How Can I Take Care of Myself?

It’s easy to say that divorce stinks, that it hurts, and that it costs a lot of money. It’s trickier, but just as necessary, to think through what you can do to survive the crud of divorce and move on with your life. So what can you do?

Acknowledge it.

You can start by simply admitting the obvious: You hurt. You hurt because, among other reasons, you’re going through a divorce. It’s supposed to hurt. People who are going through a divorce usually hurt, and you’re no exception.

You also hurt because you’re having to make so many changes all at the same time. Perhaps you’re having to move. Or lower your standard of living. Or spend less time with your children. Or take on extra chores. Or give up on a dream that was important to you, like a new house, a cruise, or a new car. Or maybe the divorce has caused a change in your relationship with a third person who was important to you, like one of your in-laws.

Find out about it. is a great place to start. I’ve gathered and presented a great deal of information, and I’ve tried to make it easy for you to find what you need. The best way to find the information you need is to use the Search page or the Site Map.

But isn’t the only source of information. Your local library probably has a collection of good books on divorce. And I’ve listed some of the best books available on divorce on the Books page.

This next one is a little dangerous. I recommend you talk with friends, family, and neighbors who have already been through divorce. The reason it’s dangerous is that every marriage is different and every divorce is different. Unfortunately, our tendency as humans — even sometimes our tendency as therapists — is to assume that if we’ve gone through divorce and someone else is now going through divorce, they’re going to experience what we experienced. That’s the number one mistake your friends, neighbors, family, and even your therapist are likely to make. They will assume that your divorce will be like theirs.

Well-meaning friends and acquaintances can sometimes make you feel guilty. They can also sometimes make you feel that you’ve made a horrible mistake with one or more concessions you may have made, even though the approach you’re taking really might be best for you and your children and might be in your best interest in the long run.

If you take that tendency into account, however, and you don’t allow others to tell you what you should be demanding or agreeing to, it can be helpful to hear others’ experiences with divorce. Just filter those experiences through your own savvy and understanding about yourself, your spouse, and your children.

And one more thing about talking to others about their experience in divorce. If you spend a good bit of time with someone and all you hear about are the terrible experiences they had and are still having, you may want to find someone else. Divorce is an unhappy time. You really don’t need to spend time with someone who will simply make you more unhappy.

Sometimes gladiators tell their clients not to talk to anyone else about their divorce. Their stated reason for this advice is that they don’t want you to get sidetracked by bad advice or spurious information from uninformed people. I think this is poppycock, for two reasons. First, it’s unrealistic. You know, and I know, that you are going to listen to others’ experience with divorce; it’s only natural for you to be curious about how others got through this dreadful process, and you wouldn’t stop even if you knew it was a mistake. Second, it’s unhealthy. The more information you have, the more you can stay in control of your divorce. If you’ve spent any time on, you already know how important that is.

Get some help.

When you’re going through divorce, it’s easy to conclude that no one else has ever dealt with the kinds of problems you face.

Others have. Others are. Others will.
You are not alone.

Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends. Almost everyone wants to help, but some are able to do it better than others. It wouldn’t be unusual, for example, for some of your friends to pull away from you because they don’t know what to say, or because your divorce reminds them that their own marriage is vulnerable.

If you have a friend who seems comfortable spending time around you, don’t be afraid to coach him or her about how best to help. You might even try words like these: “I want you to know how much I appreciate your helping me work through this. If you don’t mind, what I really need is just somebody to listen. Could you do that without trying to react? Thanks.”

Often churches and synagogues offer lay counseling free of charge. One example helpful to Christians is Stephen Ministry, a non-denominational listening, caring ministry. Depending on the level of training of the lay person, and depending on whether they have a theological ax to grind or a rigid moral agenda, a lay counselor can be of tremendous help simply by being a good listener for you. Also, churches and synagogues often offer divorce recovery workshops and divorce support groups.

A professional counselor can be invaluable in helping you deal with the pain, the uncertainty, and the loss of divorce. And because a professional counselor can help you identify and understand your feelings (and therefore distinguish between what you feel and what you really need), he or she may also help you negotiate with your spouse more effectively.Another example for Christians is DivorceCare, a standardized curriculum that many churches offer as a way to help cope with the pain of divorce and begin the healing process.

Watch the Calendar.

Some of the greatest pain in divorce seems to come on occasions that were special to the two of you when you were married. It goes without saying that you want to be mindful of what you will be doing on Christmas (or High Holy Days), your wedding anniversary, your birthday, and your spouse’s birthday. But watch also for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Also be aware of in-laws’ birthdays.

The date on which your legal divorce is effective (or the date you receive papers) can be a particular challenge. Try to spend it with someone who knows you, cares about you, and will allow you to vent without feeling a need to respond to every comment you make.

Give yourself time to grieve.

Divorce is a loss just like death, illness, or losing your job. You’ll need to go through at least some form of grieving. The process of moving past the unhappiness of divorce toward recovery is painful, rocky, and unpredictable. Research indicates that it takes the average person about two years to recover from divorce.

During this time, you may want to go slowly when it comes to forming new romantic relationships, making significant financial commitments, or taking on new long-term personal commitments. I haven’t been able to corroborate this sobering statistic, but I heard in a seminar I attended once that the failure rate of marriages within two years of either partner’s divorce is 85%.

Everyone wants to believe that his or her situation is different, and maybe yours is. Just remember, every one of the couples in that 85% thought their situation was different, too.