If you’re going through midlife divorce — or have gone through it — you’re not alone.
Midlife divorce is skyrocketing. And the reasons for that are many. Chiefly, most of us are looking at longer lifespans than our ancestors and we’re not willing to live out those lives in complacent misery.
Many folks wait to divorce until their children are older or have already left the nest. Once those kids are gone or going, there are fewer and fewer reasons to stay. And, let’s face it, we look and feel better than any midlifers in history. Thanks to constant messages about eating right and exercising, many of us look and feel ten years younger than we are. Toss in some Botox, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole generation of people who are fending off aging with a vengeance.
By the time you go through midlife divorce, you’re a bona fide grown-up.
Chances are you’ve spent many years with your spouse — perhaps almost your entire adult life. If you have children, you may also be facing the empty nest. Women may be experiencing the symptoms of menopause. By middle age, if you haven’t already acknowledged it, you’re a grown up and you’re expected to behave like one. Midlife divorce challenges us to remain in grown-up mode even when it pushes us to feel like tantruming two-year-olds.
On the days when being your most mature self is a struggle, remember that you’re creating a divorce legacy for yourself and your children. Here are the ways to move through midlife divorce as gracefully as possible and with your self-respect intact.
1. Stay off social media.
You’re not a teenager who needs to post every thought, feeling or itch on Facebook. You don’t need to Tweet about your most recent squabble with your ex or about the hot date you’re on. Why give your estranged spouse more ammunition? And even if you’re not connected to your children or coworkers on social media, someone they know is connected to you. It’s this simple: If you don’t want your kids or your boss to see it or read it, don’t post it. By middle age, social media is best used for business promotion, connecting with old friends, and appropriate photographs. Your divorce is not for public consumption. Stop sharing the gory details.
2. Leave the kids out of it.
If you’re divorcing in midlife, you may have children in their teens or twenties. But, unlike you, they’re not grown-ups. And they’re not your friends or your therapist. Don’t involve them in the dirty details of the marriage or of the divorce. As mature as they may seem, they really don’t have the emotional capacity to interpret what’s transpired in your marriage. So please don’t expect them to support or comfort you during this time. And please don’t trash talk your ex, either. If your ex is really that big of a jerk, the kids will eventually figure that out on their own. Need someone to talk to? Get thee into counseling.
3. Spare your family and friends.
Even your BFFs have their limits. They may be your staunchest supporters but your divorce shouldn’t be a part-time job for them. Of course, there are times you really, really need them and that’s okay. But be aware of how much you’re asking of them. The specifics of your divorce may be consuming you but not every blockhead move by your ex needs to be deconstructed in excruciating detail. Know that these people love you and want to be there for you, but respect that they have busy lives and their own struggles to contend with.
4. Be prepared to be treated like a pariah.
I’ve been divorced for years and, to this day, I still run into people I’ve known for decades who have never acknowledged it. For me, it goes without saying that divorce is a huge life event. But divorce is icky and uncomfortable for a lot of people. When other folks are in functional but not necessarily happy marriages, divorce is even scarier. They see you divorce and they’re afraid, on some level, that a few bad months strung together could mean the end for them as well. So they stay away. They don’t want to be in the same airspace as you because they don’t want to catch whatever it is you caught that lead you to divorce. Crazy? Perhaps. But you need to accept this and move on.
6. Live for you…but be patient with those you love.
Now’s your chance. You may have been in an unhappy, suffocating marriage for years and you’re ready to bust out. Perhaps you want to explore same sex relationships or move across the country or join the Hare Krishnas. And kudos to you! But while you’re preparing for Act Two, remember your family and friends may need a little time to catch up. Even your nearest and dearest may need awhile to adjust to your newfound independence. Their hesitancy shouldn’t slow you down — heck, no! — but you may need to be patient as they transition to loving the new, improved — and happier — you.