Surviving Divorce 101

Are you struggling with a recent separation?  Are you numb about your impending divorce?  Has it been difficult to “bounce back” after the split?

Surviving divorce is a difficult and painful experience that can feel literally unbearable.  A common feeling among recently divorced people is loneliness, like no one could possible understand what you’re going through.  Your divorce isn’t exactly like anyone else’s, many people surviving divorce have similar feelings and struggles.

Many people have difficulty sleeping at night because they are so accustomed to being next to someone else.  Recent divorcees often feel disoriented and displaced – since everything that felt “normal” and familiar is gone, and has been replaced by that which feels foreign and confusing.   A technique to surviving divorce is to implement small rituals.  These rituals can help you when you feel “lost” to help yourself feel “grounded” in the midst of so much change.  While rituals may seem silly at first, these little “anchors” make a big difference as you work to create a “new normal” for yourself.  Examples of anchors include songs that evoke positive feelings, smells that soothe and calm, rituals like walking through the neighborhood and noticing something new and journaling about good things when they happen (even if they seem insignificant).  These anchors can help redirect your thoughts away from that which feels “heavy” and “painful”  – even if it’s brief.

Even though separation and divorce may have been precipitated by prolonged and intense conflict, it’s still very normal to go into a state of shock.  Thoughts like, “I can’t believe this is actually happening” and “This can’t be real” are among the most common immediately after the separation.  Regardless of how many years you were married, it’s difficult to digest that the life you planned and anticipated with your spouse is now gone.  One of the most common ways of coping with the shock is to “numb out.”  When it feels too overwhelming, it is as if our mind is doing us a favor by “shutting things down.”  It can feel like you’re just going through the motions or tasks of daily life without being fully present or engaged.  While this is certainly not an optimal state in the long run, it’s often necessary just to get through the immediate crisis.  When someone goes through any kind of trauma, the brain breaks it into smaller, more manageable “chunks” in order to process the experience.  It takes time to process each “chunk” before you can make sense of the experience overall.  Be patient with yourself – it’s OK to just let yourself “be.”

People who have been married for longer periods of time frequently struggle to redefine their identity.  If you’ve been so-and-so’s wife for so long, it can be bewildering to try and think of yourself as anything else.   Couples who have been partnered for many years have usually established a social circle together, as well as traditions and rituals unique to their relationship.  After a break-up, it’s hard to know how to negotiate these shared social connections without creating awkward situations.  If you’re used to being half of a pair, understandably it will take time to become comfortable with a singular identity.  If there are minor children at the time of the divorce, this can complicate the process of redefining yourself since you will continue to co-parent with your ex.  Be gentle with yourself through this process!  It usually takes us the better part of our adolescence and our twenties to truly develop our own identity.  It’s only reasonable that it would take some time to redefine ourselves after the end of our most significant relationship.


It’s essential to be patient with yourself as you navigate the difficult process of divorce and rebuilding.  There is no “magic formula” to follow; there is no antidote to avoid painful feelings.  The good news is –  it does get better!   If you’re overwhelmed by difficult feelings, try this technique:

Think of feelings like waves.  Although waves can get very big and intense (just before they crash), they inevitably subside.  Similarly, feelings can feel overwhelming but they inevitably fade.  Like the tide that comes in every day and goes out every day, feelings come and go.  In moments when it feels like it’s too much to bear, try to focus on the fact that this is temporary.  It will not always be this hard.  And you are not alone.