Divorce for Grown-Ups: 5 Tips on Achieving Your Best New Normal
None of us is immune to divorce and I’m here to prove it. Though I was trained and practiced as a marriage and family therapist, I have had my fair share of moments where it didn’t matter. It didn’t save me from the ick. And I’m grateful, because those experiences have taught me the most.
My ex-husband and I met in a doctoral program in Social Work. We waited to marry (we were 30). We planned long enough to have a child that I was labeled a geriatric mother (I was 35). And yet today, I am still the divorced mother of a twelve year old child. What-are-ya-gonna-do?
Alas, there are no guarantees in life. And although divorce is difficult and challenges will always remain, I personally discovered you can make your journey to the new normal easier on you and your kids, with no Ph.D. required:
- Respect Survival Mode. A friend introduced the idea of “Survival Mode” to me during my separation when I was (yet, again) revisiting the facts, feelings and current state of our marital dissolution…I was deep in my feelings and in my head. She stopped me and said, “You know, you don’t have to do this to yourself. You’re in Survival Mode. Let’s save the therapeutic analysis for when you are not trying to just put one foot in front of the other and be a good mom.” Wait? What? I don’t have to do this to myself?
When someone is trying to survive in the desert, they don’t spend a lot of energy and brainpower on how they ended up there and how unfair it is. Instead, they focus on getting out – on surviving. It was a very freeing for an over-analytical person like me to give myself the gift of giving myself a freaking break—and just get through now, this moment, today. There will be time for the post-mortem—later. And I did it, when I had the bandwidth to do it.
- Take off your spouse hat. Stop viewing the world (including your ex’s actions) through the perspective of being that person’s spouse. You’re not anymore, so stop. When your ex does anything – the more view that action as their spouse, the more likely it will do a number on you.
The only hat you are allowed to wear is your parent hat. Period. You will be amazed by how much you can take off your plate once you make this one adjustment to your perspective. It is not your job to make your ex a better person, or at least not a jerk, in your eyes. You’re done. Not your problem. Off the hook. You only ask: How does this directly impact my kid and their relationship? And don’t try to warp the issue into being about your kid, when it’s really just about the spouse hat you’re still sporting. Hat off. And see how much better you breathe.
And bonus: the moment you stop acting like something bothers you is the moment it may stop happening, so stop taking the bait. A little secret I discovered…
- Don’t wait for the karma train. You feel wronged. Treated badly. Undeservedly so. Yep. That sucks. Not fair. Stop screaming at the sky and demanding the karma train to hurry up and get’em. Because each day that you focus on thinking your ex is “getting away with it” or has “won” is another day you have wasted not getting your best life. Focus on you, your life. Things have a way of working out, but you are not in charge of the timeline. So deal. Go back to figuring out your new normal and living well.
- Social media lives forever. Don’t Vaguebook about your ex. Don’t outright hash it out publicly on social media. Your kids and lawyer will thank you. Stop. It’s a bad look and your friends are cringing for you.
- You are a teaching tool. Remember, your kids are watching and learning important life lessons from you at this moment about how to be resilient, face disappointment (and reality), and conquer challenge—all needed life skills. It’s ok to show vulnerability though—they should also know perfection isn’t a realistic goal. Just be human with superhuman tendencies.
Dr. L is divorced mom with a global consultancy based out of North Carolina.