Adjusting to Life After Divorce
Every divorce story is different. You may have been the one who chose to leave. You may have been the one who was left. You may be happy the marriage is over. You may be devastated to have lost your spouse. You may still be close friends with your ex. Your ex may have been your abuser. Regardless of the specifics, several common themes emerge when you ask divorced parents about the process of adjusting to life after divorce.
Every divorce story is different. You may have been the one who chose to leave. You may have been the one who was left. You may be happy the marriage is over. You may be devastated to have lost your spouse. You may still be close friends with your ex. Your ex may have been your abuser.
How to Adjust to Life After Divorce
Regardless of the specifics, several common themes emerge when you ask divorced parents about the process of adjusting to life after divorce.
Adjustments for Your Children
Adjusting to the reality that your children now have two separate households in which they live is one of the hardest parts of life after divorce. Regardless of how well parents get along and how consistent they try to keep routines between homes, your children now share a household with another person (or persons, if your ex begins dating or remarries).
Everyone disciplines a little different. Everyone’s rules and expectations are a bit different. You will not have your kids with you all the time anymore, and you don't know what is going on when they aren’t with you.
How to Adjust
You must let go. You must give up some control, or you will drive yourself insane with worry and guilt. Guilt and worry are emotions that won’t do you or your children any good in the long run. If you feel guilty, you may overcompensate by spoiling your kids or slacking on discipline. If you feel worried, you may inadvertently communicate that stress and instability to your kids.
Remember, this is your child’s mother or father. He or she loves your kids as much as you do, and you want your child to feel safe and stable in his or her home. Differences are good. Your kids are going to meet many different people throughout their life and adjust to many ways of doing things.
Adjustments with Time
Time is a double-edged sword for the divorced mom or dad. On the one hand, there are times when you have more time to yourself than you’ve ever had before. Time to work on yourself, time to rediscover who you are as a person rather than a couple, time to figure out what your values are, time to pursue hobbies that interest you, time to decide what priorities you want to make central in your life moving forward.
On the other hand, there are some days when you have much less time for yourself. You are a single parent. There is no one to share in the responsibility of getting your children back and forth to games or practices. No one to help pack lunches. No one to help with homework. Depending on where you move to and where your ex resides, you may spend much more time in the car, traveling back and forth between the communities in which the kids live, go to school, and participate in activities.
How to Adjust
Embrace the time you have to yourself and use it to get your sense of self back. Working with a counselor or therapist may be extremely helpful to keep you from falling into depression and loneliness, to help you grieve the loss of your marriage, and to put you on the path back to loving yourself. On the days you do have the kids, embrace the chaos. And carefully consider where you want to live when the divorce is final.
As one parent said, “your initial reaction after the divorce is to move as far away from your ex as possible. The last thing you feel like you want to do is to live close, but you realize after some time has passed that there are benefits, especially when it comes to the kids.”
Adjustments to Finances
Adjusting to a new financial reality is an essential consideration for the newly-divorced. Most of us are part of two-income households. After the divorce, we are part of a two-household family.
You and your ex will most likely reside in separate residences, so that same amount of income must maintain two house payments or rents, two sets of electric bills and gas bills, two sets of cell phone and cable bills, and much more.
If you were a part of a one-income household, you might have to look for full-time employment after the divorce to adjust to the new reality of maintaining two households.
There also are other new expenses that arise for divorced parents, such as needing assistance with chores like lawnmowing, housecleaning or tax preparation. Not to mention, there is the cost of the divorce itself and paying for the attorneys and court fees.
How to Adjust
Learn about how divorce affects your credit and take steps to protect your financial future. Create a new budget for yourself as soon as possible and accept that you may have to make some temporary lifestyle changes, such as forgoing monthly luxury items or downsizing your home or car.
Adjustments to Friendships
Friendships and relationships with people around you change. As a couple, you shared many friends and relatives. As a single person, you may find that there are friends who took your spouse’s side in the divorce or that the in-laws are no longer comfortable weekend companions. You also no longer have a traditional family life, so your schedule no longer meshes up with other parents on the street.
While time to work on yourself alone or with a counselor or therapist is extremely important, so is a strong support network of friends. Did you know that the top two predictors of living a long and healthy life are close relationships and social integration, meaning how many people you interact with throughout the day?
How to Adjust
Find your tribe! Yes, a divorce will make it quickly obvious who your true friends are and who were just there by association, but it’s not the end of the world. Be grateful for those who are standing by you and cultivate those relationships by making time to watch a game together, share a beer or a glass of wine over dinner, or chat on the phone.
Build new relationships too. Invite a co-worker to lunch. Call up old acquaintances you’ve lost touch with over the years and rekindle friendships. Join a gym or a running club. Volunteer at church or a new charity. You may even want to consider joining a divorce support group. And once you’re ready, it will be time to start dating again.
Adjusting to life after divorce isn’t easy, but it also isn’t the end of your story. There are chapters of your life still waiting to be written, and you are their author. Script them bold and beautiful.