By Mitchell Clute
Divorce is difficult. There’s no way to sugarcoat that reality. It can bring up grief, fear, a sense of failure and many other powerful emotions. And when children are involved, there’s the strange dichotomy of separating two joined lives while also knowing that you’ll remain connected for many years to come. Divorce is a process—sometimes a long one—and having tools to help navigate this challenging emotional territory is critical. In fact, these tools are the key to not simply surviving divorce but arriving on the other side with greater strength, more joy and a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve traveled this road, and here’s what worked for me:
Just take the next step: Especially in the early stages, the thought of all the hard work ahead can seem overwhelming. But it all happens one step at a time; so just do the next thing, and the next thing—don’t try to find answers to every future situation, because it can’t be done.
Find someone you can call, anytime: You don’t need an army of supporters, but you do need a friend or two whom you can call anytime, day or night, even if what you need to say is the same thing you needed to say yesterday. Tell them what you need, make sure they’re willing—and then use this resource until, one day, you find you don’t need to call. And what a relief that will be . . . for both of you!
Spend time in nature: It’s really important to remember that life is bigger than what’s happening in your personal life, and being in nature is an instant reminder. A walk in the woods, on the beach or anywhere in the outdoors can help you slow down, relax and find a more expansive sense of yourself.
Move your body: Exercise is a critical way to reduce stress and support a sense of joy, and this is never more true than when you’re going through a difficult experience like divorce. You don’t have to be an ironman—just talk a long walk and you’ll feel different.
Remember to breathe: For me, a sitting meditation practice was one of the key ways I created more spaciousness and relaxed back into my body. But just taking a moment to consciously take a few deep, slow breaths can have an immediate impact, unwinding some of the physical tension that difficult emotions evoke.
Let yourself grieve: Whether alone or with a friend or support group, give yourself permission to feel sadness, loss, and tenderness of the situation. It can be frightening at first, especially if you’re a control junkie; but letting these emotions arise, be honored and pass through you will allow you to move on sooner, without the baggage of unresolved or unmet feelings.
Forgive yourself—and your ex: Self-forgiveness is hard enough, but forgiving your former partner can be harder still. And honestly, it may not be possible in the midst of divorce, when so much focus is on what’s gone wrong. But if you’re carrying old resentments and grievances forward, then you’re actually still in the same potentially toxic situation that led to divorce in the first place. Let it go, and you’ll feel a huge weight lift from you.
Find the good in this change: It’s hard to see the positives when you’re in the middle of difficulty, but for me, focusing on the good was a powerful way to welcome my new life and to look forward rather than backward. What dream can I pursue now that I couldn’t pursue in the context of my marriage? What negative patterns in my own personality can I see more clearly now? How am I equipped to respond in a more sane and even-handed manner in times of challenge? Sitting with such questions—and they’ll change as you go through this process—can be a great aid in seeing a more positive and peaceful life ahead.