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While going through her divorce, author Wendy Paris interviewed experts and combed through studies on happiness, coping, thriving, and resilience. She combined insights from this research and conversations with hundreds of people who experienced divorce into practical advice for bouncing back.
Self-compassion is one of the strongest predictors of recovery after divorce.1 It helps us remain calm and mindful instead of letting negative experiences overwhelm or define us. Like resilience, it is not a fixed trait. One way you can build self-compassion is by seeing yourself with understanding and forgiveness rather than viewing your problems as personal failures.
After divorce, it’s helpful to take ownership of your past—while accepting your role in it—and actively step into your future. Resilience after loss is correlated with having a sense of control over your life. The people who bounce back most quickly and recuperate most fully don’t beat themselves up over their role in the breakdown of the marriage. Even if the only control you exerted was the decision to keep working on your marriage for so long, focus on that. It shows that you throw yourself into accomplishing your goals. And if your marriage sapped your personal power, divorce can be a chance to take it back. You are in charge of what happens next.
While it can be tempting to hurry through the legal process to achieve a sense of closure, it takes time to get over a divorce, no matter how quickly you dispense with the legal details. As Forrest Mosten, a Los Angeles–based collaborative attorney, mediator, and author, explains, “There are five levels of separation: sexual, physical, emotional, financial, legal. You could be legally separated and still totally emotionally enmeshed.” Remember to give yourself space to tend to all the elements of your separation.
Separation and divorce can feel like a hurricane hitting your life. A coping kit can help you weather the storm. Think proactively about potential triggers and devise a plan for handling them. If you’re concerned about being lonely, ask a friend to be on call to support you. If you’re worried about dealing with hard emotions, make a list of healthy responses. If you’ll be doing the bulk of child care, reach out to friends to swap babysitting nights or meal prep.
Most people feel angry at some point during their divorce. While anger can give you a boost of energy or even a feeling of helpful power in small doses, over time it degrades happiness and health. It also keeps you tethered to the past, which can destroy new relationships. To move beyond the anger, get in touch with the hurt under your rage.2 Your goal is not to make your former spouse pay but to build a life that makes you happy.
Although many people go through divorce, no two divorces are the same. Remain focused on your own situation and avoid comparing your circumstances to someone else’s. Others’ experiences have little predictive value for your life. It was your marriage that ended, and this is your new life. You get to decide the course you take.
There are bright spots in most life transitions, even divorce. In times of stress or struggle, it’s important to acknowledge, and actively create, good moments. If you have children, throw yourself into fun activities with them. If you love being outdoors, treat yourself to a hike. Positive emotions matter and serve as a buffer for hard times. Research has shown that they help us connect with others, solve problems more creatively, and lower stress. When you feel good, even for a short while, it lessens the impact of negative experiences and can leave you feeling more positively about your day as a whole.3
A professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an expert on family communication discusses how families can find opportunity in adversity.
Psychologist Gary Lewandowski shares how activities that help you rediscover yourself can also help you recover from divorce.