You can’t prepare for certain experiences in life. No one can prepare you for when the doctor walks into the room with bad news, or the phone call from the police asking you to come down to the station. In the same way, no one can prepare you to hear the phrase, “I want a divorce.” Those four words can knock you over and take your breath away.
While those words will knock most anyone out flat, they are more common than you might expect. According to the Institute for Family Studies, scholars believe the divorce statistic for marriages is about 42%.
This is down from 50% between the 1980s and early 2000s. But 42% is still a high percentage when you consider the severity of what it represents. This statistic means roughly one out of five marriages will not make it, which means quite a few people will hear the words, “I want a divorce.”
As a Christian, these words are even more devastating. A divorce is a broken commitment before God which often produces guilt and shame. You may feel the pressure and judgement from your community of faith, your own inner critic, or both.
So how do you move beyond a divorce? While you can’t prepare for something like this to happen that doesn’t mean you can’t move past it. A divorce doesn’t mean your life is over, even if you feel that it is. There is a life after divorce. Here are some tips to get you from those fateful words to a new life filled with meaning.
Coping with Life After Divorce
1. Don’t run, grieve
Though it may be tempting, don’t stuff all of your emotions. For some reason when humans feel deep pain, the first thought is to push all of it away and act like life is totally fine. But this doesn’t do you any good. All it does is prolong the cycle and pain of the experience.
If you never acknowledge the pain and grieve, then you will constantly be reliving the cycle which lands you back into the same place you are now. So whether you want to or not, you need to slow down and feel the pain. You need to process your emotions, not just stuff them. You need to grieve.
This might be difficult for you to do, especially if you are not familiar with processing your emotions. If this is the case, then you should strongly consider meeting with a Christian counselor. A Christian counselor is a trained professional who can provide a safe place, beyond friends and family, for you to share your pain. And if you don’t know how to share it, then they can help you unpack your emotions and feelings in order to process them and move on in a healthy way.
2. Sort out your finances
Unfortunately, divorces often come with an economic impact. Maybe you find yourself without a job because your spouse was the primary income, or maybe now you just have to live on one salary, rather than the two you were making. Either way, you need to come to terms with the reality of your financial situation.
If you are still doing alright financially, then it’s time to begin planning for your immediate and long-term future. On the other had, if you find yourself in a more dire situation financially after the divorce, then you will need to make some changes.
It’s fruitless and foolish to keep living like you have the money you had before the divorce if that isn’t the case. And doing so will get you into more and more serious financial troubles. As the pressure mounts, you will be continually reminded of the consequences of your divorce, making it difficult to move forward.
So, becoming financially stable and independent is one of the keys to coping with a divorce. It will give you the space and separation you need to begin your own personal recovery. If you are constantly focused on surviving financially, you won’t be able to work on moving forward in a meaningful way. This may mean making some significant lifestyle changes, but it is worth the sacrifice to begin your new life after the divorce.
3. Stop playing the victim
This might sound like the opposite of the first tip but remember these are sequential. At the beginning of this process, it is necessary for you to sit in the feelings, cry, and feel the pain. But you can’t stay there forever, there will come a day when you need to stop playing the victim, acknowledge that this happened, and move on.
It’s easy to get stuck in anger, frustration, and blame. Sitting in this place can make you feel good because the problem is their fault and not yours. While it may feel good to sit here, sitting won’t get you moving anywhere.
Instead, as you play the victim, caught up in the pain and drama of your life, you will never be able to move forward. Rather, you will live in a prison of your own making, reliving the pain of your divorce year by year, season by season. There will come a day when you need to finish processing your pain, let it go, and move on.
4. Figure out what you have to learn
When you’ve let go of the pain, then you can begin the exploration of self that comes after a divorce. Going through this experience changes someone. It forces you to step back and consider how you’ve been living.
Whether the divorce was primarily your fault or your spouse’s fault, everybody has a role to play and everyone has something to learn from the experience. When you’ve stopped playing the victim, you will be free to explore your own part to play in this story and discover what you have to learn from it.
This may sound awful. You may be asking, “So now after this traumatic life experience I have to look and see what I’m responsible for in it all.” Sure, this isn’t a pleasant experience, but it is one that will truly move you from surviving divorce to living a new life.
When you reach the place where you are able to recognize your own flaws and contributions to your failed relationship, then you will be able to move forward and live a different, healthier life. You will not be living into the same patterns, or at least will be trying not to live into the same old patterns.
An honest self-evaluation of yourself will change who you are and how you live. At this point, you’ve ceased to cope with a divorce and have started to live a new, changed, and more meaningful life. It may have been born out of pain, but that doesn’t mean that is where the story needs to end.
Again, this process may not be possible without professional help. A Christian counselor can help you to let go of the pain and recognize your own role to play in your divorce. Likely, this will require you to dive deep into your own patterns and family structures. Without the guidance of a professional, this process will likely not actually be accomplished.
While the phrase “I want a divorce” may feel like a death, it also can be a new beginning. During the early stages of your processing this traumatic event, it is important to take it slow and really be present with your emotions. But in time, you will be able to let go of your anger and pain.
With the right guidance and a willingness to learn, this experience doesn’t have to the end. Instead, your life after divorce can be meaningful and filled with joy. The choice of how you move forward and what your life becomes is up to you, but there is a life after divorce.