Divorce is traumatizing during any stage of life. But it takes on different layers of overwhelm in our 50s and beyond, when we are dealing with other issues like retirement, caring for elderly parents, and worrying about our adult children.
It’s a lot to handle, but when you know what to expect, a lot of that stress may decrease. While there are many logistical and financial things to do address during divorce, understanding what to expect emotional lays the groundwork for the road ahead. Here are just a few of the thinks to prepare yourself for when your marriage is ending.
1) You will doubt yourself, and feel so afraid of the unknown that you will reason that even though you are miserable, you at least are comfortable, and that you can endure your unhappy marriage. In your heart of hearts you know it isn’t true. You will bargain with yourself because you are scared. Know that this is normal.
2) The rollercoaster of emotions unlike anything you have ever experienced: the regret, the grief, the pain, the confusion, the fear, the desperation of wanting to be loved after your spouse is gone. But gradually, a weight will lift from your shoulders—the same weight you denied all this time when you told yourself nothing was wrong.
3) Your self-esteem may shatter, and you will be desperate for love and validation. You may be tempted to to date immediately and latch on to the first person who pays attention to you. Resist this urge even if you have not had that romantic touch or intimacy for a long time. Trying to fill that void with another relationship robs you of the chance to heal.
4) You may tell yourself that you’re fine, but you need a support system: a therapist, a divorce coach, a support group, good friends, the non-judgmental anonymity of online forums. Whatever combination of systems you choose should help you attain two objectives–creating a safe place for venting, while also helping you find healthy ways to cope.
5) Once you and your spouse decide to split, you will feel like you are getting sprayed with an industrial firehose. The number of “to-do’s” regarding emotions, finances, legal issues, custody, and other logistics will come at you with incredible urgency. You will feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Understand that splitting is a process. There are things to address immediately (safety, shelter, income), things to address later (understanding legal and custody issues, finding an emotional support system) and things to address longer-term. Remind yourself that divorce is a marathon and requires patience and persistence. Save yourself the stress by accepting that not everything has to be done right now.
6) You will have no control over your spouse’s behavior. For serious offenses (threatening harm, cleaning out your savings account), you will absolutely need to take action. But there will also be annoyances that may not endanger you, but will anger you. Remember that although you can’t control their behavior, you can control how you react to it. There is power in taking the high road.
7) You will be tempted to make certain divorce decisions that are driven by emotion, rather than driven by logic. You will constantly forget that divorce, boiled down, is a business transaction–a splitting of assets and incomes. During the legal process, you will be forced to choose your battles. Choose wisely.
8) You will find yourself in new situations that make you uncomfortable. You may be re-entering the workforce. Your budget may be tight. If your social life revolved around other married couples, this dynamic may seem miserable for you. You may find friends treating you differently, thinking for some reason your split means that their relationship is in jeopardy. Understand that you are not alone in all of these struggles, and that whatever support you need–career help, financial advice, counseling, new opportunities for socialization–is out there.
9) In your times of despair, you will wallow in self-pity. You will break down frequently at the most inconvenient times, and say, “my life was not supposed to be like this.” This is part of the grieving process, and you will learn how to balance it all: accepting that your circumstances changed, dealing with them, and also learning how to heal and move on. You will learn that you are not a prisoner to those circumstances, and it is you who has the power to come out of this whole ordeal a stronger person.
10) You will learn that the split has presented you with a choice and it is your decision how you handle it. You can choose to look at this split as a trauma from which you will never recover, or you can choose the path that takes more work–the path where you ask for assistance, get the support you need, educate yourself, and understand that you will have the power to get through it all. The choice is yours.
Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce recovery coach whose website “Surviving Your Split” helps women in their 50s navigate their divorce and get their confidence back. For your Free Divorce Goddess Recovery Kit, stop by http://survivingyoursplit.com/ or drop Martha a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.