Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, and an unexpected divorce can feel absolutely devastating. But it may be a more common experience than you think. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States go through a divorce. While knowing that many others go through the same pain, disruption, and uncertainty may not offer much comfort during the difficult aftermath of divorce, it does provide for extensive guidance on how to overcome the disappointment and hurt and move on with your life.
- Give yourself time to grieve and heal. Grief is an important and necessary step in the healing process. It can be tempting to find distractions or bury the hurt feelings, but you need to acknowledge these feelings in order to move past them. Just be careful not to get stuck in your grief. Focus on the end goal of moving on rather than dwelling on the past or assigning blame. One tactic to consider is journaling. Writing about your grief and loss can help you process these strong emotions.
- Stay active and make healthy choices. As you’re trying to heal emotionally, be mindful of your physical health. Although exercise might be the last thing on your mind, the physical and mental benefits are well established. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins that help relieve pain and reduce emotional stress. Exercise also improves your ability to sleep, which is another great stress reducer. Regular exercise and healthy eating and sleeping habits go a long way toward improving both your physical and mental health.
- Strive for a healthy breakup. An unexpected divorce may leave you feeling overwhelmed and lost, but you have some control over the circumstances surrounding the split. There’s bound to be pain and anger. But when it comes down to it, the relationship has ended and cooperation and communication are important for getting through the logistics of the breakup and allowing everybody to move on with their lives. In some cases this may require mediation with a neutral party. But at a minimum, focus on limiting contact with your ex to only what is necessary and keep conflict away from your kids.
- Find support. An unexpected divorce is a difficult shock to overcome, but support from others can help you recover from the breakup. Be open with your friends and family and allow them to be there for you. Support groups are also a great option because you’ll be able to talk through your experience with people who want to help and understand what you’re going through. If you feel like you’ve lost much of your social circle because of the split, try to meet new people by joining a social club, taking a class, or volunteering for a cause or organization important to you.
It’s not uncommon to feel stuck in the wake of divorce, especially an unexpected one. Although recovery takes time, seeking professional guidance may help you through the process. A psychologist can also help families adjust to the change and help spouses learn from the experience so they can improve behaviors and patterns in future relationships.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.