The Long Game of Divorce Recovery
My inspiration this week comes from an interesting conversation I recently had with a person on Twitter. He struggles with the fact that even after three years, he still battles daily with co-parenting and trying to heal from his divorce.
He has two children under ten and says communication with his ex usually ends in high conflict.
He told me, “I just want things to return to normal again”.
The thing about divorce that most people get blindsided by is how long it takes to feel better.
Yes, there are things you can do to distract yourself from the pain, like new relationships or new challenges in your career, taking up new hobbies.
Yet, divorce just seems to have a way of returning to the front and centre of your life in cycles.
After sharing some communication tips with my friend on Twitter, I started reflecting on how I was tracking at the three-year mark after my divorce.
The Sound of Silence
It’s those moments late at night that get you. You hop into bed after the busyness of the day, and then there is nothing else. In the stillness of the dark, the thoughts come.
Memories of the past that were good, memories that were painful. Ironically, even some of the happier memories can make you feel sad because you know you can never go back to those times.
Fears of the future can ramp up anxiety….Will I love again? Will my kids be ok? Is this new relationship really what I need? Should I have taken time to be alone?
These thoughts can come even several years down the track.
Extreme guilt plagued me for a very long time. I went through periods of feeling good because everything seemed to be working, but when the stresses of life and the inevitable bumps in the road hit me and the kids, it triggered the guilt I felt that I couldn’t keep my marriage together.
When I went through an excruciating breakup five years after my divorce, I felt as though I had wasted all that time in a new relationship, trying to prove to myself that I was lovable and could make it work with someone after all. When it ended, it was like confirmation that I was defective.
I experienced a new round of heartache that triggered all my old divorce grief and pain to come flooding back. It took a long time to recover, and I’m thankful every day that I’ve finally healed from both my marriage and my first relationship post-divorce.
I have spoken to many people who have been 3–5 years down the track from their divorces. They are incredulous that they can still be emotionally wiped out after feeling like they are making progress.
Here’s the thing, it’s not like a band-aid. One rip, and it’s all over.
Divorce is an ever-evolving entity.
It might be smooth sailing for a few months or even a year or so. Then all of a sudden, you could find yourself going through an emotionally stressful time.
One of your children might go through a milestone or transition and start acting out in ways that stress and confuse you. You may be dealing with an illness in the family, job stress, or financial worries.
If you find yourself more stressed or worried than usual about something that is happening with your kids, your career or extended family, this could impact your co-parenting relationship, and you may find it harder to get along with your ex-spouse.
You can start to see that divorce recovery is not just a question of how much time passes.
You’re dealing with many unknown variables. Your ex-spouse and all of their life’s decisions, your children and all of the changes and experiences they will go through over time, new relationships and possibly new children that add different dynamics to the family unit.
Even if you don’t have children, you may find that several years down the track, you miss your ex-spouse or wonder if things could have been different.
A Marathon vs A Sprint
The best way to prepare for this realisation is to view divorce recovery as a marathon rather than a sprint.
Training for a marathon requires a different type of game plan than training for a sprint.
Just as athletes prepare themselves for endurance events, so should you prepare yourself for the long game when it comes to divorce.
With divorce recovery, you need high levels of self-care and self-awareness to ensure that you have enough energy and emotional resilience to make it through whatever comes your way over the years.
The number one thing you can do to help yourself is to identify all the things you can control and then set goals around achieving them. (While at the same time giving yourself grace when things don’t go 100% right).
Once you identify those things you can control, you can work on letting go of all the things you can’t. Stress, anxiety and burnout all come from trying to control those things that are simply not in your control.
Let’s look at some things that you do have control over:
- Your thoughts
- Your reactions
- The rules and expectations in your own household
- How you communicate with your children
- How you support your kids and provide for them
- What sort of food your children eat
- How you manage your finances
- Your physical and mental well-being
- Your coping strategies when you’re under stress
Now let’s look at the things you have no control over:
- Rules and expectations at your ex’s house
- What your ex says to your children
- How your ex manages their finances
- Who your ex chooses to be in a relationship with
- What your kids eat or wear when they’re with your ex
- Your ex’s ways of coping when they are under stress
You get the picture. These are of course not extensive lists, but it gives you an idea of where you may be expending your energy where it’s not doing you any good.
Letting go is not easy. It can invoke fear in us. It’s helpful to talk to someone who can guide you to identify what you need to focus on and find the strength to let go of what you have no power over.
It sounds daunting, but once you can get into the practice of only putting energy into the actions that support your well-being, your life becomes more manageable, co-parenting becomes more peaceful, and you can start to feel happy and ‘back to normal’ again.
I hope that wherever this post finds you, you are in a place of feeling strong and capable as you navigate your divorce recovery.
About Carol Madden
Hello, my name is Carol Madden and I am a certified divorce coach working with clients around the world from my online practice in New Zealand.
I aim to help individuals navigate the often overwhelming emotions and practical considerations of separating from a spouse. I understand the unique challenges that divorce can bring, having been through my own divorce ten years ago.
I believe that divorce can be an opportunity for growth and positive change, rather than just a painful ending. Through my coaching, I help clients gain clarity and confidence as they move forward in their lives.
As a writer, I am excited to share my perspectives on divorce with readers seeking solid support during their separations. Whether providing tips for managing the emotional rollercoaster or offering practical advice for effectively co-parenting, I want to help others through this challenging time.