Women Coping with Divorce

Women Coping with Divorce

Divorce specialist Yevhenia Gacek

Statistics indicate that between 40 and 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. The high divorce rate, however, does not mean that it is a seamless process, nor something that can be taken lightly. Whether your wedlock is about to break or you find yourself in the middle of divorce proceedings, you are likely going through a painful experience.

A collapsed marriage cannot be tossed out like a pair of worn-out shoes. Regardless of who initiated the separation, and whether it is amicable or hotly contested, a divorce is never just about packing your stuff and going your separate ways. There are legal matters to take care of, possible child custody battles to fight and a healthy routine to get back into. Given that you might be emotionally drained, these tasks can seem like too much to cope with. However, by adopting certain coping strategies you can make the best of your adverse circumstances.

How Does Divorce Affect Women?

The good news is that you are more likely to adjust to life following a divorce than your ex-husband. A 2015 report, prepared by the American Sociological Association, reveals that 69% of all divorces are initiated by women. This suggests that women seek divorces in order to have a better, more fulfilling life. Another survey that studied the impact of divorce on both men and women found that on average, women who have gone through a marital breakup are happier than their male counterparts. 46% of women said they felt liberated, 20% felt devastated and 3% felt "suicidal". For men, the figures were 37%, 23%, and 7%, respectively.

However, we understand that these broad statistics are useful for researchers, but are of little comfort to those who are going through the divorce process. After all, on a scale between feeling liberated and being suicidal, there is a rainbow of overwhelming emotions you can experience.

Emotional Turmoil

Abandonment, fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, grief, despair, guilt, anxiety, hostility, shame, and revenge are just some of the feelings you could be flooded with.

Perhaps you didn’t see this divorce coming and had to face up to the loss of a person you deeply loved, overcome humiliation, betrayal or a change in social status. Even if you did want a divorce, coming to grips with life following the separation could be something you hadn’t expected. Coming home to an empty house, eating breakfast alone, having no one to talk to or becoming a single mother can cause an unanticipated emotional fallout.

Apart from that, you may feel a tremendous sense of failure. Your dreams of being there for each other “for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part” have shattered. Your ambition to be exemplary parents for your children has been thwarted. Questions such as “What will my parents say about this?” or “Why couldn’t we manage to save our marriage?” are not helpful either. And even though you could have been convinced at some point in your life that no storm lasts forever, getting over a marital breakup can be one of the biggest challenges in your life.

You might be wondering: “How long does it take to recover from the emotional consequences of the divorce?” There is no clear-cut answer to this question. It will not take a fortnight, that’s for sure. Dr. Richard E. Lucas at Michigan State University conducted an 18-year survey in Germany to study life satisfaction in divorced adults. He found that although dissatisfaction reaches its greatest point 1 year before the divorce and emotional well-being picks up during the first 4 years after the separation, it might take up to 5-6 years to reach the level of satisfaction characteristic of the initial stage in marriage. Again, women tend to recuperate quicker in the first years after divorce than men do.

However, apart from the emotional turmoil, there are other negative consequences that divorced women suffer.

Dire Financial Straits

To begin with, the divorce process itself can empty your pockets. Depending on whether the agreement is amicable or contested, whether you file all the papers by yourself or hire an attorney, need alimony or child custody, have to split your assets, etc., a divorce can cost you from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars or more. In the USA, the average cost of divorce in 2019 is around $15.000 per person. For many divorcing couples, this usually comes as a nasty surprise.

Once the marriage has been dissolved, a lot of women may find a significant decrease in their financial well-being. A 1996 report revealed that on average, women see a 27% decline in their household income. There are a number of reasons for that.

While more and more children live with just their father, almost 84% of custodial parents are mothers. In 2013, only 45.6% of all custodial parents received full child support. Thus, women are usually the ones who have to shoulder the burden of childcare.

At the same time, because mothers are mainly responsible for taking care of young children, they have limited earning possibilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2018, 27% of children under the age of 15 in two-parent families lived with a stay-at-home mother and only 1% of kids had a stay-at-home father. Thus, for quite a few mothers a divorce means they have to return to the workforce without having the same job opportunities that men do.

Moreover, not all women are aware that along with splitting the assets, there is marital debt to take care of. Car loans, mortgages and credit card debt also have to be split between you and your ex. According to a survey, 38% of women over 55 experienced “financial surprises” during their divorce. As for younger women, almost 50% of them incurred costs that they had not expected.

Health and Well-Being

Although it has been found that the majority of women do not experience immediate effects from the divorce on their physical health, and that it’s men who are prone to develop health problems due to a marriage breakdown, the risk of health deterioration in women who divorced 10 years ago is 37% higher than that of married women.

They are 24% more likely to develop heart disease than their married counterparts. Repeated exposure to a divorce increases this risk to 77%. Scientists say that such factors as stress, change in access to health insurance, poorer eating habits, and unstable financial situations could be linked to health problems.

Divorce can also affect mental health. It has been shown that people who experienced episodes of depressed moods prior to their divorce are more likely to develop post-divorce depression. According to one study, about 60% of people with a history of depression are likely to feel extremely low after they split, whereas only 10% of people with no history of a depressive disorder develop the disorder after a marriage breakdown.

Last but not least, terminating a marriage often triggers the development of harmful habits. It has been found that divorced women tend to smoke and drink more than married ones.

6 Divorce Mistakes to Avoid

While it is normal to experience strong emotions during the divorce process, if not kept at bay, they can make you think and act irrationally. Although there is no such thing as a “negative emotion”, and anger is a normal, healthy emotion, excessive rage and hatred can become destructive. You could well end up being sorry for your words and/or behavior. This is particularly important during the period where the marriage has not been dissolved yet, and you are going through asset division, custody over children and other unpleasant stuff. Allow your emotions to lead you astray, and they are likely to backfire at you. Here’s our advice on what not to do during divorce proceedings.

1. Bad-Mouthing

We know that it might be extremely hard, but try to talk in a civil manner. Do not disparage your ex in front of your children nor throw mud at your soon-to-be-ex behind his back. This behavior will not help you in court, should you eventually have to go there. Do you really want your children to think that their dad, whose DNA they have inherited, is an unworthy person? Do you reckon your neighbors will take pity on you when they hear what a douchebag your partner is? If this step is hard to do, try to think about the times where you were happy together and try to recall why you chose that man.

2. Providing False Financial Information

Make sure that both you and your partner provide honest financial information about income, marital debt, and realistic future expenses. You have to carefully verify your balances and check all the numbers.

3. Emptying a Joint Account Without Your Partner’s Knowledge

This will inevitably push your ex-husband’s buttons and is likely to lead to you losing your credibility in the judge’s eyes. You will most likely be forced to return the money and pay for your ex-partner’s attorney fees (if they exist).

4. Avoiding Compromise

Don’t go overboard with your fervent wish for things to go your way. Both partners have to cave in to finalize the divorce. If you take an uncompromising stand, the legal proceedings will last longer. This means more headache and more money.

5. Using Children as Messengers

Children are the most vulnerable to the consequences of divorce. Therefore, the best thing you can do for them is to keep them out of the grown-ups’ problems. Even if your message to your ex has something to do with kids, it’s better if you contact your partner directly and discuss all the arrangements with him. This way you will not only spare your youngsters, but will also avoid misunderstandings.

6. Jumping into a New Relationship Just Because You Feel Lonely

With some rare exceptions, this will neither make you happy nor will it take your pain away. No external event or person can heal you; recuperation comes from within. As you go through divorce proceedings, you can learn a lot about yourself, process the mistakes you and your husband may have made and get to know your identity, uninfluenced by others. Don’t worry – the right person might come into your life later on. And it’s better if you’re prepared and know exactly which traits you are looking for in a new partner.

10 Steps to Ease the Pain of Divorce

Once your marriage has been dissolved, it may seem like a lingering dark cloud is hanging over your head. Emotional distress, financial difficulties and the feeling of hopelessness might appear immovable. However, time heals wounds. One day, you will be surprised to find that the shadow of grief/guilt/anger (or whatever emotion is dominating your life now) has disappeared. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, that day may come sooner or later. By pursuing certain strategies, you can accelerate the healing process.

1. Don’t focus on the past. Don’t escape into the future.

Our mind has the intrinsic quality of never staying in the present moment. It constantly leaps into the past or creates what looks like a coherent image of the future. While doing this, it tends to color certain events and people while demonizing others, conjuring up drama about future negative scenarios and hijacking our confidence.

A recently divorced brain in particular can undermine your past and foresee an uncertain future. For many women, it is particularly difficult to let go of the past. They tend to overanalyze life situations, identifying the turning point and trying to mourn their loss. It is not uncommon to blame a partner for what he has done, or practice self-hate.

So, whenever gloomy thoughts cross your mind, you have to recognize them and immediately weed them out. Although it’s wise to live your life forward-facing, try not to be haunted by the “what-ifs” of the future. If you are dissatisfied with your past and are fearful of your future, remember that today is the only time you have control over. Yes, the present may be foggy. But as the fog clears away, you will become more confident and have more faith in your future.

If being in the present is something you constantly struggle with, then the next point will be of particular value to you.

2. Learn how to stay mindful.

Mindfulness presupposes that you can focus on the present moment without succumbing to unpleasant emotions.

It has been shown that when practicing mindfulness, you activate parts of your brain that are responsible for the ability to think logically. Thanks to mindfulness and awareness, you can deal with anxiety in a better way.

While staying “present” won’t eradicate overwhelming emotions, you start noticing the chatter in your mind and, instead of getting carried away by waves of anger or sadness, you seize control over these emotions.

Here are some techniques that might help you when practicing mindfulness:

  1. Sit up straight in a chair and close your eyes. Connect with your breath and observe how the air fills your lungs and then leaves your body. While you are doing this, thoughts will come to your mind. Observe them without judgment and let them pass. Once you learn the ropes, you will become more grounded with each inhale and exhale. Fewer thoughts will come to your mind.
  2. Try to engage your senses. What noises do you hear? Look around you. What do you see? Can you smell anything? Close your eyes for a moment. Put your palms on your thighs. Can you feel their weight on your legs? Become anchored in the present moment by carefully observing what is going on around you and noticing the smallest details.
  3. Ask yourself: “Am I safe at this moment?”. The most likely answer to this question will be “Yes”. If your mind sneaks in and tells you, “But you could lose your house if you don’t pay the mortgage” or “What if one day you find yourself below the poverty line?”, you should reply “I will take care of those matters as they come. I am safe at this very moment.”

By following these three steps regularly you will become mindful of your emotions and changes to your mood, gradually becoming able to control them.

3. Accept things as they are.

Although it’s easier said than done, acceptance is something that usually comes with mindfulness. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are desperate to fly right now to Tokyo, but you are at a Greyhound station in Missouri. You can lament all you want over your inability to fly to Tokyo at this moment in time, but it won’t help. In order to make that trip, the first thing you need to do is admit that you are in the wrong place, and that somehow you have to get to an international airport, buy tickets, etc. Once you do this, you will be able to move on. You might jump on a long-distance coach to Chicago, get your tickets and fly to your chosen destination, provided that you have the needed resources.

Although it’s easier said than done, acceptance is something that usually comes with mindfulness. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are desperate to fly right now to Tokyo, but you are at a Greyhound station in Missouri. You can lament all you want over your inability to fly to Tokyo at this moment in time, but it won’t help. In order to make that trip, the first thing you need to do is admit that you are in the wrong place, and that somehow you have to get to an international airport, buy tickets, etc. Once you do this, you will be able to move on. You might jump on a long-distance coach to Chicago, get your tickets and fly to your chosen destination, provided that you have the needed resources.

A. Bitter reality

In order to recuperate quicker, you need to come to terms with your present life circumstances. Your divorce did not just happen overnight. It probably signifies long-standing relationship problems or unresolved conflicts that built up over time. You may not have been fully aware of them, but a marital breakup is usually the culmination of numerous issues. In the majority of cases, both husband and wife are at fault for not addressing those issues.

Realizing that can be painful. Accepting hurts even more. But once you stop ignoring the truth and start seeing things as they are, you will begin to feel relieved and ready to move on.

B. Overwhelming emotions

The same holds true for the emotions you experience. It is absolutely normal to have different feelings. Fighting them is counterproductive. So, whatever you are feeling, be it sadness, anger, frustration or confusion, allow yourself to feel the pain. In order to heal, you have to grieve. Suppressing your emotions will inevitably lead to a longer recovery time.

To better deal with your emotions you can use the following techniques:

  • Write down how you feel. You can start keeping a journal or writing letters to your ex without actually sending them.
  • Realize how sad you are. Admitting to yourself how you truly feel will eventually enable you to handle your emotions better.
  • Allow yourself to vent. In order to drain the negative energy from your body, shouting, screaming or even breaking dishes can be beneficial.

Remember that while it is important to express the emotions that bother you, try to avoid dwelling on them or over-analyzing the situation. Try not to get stuck in a gloomy and dark space inside your brain.

C. Economic reality

Yes, you probably have to face up to a reduction in the lavishness of your lifestyle and… accept it. In order not to feel down about financial worries, you can either change your lifestyle or reaffirm your life priorities. You may not have a high-paying job, but you might have more time to spend with your kids compared to women who are climbing the career ladder. You might not be able to afford that vacation overseas, but you can finally visit your parents who live far from you. Once you heal the wounds, you will be able to make a sensible decision on how to improve your financial situation, if needed.

4. Do not withdraw into yourself.

Don’t go through these turbulent times alone. Surround yourself with a positive support system. Share your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with your family and friends. You need to talk it out. Make sure that the people you spend time with are upbeat and that communication with them does not arouse self-pity in you. Otherwise, there is a risk that you can get stuck feeling miserable; your friends keep telling you what a prick your ex was and how they feel sorry for you.

If you don’t have close people around, you can consult a professional. Therapy can be an excellent option. If nothing else, you can participate in divorce support groups that are usually available at community centers/religious institutions or online.

5. Shift attention from your ex.

Try to avoid disquieting thoughts that are related to your former husband. What’s good about obsessing with him having a fling with that young blonde? What’s the point of launching into internal monologues or engaging in unconstructive dialogues with your ex? We advise that you don’t get into (imaginary) battles where you attach blame/feel victimized/defend your actions. This behavior will only drain you emotionally and make you feel trapped in a relationship that is no longer serving you well. The more time you spend talking/thinking about your ex, the more you deprive yourself (and your children) of precious time and care.

If there are physical objects that keep reminding you of your former spouse, you might find it useful to get rid of them. You can toss out or sell anything that makes you feel sad or overwhelmed on Craigslist. Maybe donate old clothes to a local homeless shelter. Let go of as much stuff as you can.

6. Take care of yourself.

Both physically and mentally. Remember the old saying: “Where there is a sound body there must be a sound mind.” Exercising balances your chemistry. Movement and any sort of physical activity help keep anxiety at bay and shift your focus away from negativity. Healthy nutrition and sufficient sleep are equally important, as they directly influence your mood and how you feel.

Do things that boost your mood. Whether it is reading, walking in the park, taking a scented bath or pampering yourself with a visit to the spa, do something pleasant and enjoy any little things that make you happy.

7. Don’t be hard on yourself. Prioritize.

As you recover from the post-divorce trauma, it’s normal for your productivity to reduce drastically. At the same time, your new life requires you to assume more responsibilities and develop an increased level of self-reliance. You may find it overwhelming to juggle your career and kids. Coping with an enormous workload, taking children to extracurricular activities, keeping the house clean, running the household, having a fridge full of home-cooked meals, doing morning workouts all while keeping a positive mindset sounds like an impossible task.

Don’t beat up on yourself for not being able to handle every sphere of your life well. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Take a break. Decide what’s most important for you and your well-being. Practice self-compassion and do things that promote your inner peace and balance. The world will not end if you sleep in on Saturday. And no, missing your son’s baseball tournament or your daughter’s dance performance (or vice versa) once does not make you a bad mom. Give yourself a break. Now is not the perfect time for multitasking. You don’t have to stress over this. After all, you are not a superwoman. Relax in peace and quiet. Spend some quality time with yourself. Allow yourself to heal, regroup and restore.

8. Be open to new experiences.

Divorce puts an end to your marriage, not your life. Quite the opposite: a marital break-up brings you the opportunity to start a new life. Now is the perfect time to take an inventory of your life and discover what you want for your future. You can reevaluate your priorities, get to know who you are beyond your ex-spouse, reflect on why your marriage failed, contemplate the sort of man you want to see in your life, and resolve any emotional issues.

While it is useful to turn inward and learn about your true self, being open to new experiences in the outside world is also beneficial for your personal growth. By pursuing new activities you can also concentrate on your present rather than dwell on the past. Perhaps there is a side to you that you still haven’t explored. You could enroll in a professional course or take art/dancing/yoga/pottery classes. Being open to new information and cultivating new friendships could make you feel more motivated, positive and active.

9. Help your children adjust to the divorce.

Kids are extremely vulnerable when it comes to a family breakup. They are sensitive to the atmosphere around them. Their parents’ mood can have a domino effect on them. If you are stressed, your child most likely feels devastated. Because of their mental state, he or she can act out, cry or be sad. In the long run, divorce can affect a child’s self-esteem, ability to form social connections, behavior, and even health. Therefore, it is crucial that you comfort your youngster(s) and give them the support they need.

By saying that, we are by no means suggesting that you be a helicopter parent, shielding your child from any possible conflict they may face. The best thing you can do as a nurturing parent is to give them a sense of calmness and assure that your love for them is unconditional. You also need to tell your little one that the divorce is not their fault and that they will never be abandoned.

Of course, in order to instill calmness in your child, you need to be calm yourself. Therefore, the first thing to do is to keep stress at bay.

Some other useful pieces of advice:

  • Stay involved in your child’s life (but don’t become a helicopter or “snowplow” parent)
  • Don’t fight with your ex in front of your child
  • Don’t make your kid take sides between you and your former husband
  • Stay diplomatic and avoid the blame game
  • Make sure your child spends quality time with you and his/her dad
  • Resolve parenting conflicts with your ex

10. Don’t miss the opportunity for new beginnings.

Because divorce is often a challenging and heartbreaking experience, it is easy to stay tangled up in grief, hopelessness, anger or despair. If you find yourself in this living space, you might feel that your situation is a wreck; you are lost at sea and all you can do is go with the tide and never reach the shore of personal happiness.

Or, you can learn lessons from your marital breakup, take responsibility for your life, stick it out and make your way towards a happier future. You can explore new interests, spend more time with your kids, pursue a new hobby, look for a new job, move to another town or adopt a healthier lifestyle. Listen to your heart and try to figure out what makes you really happy and fulfilled. Do it for yourself, not as revenge on your ex. If it gets tough, take it one day at a time and be grateful for getting through the day. Although it might sound unbelievable now, one day you will wake up as a happy person.

We hope that by adopting these coping strategies you can see a silver lining to your divorce and eventually create a meaningful life based on your values, passions, and aspirations.

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