This post is in partnership with CDC Certified Divorce Coach. All opinions are my own.
I’ve jokingly called myself Divorce Girl whenever the subject of marriage and relationships come up, as in, “Nobody wants to hear from Divorce Girl about this stuff.”
I personally think my experience of going through a years-long, incredibly expensive, emotionally sacrificing split gives me acute insights into how to structure a marriage from the very beginning as not to end up in family court, or at least how women can protect themselves since the possibility of separating can feel very high even before the nuptials.
Alas, no bride has ever asked Divorce Girl what the process for changing her surname back is like if she’s considering swapping out her maiden name when she gets married. And no bride has ever inquired how much she might want to have in a separate savings account should she ever need to consult an attorney. And not a single engaged person has once sparked a conversation about what I’d do differently to stay married.
That’s OK. Divorce scares people, and it’s a threatening prospect, especially to those about to tie the knots of trust, money and maybe even children. Divorce Girl, even nine years out from her own marriage apocalypse, still unintentionally waves the cape of possibility that a marriage won’t work to other people.
But here’s what those folks don’t know.
While divorce is hard, often heartbreaking and sometimes ruinous to many aspects of our lives, it doesn’t have to be. Amazingly, miraculously, and even realistically, it can be more of a beginning than an end.
Divorce Girl knows this because she lives it. My divorce might linger on nearly a decade later with regular court appearances and all kinds of headaches, but each year, I get stronger and better and more of a superhero in my own life (even this part of it).
In case you are brave enough (or tired enough or desperate enough or just plain curious) to ask, this Divorce Girl would like to let you in on a secret we all need to know: You can thrive through divorce. Just like you can be elated or miserable in a marriage, you can choose to grow through a divorce or simply gut it out. (See? Asking Divorce Girl to get in on the conversation isn’t so gloom-and-doom after all, is it?).
I’ve partnered up with CDC Certified Divorce Coach’s new Essential Divorce Survival Guide to bring you 6 tangible ways to thrive through divorce — either your own or the new beginning someone you love is going through. The Essential Guide to Surviving Divorce is a six-part webinar series full of expert insights, exercises and strategies for moving confidently, calmly through all the the transitions of divorce.
1. Practice being your best self.
A question I have gotten a lot (mostly from married friends) is why so many people don’t have amicable divorces. Fair question. I illustrate my answer by asking back how they feel when their spouse is super annoying, to the point where they can only scream or hurl a sippy cup across the room because of the loud chewing/laundry left in the washer/other bigger, incessant issue (they recall how this feels in 1/100th of a second). Then I ask them to multiply that feeling x485432390. That’s how divorce can often feel. For days/weeks/months on end. That’s why the amicable part quickly leaves divorce. It’s not so easy to be diplomatic or graceful in light of that dynamic, and thus the spiral of hate and bad behavior. All the experts in the Essential Guide to Surviving Divorce series call on us instead to practice being our best selves, and this one even offers a quick (and kind of delightful) exercise to get at what makes us the best part of ourselves. By calling on those best-self attributes, we are better able to sidestep never-ending arguments, text wars and drawn-out negotiations over who keeps the crusty couch in the basement. I’ve given this exercise and practice a try for several months, and at first it felt awkward. Then, simply making a mental note to call on my highest attributes helped center me before talking to my ex -- and even my tween, my boyfriend and our tantruming toddler. It works to shift the tough moments, and even when it doesn’t go perfectly, I feel better x485432390 about not screaming or insulting or catapulting sippy cups.
2. Be selective about the divorce process you choose.
There are several ways to officially end a marriage, including mediated, litigated, collaborative and do-it-yourself divorces. I had no idea there were options other than hiring an attorney and pushing forward through the system until years after my own marriage was dissolved in a courtroom. If you and your partner can get on the same page to choose a process that works best for your goals, your family, your budget and you as individuals, this is a clear step in the direction of thriving. It’s OK to be selective and to thoughtfully consider which option is an ideal fit for you, no matter what your mom or co-worker or thrice-divorced uncle tells you.
3. Expand your options.
Ultimatums, threats and agonizing over a few terrible choices can quickly turn a couple from amicable to antagonistic. Trust me when I tell you that this is an easy trap to fall into -- even the best-intentioned of us been triggered and thrown out threats, or done the triggering in the first place. Press pause on that back and forth, breathe and consider that their might be more options available to you that feel a lot better. If you’re feeling trapped, take some time to see around the clanky, claustrophobic divorce cage and consider different ways to think, speak and respond (rather than react). And if you’re still stuck, a divorce coach, therapist or trusted friend might be a great help in thinking it all through.
4. Remember that small steps turn into miles.
Mediator Tracy Callahan says you’ll feel more in control of your divorce by focusing on one tangible task at a time. Breaking down the business of divorce to manageable bits gives us the chance to make more measured decisions. And checking those things off the big list gives us a sense of accomplishment. Finally, building a support team of friends, family and professionals to help us along the way soothes the transitions. Of course, you will probably have moments of overwhelm, and returning as soon as possible to a small-step process might just mean you get to that empowered, authentic place quicker and more often.
5. Self-care is essential.
Say it with me, this time out loud: Self-care is essential. A really effective way to get grateful, clearer-minded and forward-moving during times of transition, stress and high emotion is to sleep restfully, eat mindfully, move your body and do things you love. It sounds simple, but we all know it is not. Schedule small periods of time to exercise, stretch or go for a walk in your cell phone calendar. Download a Zen alarm clock app so you are gently reminded to head to bed and then awoken gently rather than with a start. Dig up a book or meditation app that guide you through meditations or sleep scapes. Find time for fun. You might find that the answers to divorce conundrums come to you in the middle of barre class, or you might realize that you are better equipped to tackle those small tasks once you return to your desk after a healthy lunch. This is not just for your divorce, this is also practice for living well when other crises or conflicts arrive as well as in the next thrilling chapter of your story.
6. Seek the good.
Pamela Dykes, PhD. and divorce coach from the Essential Guide to Surviving Divorce says that seeing the opportunity within and beyond divorce is a shortcut to that place of peace we’d all much rather be in when things go sideways. Sure, acknowledge the pain and other feelings honestly, and also spend some time nodding toward the open doors and people and possibilities that step through. You may meet new friends, take up an old hobby again, get concentrated time with your kids you haven’t had before. You may discover your best self is even more glorious than you realize, and that might in turn create confidence, job opportunities and a newfound interest in trapeze arts, rescue dogs, mountain climbing expeditions or hand-lettering. You might take control of your finances in a way you never thought you could or become an even better parent. All that self-care could help you feel better in your body, and using the small-step approach may serve you well at work. There’s good there, and lots of it, and digging for it, even through some trash-talking and terrible times, will be worth it.
Will these steps earn you an A+ in divorce? Mehhhh, probably not. But if I was a betting woman and I saw you centering on these six things, I’d say you will be in a much better place to — and through — divorce than if you don’t. The gold star this Divorce Girl will give you, though, is for trying every day in small ways to remember that you are the superhero in your own adventure and you can be even stronger, happier and your amazing self on the other side.
Listen in to the Essential Guide to Surviving Divorce webinar series here for free. You can also order the companion book Divorce: Taking the High Road: Simple Strategies for Creating a Healthy Divorce here.