- Inability to accept and adapt to a new role as someone who was “previously married” can complicate healing.
- One must strike a balance between who they were and who they wish to grow into.
- Exes who remain friendly for the sake of practicality report more positive outcomes.
You’ve probably heard the rather alarming statistic that half of all first marriages end in divorce. In fact, the shift in American attitudes toward marriage over the last decade is palpable. Census data reveal that the rates of marriage and divorce have both declined between 2009 and 2019.
This signals two important things to us:
- Fewer people are opting to commit to a traditional marriage.
- No married couple is immune to relationship issues that can lead to divorce.
Adapting to New Role
For many married people, the role of being a “husband” or a “wife” is an important part of their identity, and divorce can throw a wrench in their life as they know it. An inability to accept and adapt to their new role in society as someone who was “previously married” can complicate the process of healing.
A 2013 study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that the psychological traits of people who undergo divorce or separation can predict their ability to regain their psychological health after divorce. The study found that people who were depressed before the divorce or separation were more likely to remain depressed afterward, while people who were not depressed before the divorce or separation were not at increased risk for developing depression.
Clearly, how you approach a life-changing event like divorce can be a watershed moment in your life. By utilizing healthy practices to process this change and by relying on social support, you can turn a mentally, physically, and financially draining experience into one that marks the beginning of a new you. Here is a key strategy you can employ after a difficult divorce to help you regain balance in your life:
Embrace a future-focused outlook after divorce, but not at the cost of losing sight of your past.
Following a divorce, many people tend to throw themselves into unfamiliar territory, which can serve as a much-needed distraction. Sometimes it’s a new-found love for painting or pottery. Other times, there’s a chance that you may fall into unhealthy patterns like overeating or drinking too much.
While rediscovering yourself is an important part of the coping process, understand that you need to strike a balance between who you were and who you wish to grow into. As you journey through rediscovery and self-improvement, remember that if you have children, your personal growth doesn't just impact you; it also affects them. Your ability to handle the transition smoothly can significantly affect your children's adjustment to the new family situation.
Divorce, especially when it is contentious, can make co-parenting a challenging proposition. A 2019 article explains how children with divorced parents are at increased risk for academic difficulties, disruptive behaviors, depressed mood, risky sexual behavior, poverty, and future family instability.
So, while a divorce may absolve you of most of your duties as a partner to your ex, it doesn’t erase the past. You are still the mother or father to your children, and working with your ex to minimize the trauma of divorce that spills over into your kids’ lives is vital. Sure, you may not always be at the dinner table or watching over your kids’ progress at school with an eagle eye, but being on friendly terms with your ex can teach your child that while their parents may not be together anymore, they still respect and care for each other.
The good news is that for many married couples undergoing divorce, the need to remain on friendly terms is often based on practicality—particularly for the sake of being present in their kids’ lives. A 2017 study published in Personal Relationships found that exes who remain friends for the sake of practicality reported more positive outcomes, with an increased willingness to be supportive toward each other. On the other hand, if there are unresolved romantic feelings on the part of either partner, being friends can cause more problems than it solves.
Factor this in when you begin your journey of rediscovery. Your goal is not to rewrite what has happened. Instead, accept the finality of divorce—you are no longer a “wife” or a “husband” to your ex. Given this new situation you find yourself in, think about how you can best integrate your new hobbies, passions, and projects into your life while giving your children a chance to watch their parent grow and live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.
In fact, the benefits of being involved in your kids’ lives go both ways. A recent study found that older divorced adults who were no longer in touch with their adult children experience more loneliness, lower life satisfaction, and poorer health than those who have regular contact with their adult children. The study, which analyzed data from 11,340 older adults in Europe, suggests that maintaining long-term ties with your children can help buffer the negative effects of divorce on well-being and quality of life.
To further buffer the negative effects of divorce, consider investing in a mental health provider. Proper mental health care can provide a strong foundation for you to process your difficult emotions, including anger, grief, confusion, and bitterness. This is an excellent opportunity to understand what went wrong in the marriage and also recalibrate your approach to love and relationships going forward.
Divorce can be traumatic. As tempting as it may be to burn bridges with an ex following a separation or divorce, understand how the consequences of your actions may play out when your children need you to be there for them. It is possible to learn to live a happy life after a divorce by leaning on the people you have around you and taking good care of your mental health.
Bieber C, Ramirez A. Revealing Divorce Statistics In 2023. Forbes. August 8, 2023.