The stress and upheaval of divorce can be hard on anyone. While most men and women recover well within a year or two, the initial break-up and process of dissolution are usually difficult, and sometimes devastating. This is a time to engage in some serious self-care—for your own sake, and for the sake of everyone who loves you and relies on you.
Although each person’s response to the end of a marriage is different, experts suggest some basic strategies to “take care of you” during this time. While some of these suggestions may seem obvious, it’s surprising how often we can forget to follow them. Read on for ideas.
- Reach out for support
Everyone needs a listening ear when experiencing the break-up of a marriage. You might find this through friends, family, a support group, or your place of worship. Make sure the people you turn to are supportive, not toxic.
- Eat well and exercise
Exercise relieves stress and actually makes us feel happier, so don’t let it fall by the wayside. And while it may be tempting to stop cooking and rely on take-out, you’ll feel better if you keep up a healthy diet.
- Allow yourself time to grieve
There is no timeline for when you’re supposed to be “over” divorce. Give yourself time, and don’t be surprised if the anger, sadness, and pain ebb and flow in ways that you don’t expect.
- Practice self-compassion
Having self-compassion is defined as forgiving yourself, seeing your experience as common and universal, and remaining relatively calm and keeping perspective, even when the situation is negative. In a study of divorced people, researchers found that those who showed more self-compassion did better over time.
- Don’t abuse substances
It’s not unusual for people going through divorce to turn to alcohol, smoking, or harder drugs in order to deal with the pain and stress of the experience. But relying on these negative coping methods will only hurt you in the long run. Casual sex and overwork can also be abused as a way to cope, so keep an eye on your behavior in these areas.
- Make time for yourself
Though it can be hard to find time to relax, enjoy yourself, and have fun when going through the stress of divorce, it’s more important than ever. Prioritize activities that you enjoy, even if it sometimes means putting off other things.
- Take care of your health
The stress of divorce can increase the risk of health problems for some, so don’t neglect your physical well-being at this time. Keep going to check-ups and be aware of any new symptoms.
- Try mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness involves focusing your attention while being nonjudgmentally aware of your feelings and emotions. It can help you be less emotionally reactive to your experiences.
- Don’t obsess
While it’s important to acknowledge your losses, for some, this goes over the line into nonstop thoughts about the end of the relationship, or wondering over and over what went wrong. If this sounds familiar, or if others mention this concern, you may need to work more on self-compassion. Spending time with others and doing things you enjoy may help.
- Expect special days and holidays to be hard
Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days are likely to hit hard, especially in the first year after a split. Some people prefer to schedule some other event on these days, while others take time out to acknowledge the difficult feelings.
- Find new habits and hobbies
This is a good time to find or develop new interests where you can meet new people. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to take part in something your former spouse didn’t enjoy or wasn’t interested in.
- Consider therapy
Therapy has helped many people through the end of a marriage. It doesn’t have to last for months, and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything “wrong” with you. It may just be helpful to talk to a neutral person about the feelings you have and what you’re going through. You can find a therapist here.
- Don’t live in denial
For some, it’s tempting to “stuff down” the pain associated with divorce and just keep moving forward. Parents may focus totally on the children and forget about themselves. Others may get wrapped up in court cases, selling the house, etc. while not acknowledging their feelings. But in order to heal, you need to acknowledge and process what you’ve been through.
- If you’re a parent: Work on your coparenting relationship
While it may seem very challenging right now, everyone in the family will benefit if you and your ex-spouse are able to develop a neutral, productive coparenting relationship. This does not mean being best friends with your ex. It just means that you are able to communicate and share parenting.
- Know the signs of a problem
Stress, grief, and hard days are normal for anyone going through a divorce, but there are danger signs to look out for, such as:
- Drinking too much or using drugs
- Other addictive behavior (gambling, constant overwork, sexual addiction)
- Persistent anxiety and depression
- Desire to self harm, thoughts of suicide
- Abusive behavior towards children
- Unexplained physical health problems
- Inability to sleep
If you recognize any of these red flags in yourself, seek help from a physician or therapist.
Divorce is never easy, but you can make it through this transition. Take care of yourself, love yourself, and look ahead to a new future.
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Coping with divorce or separation. Retrieved from http://www.wfm.noaa.gov/workplace/DivorceIssues_Handout_1.pdf
Sbarra, D. A., Smith, H. L., & Mehl, M. R. (2012). When leaving your ex, love yourself: Observational ratings of self-compassion predict the course of emotional recovery following marital separation. Psychological Science, 23(3), 261-269. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611429466
Sbarra, D. A. (2012). Post-divorce journaling may hinder healing for some. Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/post-divorce-journaling-may-hinder-healing-for-some.html#.WQnhiGkrKpo
Segal, J., Kemp, G., & Smith, M. (2017). Dealing with a breakup or divorce: grieving and moving on after a relationship ends. Rereived from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/dealing-with-a-breakup-or-divorce.htm