No two ways about it: life after divorce can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be the worst. A lot depends on your perspective, and how you adapt to your new situation. You can make it a life transition that’s difficult but ultimately rewarding, or it can be the most miserable period of your life, resulting in your making everyone you love uncomfortable and leaving emotional scars that never heal. It might sound flippant to say that the choice is up to you, but that really is the case. There are so few things in this world that you can control, but your behavior is one of them.
Yes, we know you feel hurt and abandoned. There’s a chip on your shoulder that might not be going away anytime soon. But you can be the bigger person. Here are 40 things you absolutely shouldn’t do after a divorce, even though every atom in your body might be screaming out to do them anyway. You can get through this, and with these guidelines, you’ll come out the other side stronger and happier.
Your emotions may still be raw, but that’s no reason to let your anger dictate your behavior. Leave the snarky comments in your head, and, if you’re planning to do anything that serves no purpose other than reminding your ex that you’re still bitter about the way things ended, let a little more time pass before you make any hasty decisions.
Nothing makes a divorce more painful than putting your kids in the middle. Not that you need to shield them from what’s happening—a little honesty is always a good idea—but it’s unfair to make them choose between parents. Let them know that you both love them equally, and your divorce doesn’t mean they need to pick an allegiance.
Even if you feel emotionally ready to get back into the dating pool, take it slowly. This isn’t a race to see which ex-spouse can find another partner first. Give yourself some time to be okay with being single. Another relationship, no matter how healthy, is not the quick fix that will make you feel whole again.
Don’t be fooled into thinking buying a fancy sports car or expensive new clothes is all it takes to drive away the post-divorce blues. You still have to contend with those feelings, and now you have to do it while deeper in debt. New toys are fun, but remember: the endorphin rush it gives you is fleeting.
You have every right to be melancholy, but don’t let those feelings consume you completely. Sadness can either weigh you down or act as a motivator. You can spend the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself, or you can let that heartbreak be your fuel to get out there and start your second act.
Especially if the divorce was acrimonious, you might be tempted to air your dirty laundry for all to see, on, say, Facebook, Twitter, of Instagram. This is not a good plan. Full stop.
Even if your intentions are good—you just want to let off some steam and maybe get a little sympathy—it’s only going to come across as bitter. There’s no reason to share any details of your divorce so publicly, especially if your social media following includes old high school friends, casual acquaintances who barely know either of you, and, heaven forbid, your children’s teachers.
As much as you may want a clean break, it’s never going to be that easy. Even if you have no children together and limited friends in common, cutting somebody out of your life entirely who used to be so central to it is all but impossible. Learn to be okay with their existence and even civil if you run into them again. It’s a mark of maturity, and it’ll make both of your lives easier.
Even if it wasn’t a monumental waste of time—what exactly makes you think you have the power to change anyone’s feelings about another person?—it accomplishes nothing in the long run. It won’t save your marriage or make you feel any better about how it ended. It won’t make your children love you more, or make your friends more sympathetic. It just reinforces the silly, incorrect idea that there is a “winner” and “loser” in any divorce.
Whether it’s with friends or a therapist, it couldn’t be more vital to have conversations now about all the complicated emotions swirling through your head. Just having someone you trust to listen and understand without judgement will go farther to improving your mood and sense of self-worth than you could ever imagine.
If it’s a pet that you both care about deeply, that’s one thing. But don’t fight with an ex over possessions that mean nothing to you—stuff you only want for the petty reason that they walk away empty-handed. Before you tell them, “No way are you getting that,” think long and hard about what value you’re actually assigning to it. Do you have a real sentimental attachment, or is it just another chance to hit your ex where it hurts?
No it doesn’t. Nothing could be further from the truth. Crying means you’re human, and denying yourself that release is like going on an emotional hunger strike. Those tears are coming out one way or another, and you’ll feel better when you finally let them flow.
Even after your divorce has been finalized, some people feel compelled to hide their money in secret accounts, just in case their ex-spouse comes back looking for more. No good can come from this, especially if your stash gets uncovered. Just because the two of you can’t live together romantically anymore doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be mutual trust going forward. Be honest in everything, and you’ll both be happy in the end.
Are you really going to blow off a holiday party because your ex might be be invited, too? You can avoid every birthday and Sunday barbecue and Thanksgiving meal for the rest of your life, or you can be okay with the fact that you and your ex can be in the same room at the same time and the universe won’t collapse onto itself. Believe it or not, your friends actually want to see both of you.
Binge-eating might soothe you temporarily, but all that comfort food is just going to pack on the pounds and give you another reason to doubt your self-worth. The only way to truly move on is to learn how to love yourself again, and you’re not going to find that love at the bottom of a sponge cake.
If you felt a close attachment to your former father and mother-in-law, disconnecting from their lives could be just as painful as the divorce itself. But keeping that relationship alive is doing no good for you or anybody else. Moving on is not going to be possible for either you or your ex if you’re constantly calling and making plans with their parents.
Even the best divorces are by nature messy. That’s because 100 percent of divorces happen to human beings, and no human being is capable of being completely rational and level-headed at all times. If you feel like your ex is being unreasonable, that’s probably because they are. And it’s a good bet that you’ve been unreasonable with them at some point. Give them the freedom to be vulnerably human now and again and they just might do the same for you.
Some divorces are black-and-white, where one partner did something so egregious (infidelity comes to mind) that they’re clearly responsible for the marriage’s downfall. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Most marriages fall apart for reasons that are too complicated to explain with finger-pointing. If you’ve really reflected on the reasons for your divorce, you’re likely aware that’s saying any one thing or person is “to blame” for what happened is far too simplistic.
The only reason to say you’re sorry is if you’ve done something wrong. Being divorced is not a Scarlet Letter or proof that you’ve somehow failed at living up to others expectations. A divorce is a course correction in life, not a mistake that you need to justify to anyone. Look at it this way: you were brave enough to realize that your marriage wasn’t working. That’s not something to apologize for, it’s something worth feeling proud about.
Do you think finding out that they’ve moved on will give you closure or permission for you to start dating again, too? No, snooping on an ex to see if they’ve become intimate with somebody else will always lead to hurt feelings (yours) and, worse case, could result in you saying or doing something you’ll almost immediately regret.
The key word here is “flaunt.” If you’ve found love again, that’s terrific! But if you’re just dating someone because you know it would upset your ex, and you go out of your way to parade him or her around in front of your former spouse, just to rub their noses in it, then you are doing the polar opposite of moving on. You are being petty and passive aggressive. Even if your ex never finds out that you’re just doing it to hurt them, you know and now that’s something you have to live with.
Getting back to the gym isn’t just important because you want to avoid a post-divorce potbelly. A good workout will actually chase away the mental funk of a bad breakup. Exercise raises the serotonin levels in your brain, which helps fight the symptoms of depression. If you don’t feel more optimistic after an hour or two of pulse-quickening exercise, you’re not paying attention.
There are so many ways this can play out, and every one of them is inappropriate and hostile. From conveniently being “too busy” on days when she needs you to take custody, to bringing the kids back much later than promised, forcing her to cancel plans or rearrange her schedule. Even when it’s subtle, your ex knows exactly what you’re doing, and it fosters a cycle of disrespect and disregard that can go on indefinitely, or at least until your kids grow up and decide they’re done being manipulated in your divorce chess game.
The dark clouds can feel heavy over your head some nights and you’ll want to stay home and watch TV in pajamas. That’s fine, but don’t let it become a habit. When one night turns into several weeks and you haven’t left the house, it’s time to force yourself to put on some pants and face the outside world. You just might be surprised at how enjoyable it is to be surrounded by friends and sharing stories that have nothing to do with your divorce. You’ll feel like a normal person again, not just a walking open wound, and having adult conversations with other grown-ups who don’t care about your marital state will be exactly the breath of fresh air you need.
Laughter isn’t just good for you, it just might cure a broken heart. Okay, so maybe not technically a broken heart, but according to the American Heart Association, a laugh a day can decrease stress and anxiety and reduce artery inflammation—all things that lead to better heart health and, coincidentally, faster divorce recovery. Not laughing, or putting yourself in situations where you’re less likely to laugh, is like saying to the universe, “I’d like to stay miserable for a little longer please!”
All divorces are unique, with vastly different circumstances and emotions and backstories. It can be cathartic to talk to somebody who’s also gone through a divorce, but only in the abstract. Don’t compare your experiences, whether it’s legal battles or financial settlements. The last thing you need is some well-meaning friend to fill your head with paranoid thoughts that you didn’t push back hard enough, or you’ve somehow got the short end of the stick.
A tattoo or a body piercing might sound like a great way to celebrate your new-found independence. It’s announcing to the world, “No one can tell me what to do anymore!” While we appreciate the spirit of your gesture, you may feel differently about this in just a few months, when the anger has subsided and a tattoo of a skeleton riding a motorcycle with the words “Born To Be Single” emblazoned over it don’t feel quite so relevant anymore.
If being around happily married people makes you uncomfortable, you’re thinking about divorce the wrong way. You’re now disavowing the whole concept of marriage, just marriage with one particular person. Trust us on this, none of your married friends are thinking, “We shouldn’t invite [your name]. I heard he hates married people.”
“All this wine and beer not only made me less sad about my divorce but also gave me the strength to believe in myself again and know that I’m capable of making smarter choices in the future,” said no one ever.
Even after a divorce, there are bills to pay and dishes to be washed and laundry to be folded. It might be hard on some mornings to feel motivated to do any of it, especially if some of those chores were handled by your ex. But just because they’re not around to check the tire pressure and get the oil changed on your car anymore, that doesn’t mean you can let it slide. Life goes on, and you have to move along with it.
Because why? Does asking for help feel like you’re admitting defeat? The moment you need someone to lighten your load just a little, you’re practically making a confession that you’re not strong enough to survive in this world alone and what were you even thinking, agreeing to a divorce in the first place, you obviously need a partner to hold you up and keep you from drowning, and, oh my god, you’re doomed and now everybody knows it? Breathe. Just breathe. It’s going to be okay. Nobody thinks that. We don’t even know your friends, and we can safely say, none of them thinks that. Needing help when you’re divorced is like needing help when you’re literally anybody else on the planet. It just means that you’re human.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not suggesting you don’t try new things or explore new interests as you try to make sense of your life as a divorced person. We’re just saying, maybe don’t go for the complete personality makeover. Don’t become the person who suddenly speaks with a faux British accent and only listens to vinyl records (“It just sounds better, y’know?”). If you think it’s a good idea to change your name to Daedalus and start wearing ascots, you may be trying a little too hard to carve out a different identity.
If the front door mat at your house that once read “Welcome to our happy home” could be replaced with a mat that reads “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” then you have an optimism problem. You may not be openly fatalistic, but you’re probably not looking to the future with anything like hopeful excitement. It might not seem like a big deal, but feelings of optimism have been linked not just to happiness but a longer and healthier life, according to some studies. You need to find a reason to be curious and enthusiastic about where you’re headed in life. If it doesn’t feel like you have anything to look forward to, giving yourself a reason should become your priority number one.
So it’s your first holiday as a single person and, maybe, a single parent. You’ve always loved decorating, but this may be the year when you take things too far, covering every spare inch with tinsel and white lights and over-the-top flourishes, so that your home looks like a Christmas cabaret show in Las Vegas, because it’s not enough just to show some holiday spirit, you’ve got to be THE MOST CHRISTMASY PERSON WHO EVER LIVED. This need to overcompensate is fairly typical among the recently divorced. Because they fear the failure of their marriage is sticking out like a sore thumb, they must make every other aspect of their life appear better than ever, more happy and flawless and perfect in every way. You’re not fooling anyone. Cut it out.
Emotions are tricky things and they have ways of resurfacing when we least expect them. It’s okay to be wistful and remember why you and your ex used to seem like such a good idea. But that’s where that thought should stay, in your head. If you act on it, and end up between the sheets with the person formerly known as your spouse, it’s only going to overly-complicate both of your lives. Nobody wakes up, realizes that they’re in bed with an ex, and thinks, “Oh, great, now the fact that our relationship is over doesn’t sting as much.”
If you’ve got a mental list of all the ways you’ve been wronged since the divorce, by your ex, your ex’s friends, the divorce lawyer, your former in-laws, the people who said they had your back but it seemed like they had your ex’s back more than yours, and the dry cleaner who doesn’t give you the family discount anymore, you need to stop. That list is worthless, and it’s only weighing you down. Crumble it up and throw it away and never think of it again.
After a divorce, your job may feel like a life raft. It’s the thing that keeps you afloat, that saves you from drowning in an ocean of self-pity and lawyer bills. But don’t let it become your everything. If you’re answering work emails 24/7 and you can’t remember the last weekend you took a break, you’re letting your career define you. Carve out some time just for you, and for your friends and family, and for the people you haven’t met yet, who could become the next reason you can’t wait to leave work and come home.
Living alone can be lonely, there’s no doubt about it. But that’s not the only emotion that comes with living alone. That’d be like summing up the experience of being an astronaut with, “It gets kinda cold in the spacesuit.” There’s so much more to it than that. Living alone can really challenge your ability to see the bright side, to find a better answer to that eternal question, “Is your glass half full, or half empty?” If living alone is your only option (for now), you need to discover what’s fun about it, what’s fulfilling and joyful and silly. Not what makes you sad.
No. Don’t even let the thought enter your mind. Just stop it. No. Absolutely not. Are you a glutton for punishment? Dating an ex’s friends is like treating a scraped knee by hitting yourself repeatedly in the face with a shovel. It makes exactly as much sense.
In the crowd of people clamoring to give you advice on how to be happily divorced, don’t pay too much attention to the obvious cynics, who’ll try to fill your brain with paranoid delusions about the futility of marriage and how you should’ve done this long ago, and blah blah blah. Their cynicism is a defense mechanism and they really don’t have any clue what they’re talking about. Similarly, stay away from the other end of the spectrum, the hopeless romantics who want to remind you that your true love is waiting for you around the corner, and don’t give up hope in the bliss of coupledom, and blah blah blah. The place you need to live right now is somewhere in the middle: Just cynical enough to protect your heart, and just hopeful enough that you notice the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Divorce sometimes brings out the worst in everybody, including yourself. But it can also teach you about the power of humility, and how much can be gained from recognizing that we all make mistakes and we’re all worthy of forgiveness. A good place to start is by forgiving yourself. We’re all too eager to rationalize and make excuses for our behavior rather than just admit when we’ve been wrong. Once you’re able to recognize your flaws and forgive yourself for them, you’ll be more open to doing the same for others.