For women who are divorcing in middle age, this blog regularly publishes relationship advice, including tips on starting to date again and navigating new relationships. The blog also offers personal stories and suggestions on starting over after a divorce.
Divorce is traumatizing during any stage of life. But it takes on different layers of overwhelm in our 50s and beyond, when we are dealing with other issues like retirement, caring for elderly parents, and worrying about our adult children.
It’s a lot to handle, but when you know what to expect, a lot of that stress may decrease. While there are many logistical and financial things to do address during divorce, understanding what to expect emotional lays the groundwork for the road ahead. Here are just a few of the thinks to prepare yourself for when your marriage is ending.
1) You will doubt yourself, and feel so afraid of the unknown that you will reason that even though you are miserable, you at least are comfortable, and that you can endure your unhappy marriage. In your heart of hearts you know it isn’t true. You will bargain with yourself because you are scared. Know that this is normal.
2) The rollercoaster of emotions unlike anything you have ever experienced: the regret, the grief, the pain, the confusion, the fear, the desperation of wanting to be loved after your spouse is gone. But gradually, a weight will lift from your shoulders—the same weight you denied all this time when you told yourself nothing was wrong.
3) Your self-esteem may shatter, and you will be desperate for love and validation. You may be tempted to to date immediately and latch on to the first person who pays attention to you. Resist this urge even if you have not had that romantic touch or intimacy for a long time. Trying to fill that void with another relationship robs you of the chance to heal.
4) You may tell yourself that you’re fine, but you need a support system: a therapist, a divorce coach, a support group, good friends, the non-judgmental anonymity of online forums. Whatever combination of systems you choose should help you attain two objectives–creating a safe place for venting, while also helping you find healthy ways to cope.
5) Once you and your spouse decide to split, you will feel like you are getting sprayed with an industrial firehose. The number of “to-do’s” regarding emotions, finances, legal issues, custody, and other logistics will come at you with incredible urgency. You will feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Understand that splitting is a process. There are things to address immediately (safety, shelter, income), things to address later (understanding legal and custody issues, finding an emotional support system) and things to address longer-term. Remind yourself that divorce is a marathon and requires patience and persistence. Save yourself the stress by accepting that not everything has to be done right now.
6) You will have no control over your spouse’s behavior. For serious offenses (threatening harm, cleaning out your savings account), you will absolutely need to take action. But there will also be annoyances that may not endanger you, but will anger you. Remember that although you can’t control their behavior, you can control how you react to it. There is power in taking the high road.
7) You will be tempted to make certain divorce decisions that are driven by emotion, rather than driven by logic. You will constantly forget that divorce, boiled down, is a business transaction–a splitting of assets and incomes. During the legal process, you will be forced to choose your battles. Choose wisely.
8) You will find yourself in new situations that make you uncomfortable. You may be re-entering the workforce. Your budget may be tight. If your social life revolved around other married couples, this dynamic may seem miserable for you. You may find friends treating you differently, thinking for some reason your split means that their relationship is in jeopardy. Understand that you are not alone in all of these struggles, and that whatever support you need–career help, financial advice, counseling, new opportunities for socialization–is out there.
9) In your times of despair, you will wallow in self-pity. You will break down frequently at the most inconvenient times, and say, “my life was not supposed to be like this.” This is part of the grieving process, and you will learn how to balance it all: accepting that your circumstances changed, dealing with them, and also learning how to heal and move on. You will learn that you are not a prisoner to those circumstances, and it is you who has the power to come out of this whole ordeal a stronger person.
10) You will learn that the split has presented you with a choice and it is your decision how you handle it. You can choose to look at this split as a trauma from which you will never recover, or you can choose the path that takes more work–the path where you ask for assistance, get the support you need, educate yourself, and understand that you will have the power to get through it all. The choice is yours.
Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce recovery coach whose website “Surviving Your Split” helps women in their 50s navigate their divorce and get their confidence back. For your Free Divorce Goddess Recovery Kit, stop by http://survivingyoursplit.com/ or drop Martha a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No matter where you are in the divorce process it’s unavoidable.
You know the feeling all too well. That divorce anxiety and stress. The fear of the unknown. The loss of control of the life we thought we knew. It’s normal to panic, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through your days worried that you’re doing something wrong in your divorce, or that you’re going to screw something up.
You deserve better than that.
See, here’s the the thing that cripples us during divorce. When we’re going through something new and unfamiliar, we think that for some reason we won’t be good at it, and that we’ll completely fail at it. The same irrational thinking is applicable to the divorce process. Most of the time we’re panicking because we have no idea what the heck is going to happen from one day to the next.
“Is my ex going to change their mind on the settlement?”
“Will I have enough money as a single parent to support myself but still be there for my children?”
“Oh god. What if this divorce drags out? Am I going to be broke?”
“I haven’t worked outside the home for years. Where on earth will I even start?”
“Am I ever going to get over this anger I have?”
“Will I ever find love again?”
We don’t know the answers to these questions or the myriad others invading our thoughts at all hours of the day, and those unanswered questions are what make us anxious. Anxiety preys on our insecurities about what we don’t know. And for some reason, we have been conditioned to think that THE UNKNOWN= SOMETHING COMPLETELY HORRIBLE, which is just crazy.
We fear the unknown, without really fully grasping that the UNKNOWN can actually have a ton of amazing things for us. Our anxiety paralyzes us because it has hijacked our not knowing the future, the UNKNOWN, and has put dibs on it saying, “Oh, because you are unsure of what will happen, that means it must automatically something horrible.”
And you know what, Anxiety? That’s just BS. Just because we don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future doesn’t mean we’re going to be held hostage anymore, lying awake at night, worried sick about what the future has in store for us.
We’re going to do thing differently. You already have all the tools you need to kick your anxiety to the curb. And with the exercise below, you’ll learn how to do just that.
Kick Anxiety to the Curb Exercise
This exercise is actually really easy, and a lot of fun. Chances are in your life, you have been though other stressful situations. And I know for a fact that you were able to get through those situations, plan them out, and navigate with grace.
You can do the same thing with your divorce anxiety in a few easy steps.
1.Take a few minutes and think about some of the past stressful situations in your life.
2.Write down how you dealt with those situations. What did you do, exactly? What fears did you have that you were able to work through? What steps did you take?
Example: I was laid off unexpectedly last year. I totally didn’t see it coming and I wasn’t prepared to look for another job.
After initially freaking out, I knew that I had to get to get busy and that I didn’t have time to sit and be upset. I updated my resume. I subscribed to job alerts on several job sites. I started attending as many career fairs as I could find. I started reaching out to former colleagues to see if they knew of any openings. I also applied for unemployment compensation and re-tooled my budget because I knew things would be tight until I found new work
3.After you are finished doing this with a few events in your life, list the things in your divorce that are causing you anxiety. Be honest and thorough. You’ll find that getting it all off your chest will make you feel better.
4.Now for the big leap: How can you apply some the things that you did in other stressful situations of your life to your current divorce anxiety? The connections are there, and they are strong.
A.Example: I am anxious about the divorce because I don’t know what to do. But I remember feeling that way when I was laid off.
B.Plan: Much like when I was laid off, the only way I can make any changes in the way I feel is if I take action. I feel anxious because I feel unsure, but I won’t feel unsure if I start to plan. So, I am going to start to research. I am going to list everything I actually can do, and then take action to do them. If I am worried about money, I will look at my budget and see if I really need to worry. If I do, I will research other income sources or speak with a financial advisor. If I need help trying to figure this all out, I will reach out for further guidance.
Repeat this step with all the things that are giving you anxiety and stress, and you’ll start to realize that there is actually so much you can control. This is your life. You own it. And the anxiety that holds you hostage is something you can kick to the curb.
Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce recovery coach whose website “Surviving Your Split” shows readers how to get their confidence back and move on with their lives. For your Free Divorce Goddess Survival Kit, stop by Surviving Your Split today!
My friend Bethany kept falling in lust with men at her office, which would’ve been fine except that she was in a seventeen-year marriage with two teenaged daughters. She was never physically unfaithful to her husband Doug, but the cost in integrity was devastating.
Finally the inevitable happened. She fell in love with one of her co-workers. Again, there was no physical infidelity, but hearts were involved. She decided she’d rather end her marriage than have an affair.
This is one of the things I love about Bethany, no equivocation, but in this instance I thought she was being rash. Couldn’t she tell Doug what was happening? That the survival of their marriage was at DefCon 5? I was shocked to discover she’d been honest with Doug and he’d remained passive.
When Bethany divorced Doug you’d have thought she was divorcing me. We’ve known each other since our Study of Women and Men In Society class in Bovard Auditorium at USC circa 1986 and bonded over our shared experience of being children of divorce. How could she consider leaving a marriage to, as she fully admitted, a funny, kind, committed man?
“What does that mean you and Doug don’t have sex? You mean, like, you have it once a month or so?”
“I mean, like, we haven’t had sex in two years.”
“Holy shit! I had no idea!”
“It’s not really something people advertise. And the last time we did it we had to get drunk and watch porn.”
“But why?” I asked, “Why don’t you have sex?”
“Because I’ve become his mother. We have an Oedipal relationship. Just minus the sex.”
Bethany explained that over the years she’d taken up more and more real estate in the marriage or Doug simply did less and less so she had to. She managed their family schedule, she had the bigger job, she planned all their vacations, she made all major decisions about their finances and their children.
“Is this because you’re controlling and bossy?” I asked. She is controlling and bossy and I can say that because so am I.
“Maybe,” she said. ”But, I don’t always want to be the boss, sometimes I really want him to take over.”
There certainly was one place where Doug was the boss and that was in the bedroom. He could control Bethany by withholding. My assessment, not hers.
When you’re a married person, other people’s divorces – from marriages that seemed solid and strong – can be threatening. If it happened to them it could happen to you. I have a propensity to be the boss in my home and Bethany’s story was a wake-up call that always getting my way in my marriage could end up being a pyrrhic victory. Fortunately, my husband Henry is willing to tell me when I need to “crawl out of his ass.”
Over time I came to understand that in divorcing Doug, Bethany did something incredibly brave. She took all the hits for breaking up her family, from her parents, her siblings, her children and her friends, myself included, in order to seek a fuller, more integrated life.
In the midst of the divorce, when Bethany had lost twenty pounds and couldn’t sleep and doubted herself, she clung to one simple truth, “I can’t live the rest of my life without passion.”
A passionless life. Not just sexless, but passionless. We all need to have a passion. Whether it’s passion for our partner or spouse, our work, our children, our hobbies. The lack of sex in Bethany’s marriage had eroded the passion of her spirit. She was living a rote, predictable, stagnant life.
It took time for me to see her situation objectively — divorce is always a personal trigger for me — and to realize I didn’t have the moral right to sentence her to a passionless life.
That was two years ago. I look at Bethany’s life today. It’s not perfect. The man she fell in love with is no longer in her life and she’s not in a hurry to meet someone new. She wants to better understand herself and not bring her daughters into a situation that won’t last. She and Doug are incredibly amiable and excellent parents to their now almost grown daughters.
Funnily enough, Bethany’s life is sexless again, but this time it’s by choice. Which leaves room for passion and possibility.
Great article in Psychology Today about second marriage. There are definitely some rules of the road that couples need to address before committing.
There are 5 Basic Conversations that are suggested.
“Talk first, marry second
When marrying, whether it is for the first or tenth time, it’s critical to get to know each other before committing. In some ways, it’s easier the second time around because you are more mature and, hopefully, you’ve learned from your mistakes…..
Regardless of who filed, many women feel overwhelmed as they begin to gather financial statements and documents. The more they learn about their financial status, the more embarrassed and ashamed they feel. They may even feel defeated.
The first onset of emotions often stems from not being involved in the financial landscape during the marriage. I work with women to help them step-by-step through that process to ensure they move out of the feeling of embarrassment and shame and into a place of feeling empowered on their journey through divorce.
Here are five ways to help rise above overwhelm, take action and reclaim your power.
Engage in the ongoing process of gathering information. If women experience roadblocks from their spouse during this process, there are two options. The first option is to hire an attorney that will activate the legal process to formally request information. The second option is to hire a financial private investigator who can be used in conjunction with or independent from an attorney.
Organize the information in a way that allows you to swiftly access the data to prevent confusion from setting in. Creating a system that works for you will help clear the fog and bring clarity and accuracy to the current picture. This will be helpful when meeting with the attorney, completing the financial disclosure documents, and even attending mediation.
Set boundaries around the day-to-day finances. This begins with identifying who will pay for what during the divorce process. A family law attorney can draft a document that sets the ground rules for financial conduct. However, it is up to you to help hold your soon-be-to ex accountable. Don’t rely solely on the court system to monitor this activity. Be sure to use your voice to speak up about financial behaviors that aren’t in alignment with the agreement.
Get clear on your values, desires and expectations. Take time to write down what is important to you. Create two columns: Non-Negotiable and Negotiable. Stick to those Non-Negotiable items and remember to let go of anything that shows up under the Negotiable column.
Stop apologizing for what you don’t know. Make sure your communication is in alignment with your list of negotiable and non-negotiable items. A great strategy is to use the assertive communication formula. It sets the stage for creating a win/win and an environment of respect. For example, I feel ________ when ______. This is great when communicating with your attorney, your team and your ex-spouse. This simple formula can be used to address challenging behavior as well as affirm positive behavior
As you move into divorce, your financial situation tends to move out of the fog and into clarity. Once you have clarity you can take empowered actions. I work with women who are facing divorce. My passion is to help them go from financial self-sabotage to financial self-confidence. It is important to take one step at a time. These five steps will help reduce overwhelm and empower you on your journey. If you need additional support about your financial picture, visit our Divorce Conversations podcast at https://www.womensfinancialwellnesscenter.com/podcast.
I had this job and career that made me comfortable and paid well. It was not necessarily a job that I loved, but it made me feel secure and gave me the validation that I thought I needed.
Until I was laid off.
I started to panic, because although I was not necessarily happy with it, it least it paid the bills and the thought of financially uncertainty terrified me.
But here’s where my own missteps came in: As I started to assemble a resume, apply for new jobs, desperately hoping I would find employment soon, a voice in the back of my head get chiming in.
I’ll feel so much better once I get that job interview!
I know everything will be okay once I get the job offer.
I will be happy again once I am in a new job.
Once I get that first paycheck, I know I’ll smile and feel better about everything.
Do you see the dangerous pattern going on here?
You’ve probably done something like this, too. And it can sabotage your ability to move on.
Relying on external factors to make you happy.
It’s easy, but not simple. We cannot depend on outside factors to shape our attitudes in life, whether’s it’s when we are in recovery from divorce, dealing with employment issues, or anything else.
Only we can do that and that’s why we are going to start this quest with developing self-awareness. Because the more in-tune we are with our own thoughts, our own sense of joy, and our own triggers, the easier it will be to practice that mindfulness we need to be kinder to ourselves, more confident in ourselves, and able to hold ourselves accountable to building on with the next chapter in our lives. So let’s get started.
“Once X happens, only then will I be or feel Y….”
At some point in our lives—we’ve all done this. And as we learn to heal and move the hell on from this divorce, we may still fall into what I call the X-Y Trap. We say to ourselves that it will take a certain external situation (what I call the X) in order for us to achieve an internal state (what I call the Y). While this occurs in everyday situations, the X-Y Trap loves to linger during the divorce process. Do any of these sound familiar?
“Once the papers are signed, then I will be happy.”
“I’ll be happy again when I find a new partner to be with. Somebody who will be so much better than my ex-spouse.”
“When I move out of this house with all its memories and ghosts, I’ll be happy.”
“As soon as I quit feeling so overwhelmed, then I can work on being happy.
They sure as hell sound familiar to me, because I know as I was learning to move on, I would fall into this trap as well.
So, how do we avoid falling into the X-Y Trap? And, if we are already ensnared, how can we get the hell out of it?
Only by changing what goes on internally can we start finding happiness.
It’s simple, but not easy.
We must start thinking in terms of looking inward and relying on ourselves to be happy. No amount of money or outside validation or relationship status will do it for us. It must come from inside. We must consciously choose to be grateful and choose happiness, even when we feel overwhelmed and feel like we are a complete mess. Even when we feel like we are alone or feel betrayed or feel bad or impatient or feel like we will never get through the divorce and emerge on the other side, stronger and more confident than from where we started. Those feeling all derive from outside influence that we choose to react towards in a way that does not help us.
Regardless of where we are in life, we must all consciously choose to be happy, to be grateful, and to find joy in the fact that we are here, we are alive, and we are being given a second chance in this life. We must choose internally to embrace the fact we are now becoming independent—not only financially and now having the ability to live on our terms—but now independent to rely on ourselves to be happy—something no outside forces should determine for us.
Exercise—Take charge of your own happiness.
It may have been years—if at all—that we have looked within ourselves to find a happiness that does not rely on external factors. It may seem overwhelming and impossible, especially when we are stressed-out and grieving. But it does not have to be. Take a look at the easy exercise below, with examples to get you started.
Step 1: Name the things you have relied on to be happy. Some of my own examples are below if you need to get started.
A certain number in my bank account will make me happy.
Being in a relationship with a man who treats me right will make me happy.
Step 2: Flip the script.
No relationship in the world is going to make me happy if I do not love myself and treat myself right. From now on, I am going to focus on myself and work on myself. I need to start putting myself first—speaking up for myself, taking better care of myself, and finding joy in being alone.
Step 3: Whenever you are triggered and thinking that you need something external to make you happy, do this exercise.
Do it often. And the more you practice finding internal happiness, the more your life becomes filled with gratitude, not needing to rely on some outside factor you cannot control to make you happy. You are strong enough to find that within yourself.
Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce coach whose website, “Surviving Your Split,” helps readers get through their separation and divorce with less stress and drama so that they can move on with their lives. Stop by http://survivingyoursplit.comand sign up for your free divorce survival kit or say hello at email@example.com.
In the months leading up to our wedding some 20 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren’t exactly pre-cana classes – more like a series of “getting-to-know” you sessions – but they were thought-provoking all the same.
We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn’t the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to bed angry.
Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: “In my opinion, it’s far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced.”
The idea never went anywhere, and as far as I can tell there were no other countries clamoring to get in the mix. But it’s certainly an idea worth taking on board, in Mexico and elsewhere.
I consider myself to be a happily married person. But I also know that I’m a minority. Many of my close friends and relatives have split from their partners, some bitterly so. And many of the couples I know who have stayed together clearly regret that decision. As Gina Frangello put it so eloquently in a recent piece for Full Grown People:”Promises made at the age of twenty-five can feel like words uttered by someone else entirely by the time we are forty-six.”