forgive yourself and your ex. This may be the hardest task you face after a divorce.
And depending on your circumstances, it may take a long time before you reach
this point. If you wanted the divorce, you may feel guilty about the pain your
spouse and children have experienced even if you believe that the change will
benefit all of you. If you didn’t want the divorce, you may find it hard to forgive
your spouse for ending the marriage. Reaching forgiveness is healthy both for
you and your children, and it is an important step in the road to recovery.
Consider talking with a counselor or therapist if negative feelings such as anger
and bitterness are preventing you from letting go of the past and moving
• Accept that your marriage is over. It can take years to accept fully that a marriage
has ended. In the meantime, you can make the transition easier by taking steps to
remind yourself that you’ve entered a different stage of life. For example, you
might put away wedding photos or other visual reminders of
your former life.
• Keep busy to avoid dwelling too much on the past. You might go walking with a
friend, get involved in a household project, volunteer in your faith community,
meet a co-worker for lunch, or spend extra time with people
• Make an effort to reach out to friends and to develop new friendships. Spending time
with people who didn’t know your ex will help you move into a new phase of life.
• Talk with your former in-laws to let them know what kind of relationship you’d like to
have now. Or write them a letter. You might say, “Our marriage has ended, but I
hope you’ll want to continue to see me and our children, and continue being the
• Set limits on how much you talk about your ex with friends and co-workers. It can keep
you from dwelling on the past. And it can help to keep your friendships strong.
Even your closest friends and co-workers may start to avoid you if every time you
see them you talk about your marriage or your ex.
• Find an outlet for your feelings. You may find it easier to avoid talking continually
about your ex if you find outlets for your feelings. Write about your emotions in
a journal. Draw or paint or play music. Talk with a counselor or therapist about
your feelings so that you don’t keep them inside.
• Join a divorce support group. Joining a support group can give you a safe place to
talk about your feelings with people who’ve had similar experiences. It can also
give you a way to share what you’ve learned and help others. There are many
different types of groups. For example, there are single parenting groups, groups
that deal with the stress of divorce, groups to discuss how to handle financial
concerns, and so on. Find a group that suits your needs. Check the weekly
calendar of events in your newspaper for listings of groups. Or call the social
work or community outreach department of a hospital and find out if it offers
support programs for divorced or separated adults.
• Think about strengthening your ties to your faith community. Many houses of worship
have support groups for people who are separated and divorced. A strong faith
community can help you develop deeper connections to others.
• Talk with a counselor or therapist if you are having trouble adjusting to life after a
divorce. It is nearly impossible to avoid feelings of sadness and stress during a
divorce. However, if you have persistent trouble sleeping, low energy, poor
concentration, withdrawal from others, a change in eating habits, or lingering
feelings of sadness or anger, seek professional help. A counselor or therapist can
help you cope with the painful feelings that may be interfering with your life.
Therapy is also helpful if you are feeling “stuck” and are having difficulty moving
on, or if your children are having trouble adjusting to the divorce.
Adjusting to being ex-spouses
After the divorce, your ex may still be a part of your life, especially if you have
children. But you won’t have the same relationship that you did in the past. Here
are some tips on adjusting to being ex-spouses:
• Decide what kind of relationship you would like to have with your former spouse. Would
you like to be friends, supportive co-parents, or co-operative co-workers if you
have the same employer? If you would like to be friends or supportive co-parents,
what would that mean to you? You may not know the answers to these questions
right away. But developing clear goals will help you achieve over time the kind of
relationship that you would like to have. Reframing the relationship from one
that was personal to a more formal relationship will help you become detached
from the emotional issues.
• Ask your ex what kind of relationship he or she would like to have with you. In the heat
of a divorce, both spouses may say things they don’t mean. (“We’ll never be
friends after this!” “I want you out of my life forever!”) But your perspectives
may change over time. And you may miss valuable opportunities to develop a new relationship if you don’t clarify your aims after the anger has cooled. Ask your former spouse when and how he or she would like to stay in touch. Would your ex like to hear from you only when you need to discuss an issue involving the children, or at other times, too? If so, when?
• Work at being civil to one another. This should be a high priority in your new
relationship with your ex-spouse. Especially if you are co-parents, it’s best for
you and your children if you emphasize the positives in your new family structure
and minimize the losses and conflicts. If conflicts with your former spouse cannot
be resolved, seek professional help both for your own well-being and for your
• Consider meeting on neutral ground when you need to get together with your ex. Even
with the best of intentions, you or your ex spouse may find that some settings
tend to push your emotional buttons -- the family home, your favorite restaurant,
the park where you used to take walks together. If this happens, consider meeting
in a neutral setting, such as a coffee shop that didn’t exist when you were
• Have another adult join you if things are difficult when you see your former spouse. Ask
a trusted friend to join you if you need to meet with a former spouse who behaves
in ways that aren’t appropriate to your new relationship -- for example, by
making sexual overtures or by making hurtful remarks.
Establishing a new social life
There are usually two big challenges to creating an independent social life after a
divorce. The first is establishing new relationships with friends you used to see as
a couple. The second is deciding how and when to start dating again if you’d like
to do that. You may want to do the following:
• Decide with your ex what you’ll tell others about the divorce. Most of your
acquaintances and co-workers don’t need -- or want -- to hear more than a brief
explanation, such as, “We grew apart.”
• Avoid loyalty tests. Don’t put friends in a position of having to choose sides in the
divorce -- for example, by refusing to see anyone who maintains a relationship
with your former spouse.
• Realize that others may feel as confused as you do about the divorce. If some friends
keep their distance, it may mean that they don’t know what to say instead of that
they don’t want to see you. Be willing to reach out to them even if you feel that
you’re the one who needs the support. Good communication with friends about
your needs will help them understand what they can do to be supportive of you.
It is normal during a divorce to feel needy and want support. Let your friends
know what you need.
• Let friends and co-workers know how your circumstances have changed. People who
value your friendship will understand if you say that you need to get together for
lunch or after work because you have to spend weekends with your children.
• Plan ahead for birthdays, holidays, and other special events. Speak up about your needs
instead of waiting for others to figure them out. Let friends know that your
children will be spending a holiday with your ex, or that your birthday is
approaching. Tell a friend, “My birthday is coming up, and I’d like to do
something special. Are you free to do something then?” Continue traditions that
are comforting and enjoyable. Create new traditions if old ones are painful.
• Resist the pressure to get involved in new relationships before you feel ready. Everyone
has a different timetable for adjusting to a divorce. It may take weeks, months, or
even years before you feel ready to begin dating. Be careful not to commit to a
new relationship too early; it may be based more on feelings of neediness rather
than on healthy choices. Grieving and healing from the old relationship is
important for new healthy relationships so that the same problems aren’t
• When you feel ready to start dating, consider options that may not have existed before you
were married. Talk to unmarried and divorced friends about how they’ve met
people they wanted to date. Did they use an Internet dating service, or join a
singles’ club in your area?
• Have an honest approach with your children about dating. However, it might be best
to keep dating a separate part of your family life at first until you become more
serious with someone.
Taking steps to strengthen your financial security
It’s natural to feel concerned about money after a divorce. Putting time and
energy into this area will empower you and be very helpful for your financial
future. Here are a few ideas for easing financial troubles:
• Get organized with your finances. A yearly budget will give you a clear sense of the
expenses you will need to cover. It is easy to get overwhelmed after a divorce and
not pay attention to your spending. But maintaining a focus in this area will help
you stay on track financially. And you will be an important role model for your
• Avoid making major financial decisions -- such as selling your home -- until you have a
solid understanding of your new needs. You might find that it makes more financial
sense to stay in your home and live on a tight budget than to make a big move
right after a divorce.
• Talk at least once a year to a tax adviser or another expert who can help you evaluate
your changing circumstances. It’s especially important to do this if you are receiving
child support that may end at a certain point or if you have other financial
arrangements that are subject to change.
• Learn how to plan for your financial future. Take courses to strengthen your
professional skills. Talk to other divorced people and find out how they learned
to live on a lower income. Look into the free financial advice offered by many
banks, county extension services, and other sources, which may help with
anything from drawing up a household budget to planning for a child’s
• Contact the program that provided this publication. The program may be able to
provide additional resources on coping with other emotional and practical aspects
of adjusting to life after a divorce.
Facing the future with confidence
As you make this difficult adjustment, keep in mind that everyone responds to
divorce differently. Avoid comparing yourself to a friend or co-worker who seems
to be healing more quickly than you, or who has a more harmonious relationship
with a former spouse than you do. Trust your instincts. Seek support and take
care of yourself in all aspects of life. And take the time you need to get through
this challenging period of life. Adjusting to divorce is one of the biggest
adjustments you’ll ever have to make. Avoiding stress can be difficult, which is
why finding healthy ways to cope is key. You can do it, and you will be stronger
as a result.
Written with the help of a licensed clinical social worker, private practitioner and group facilitator for both couples and individuals.