You can overcome your fears if you learn to listen to them differently.
When the Kansas tornado picked up Dorothy’s house and whisked it off to Munchkinland, she was naturally afraid. Feeling scared of life after divorce isn’t much different, really.
Marriage, with all its imperfections and frustrations, is the thing you “know.” Or at least you think you do. It’s the “Auntie Em,” the point on your compass that you at least recognize. And familiarity is comforting — even, ironically, when it’s uncomfortable.
Whether or not you wanted to end your marriage, divorce represents the tornado that can wipe out your dreams in one pass. Even if you see it coming, it doesn’t tell you where it’s going to drop you. Or how hard.
It’s only natural to feel scared of life after divorce. To fear being alone. To worry about your kids. To worry about finances. To dread attorneys, courts and fees. To feel angry, hurt, robbed.
The post-divorce rubble can leave you scrambling to find even one thing that represents home and happiness to you. Friendships and family ties get weird, and some disappear altogether. Money is a major issue, and often there is no retirement in place to even cushion your future.
And underneath all the obvious concerns is the fear that you will be alone, invisible and unloved forever.
Divorce, like a tornado raging through the plains during harvest season, messes up all your plans. And now it’s up to you to make all the decisions for your own life. Who wouldn’t be scared of life after divorce?
The problem with fear, however, is that more often than not it wears the black cape. It’s the bad guy, the dreaded antagonist to surviving, let alone thriving.
When perceived that way, fear prevents healing, robs you of your self-esteem, and keeps you from moving forward. Your personal demons rise up and put fear in charge of everything.
What if you could feel scared of life after divorce, but shift the power of fear in your life so that you can move forward? What if you could demand of fear its many gifts in exchange for the chaos it has created and the ways it tests you?
What if you could replace your fear of the unknown with curiosity?
Not to be hyper-metaphorical, but think about what happened when Dorothy and Toto were dropped in Munchkinland. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” packs more wallop than just a famed movie line.
Suddenly the movie went from black-and-white to Technicolor — a big move for those days. And little gremlin-sounding, elf-looking people came out of the corners, and a good witch came out of nowhere.
Fear was everywhere. But so was possibility. And adventure. And hope. And from that first step from the center of the spiraling yellow-brick road, Dorothy’s journey into the unknown began.
From shades of gray to full color, Dorothy had given curiosity and hope authority over fear. Yes, they traveled together, but fear now played a serving role.
And so it is when you are scared of life after divorce. Being uprooted and dropped into the unknown is unsettling, frightening, exhausting. But you can choose to take a new perspective that leads with curiosity about what your new life has in store for you.
Here are 7 things to remember when you’re feeling scared of life after divorce.
- You won’t be alone forever.
Fear of being alone, when you are still in the early aftermath of divorce, is really a messenger. It’s natural and healthy to long for the kind of connection you once had in your marriage. But your priority is now about finding — rediscovering — you.
Could you squelch that discomfort by rushing into a relationship just to fill your needs in the moment? Sure. But would it serve your healing process and bring you the kind of relationship you truly want? Definitely not.
- Your kids will express their own distress according to their age and maturity.
You won’t be the only one feeling scared of life after divorce. If you are a parent, your children will also feel completely dropped into the unknown. Unlike you, however, they are powerless to make any of the choices about their family staying together.
Don’t be alarmed by their outbursts or changes in emotions or behaviors. But do be fully present to their feelings, validating them and giving them access to the professional help that can help them adapt.
- Your social circle will change.
Divorce has a way of making friends and family take sides, or at least choose an alliance. Don’t take it personally. You may lose relationships with in-laws and certain married friends who simply don’t know how to be friends outside of “couples.”
But you will be amazed at the people who show up to fill the void. Some of them will have been there all along, but they will suddenly become a harbor in the storm. And in this way, they’ll demonstrate for you that, even in the midst of change, you can still have a sense of home.
- You can’t predict the future, but you can plan for it.
It doesn’t matter how many thousands of couples divorce every year. You will still feel like the only one. And you will naturally fear the worst and make dramatic assumptions about the outlook for your future.
Give yourself just a moment to embrace one undeniable truth: No one can predict the future. Life can turn on a dime for the better as easily as it can for the worse.
You can, however, plan for your future. You can set goals and have visions for how you want your life to look. And by taking baby steps to get there, you can make adjustments as needed, knowing that you are always moving in the right direction.
- Fear is begging you to know yourself…because you’re worth it.
We all had that one teacher that we dreaded. The one who caught every mistake, assigned homework over holidays, and expected nothing but the best of his/her students.
Usually that teacher was the one we silently thanked in our hearts as we entered college or our careers.
Fear, too, is a teacher. It knows where your landmines are buried, and it wants you to uncover them. If you can brave the journey into the origin of your fears, you can conquer them. And then you can stop tiptoeing around your life.
- Overcoming fear is immensely empowering.
Every time you tackle something that frightens you, you gain confidence. And with confidence you take more — and bigger — steps into the life you want. You even gain confidence in your ability to handle bigger fears, knowing that you are the one in charge.
- You’re going to be alright!
Remember, even though you feel scared of life after divorce, you are not alone! Millions of people have been “air-dropped” by divorce — some into places far less colorful than Munchkinland.
By accepting your fears as a natural part of your experience, and then facing them head-on, you will emerge a much stronger person.
It’s important to hold close in your heart the unique nature of the person you are and the relationship you are now divorced from. Nothing was for naught.
Just as your marriage was in your life to teach you important lessons, so is your divorce. In the end, it all comes down to a choice…and an awareness that you’ve always had the ruby slippers to get you home.
You can find more tips on healing after a divorce or break-up here.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate feeling scared of life after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you want to learn more about working with me, you can schedule a 30-minute private consultation with me.
Looking for more information about having a great life post-divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Life After Divorce.
Here’s how to decide for yourself.
Marriage, like the love that leads to it, rides many waves of change. And not all are fun. So asking, “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce?” isn’t a yes-or-no query.
The answer, of course, ultimately lies with you and your spouse. But arriving at the answer shouldn’t be an arbitrary, heat-of-the-moment, feelings-only process.
If you’re at a point in your marriage where you’re contemplating “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce?” we need to talk.
Ironically, talking — how much, how, when, with what intention — is often what’s missing in marriages on the threshold of divorce. In one way or another, communication is at the root of most problems.
If you research advice regarding staying in or leaving an unhappy marriage, you will get answers across the spectrum. And the black, white and gray of them all will have just as many shades of suggestions and directives.
A person looking for a reason to leave will find one. A person looking for a reason to stay will find one. The availability of advice and justification for any choice is abundant.
And that’s why it’s so important to consider the source of the information, and especially to commit to complete honesty with yourself and your spouse. Ultimately the decision to stay or separate belongs to the two of you. So do the consequences of your choice.
Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? There will never be a blanket answer to that question. There can, however, be an answer for your marriage — but only if you have an unequivocal grasp on why you are unhappy.
Transitioning through the seasons of love can be confusing, conflicting, even painful. Sure, you may expect that the honeymoon won’t last forever. But how can you possibly know during the fairy-dust stages of falling in love and planning the perfect life that the magic dissipates?
Love grows, evolves, and writes its own story in the context of life. It has growing spurts and growing pains just like children do. And, just like children, sometimes you don’t fully recognize it. Sometimes it bores you to tears, and sometimes you just flat-out don’t like it.
But one thing’s for sure. Just as with children, if you aren’t paying attention to your love as it goes through its changes, you’ll miss it.
You may not even know if what you’re feeling is unhappiness or simply boredom. You’ll just be aware that the elation you felt in the early stages of love and marriage isn’t there anymore.
If you aren’t communicating consistently with yourself and with your spouse, you may misdiagnose your situation. And the last thing you want to do is make a lifetime decision on the basis of misinformation.
Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? The first step in helping you decide is knowing what an unhappy marriage looks like.
Below are several predictors of an unhappy marriage. Keep in mind that these are not reasons to give up. They are simply symptoms that, depending on number and intensity, can indicate a marriage at-risk.
- Absence of sex and visible affection
- Lack of genuine engagement
- Leading separate lives
- Drastically different values
- Blaming one another
- Fantasizing about life without your spouse
- Disinterest in your spouse’s company
- Control issues
- Not fighting anymore
- Feeling unheard
- Unmet needs
- Unwillingness to get help or work on the marriage
- Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and/or stonewalling
Research studies support what may be surprising to those who feel unhappy in their marriages and don’t see a path to happiness.
Unhappiness is almost always temporary. And there are normal, predictable places in a marriage where it is more likely to rear its dreary head. Like after the birth of a child, when everything changes.
Surprised? If so, consider further that those who stuck it out reported feeling happy in their marriages five to ten years later. (And no, that doesn’t mean they were “miserable” during the time between — only that they were happy they didn’t give up.)
If you’re feeling unhappy in your marriage and are wondering, “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce,” consider the list above. Also consider the gravity of any of the signs as they relate to your marriage.
There are a few situations in which the reasons for unhappiness may warrant a less tolerant decision.
The first should come as no surprise. Abuse in any form is dangerous emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and potentially physically. It often starts off as verbal and emotional abuse and escalates from there. Safety for every life in the home needs to be the top priority; therefore, specialized professional intervention is warranted in cases of abuse.
The second situation involves addiction. Again, the safety of everyone in the home has to come first. Addiction requires very specialized professional help , and should not be tolerated without it.
Infidelity, as devastating as its consequences are, doesn’t have to be a death sentence to a marriage. And the majority of the time, it’s not. Those marriages that not only survive, but thrive after infidelity, do so because the spouses get down in the trenches to rebuild their marriages. They not only rebuild, they re-create.
And within that last sentence is perhaps the biggest criteria for determining if your unhappy marriage is salvageable. Have you done the hard work of working to improve yourself and your marriage?
If your heart-of-hearts answer is ‘no,’ then how do you think you will ever be happier somewhere else or with someone else? Marriage is hard work.
Ask any old couple that has been married a veritable lifetime how they did it. How did they get through children, wars, bankruptcies, affairs, boredom, illness, fights and sadness to wind up inseparable?
Inevitably they will tell you that they led with love, committed with love, fought with love, kept their promises with love. They found happiness in the journey. And they knew that happiness wouldn’t be greater somewhere else.
When asking, “Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce?” it’s imperative that you consider more than just your own feelings and wants. Are there children involved? Would they truly be better off without their parents together? Are you prepared to deal with all the ugly consequences of divorce — co-parenting, divided assets, courts, loss of family and friends?
If your marriage has reached the point of contempt, or is based on domination-submission, abuse or addiction and enabling, perhaps divorce is the healthiest answer.
If, however, there are feelings left unexpressed, good deeds deferred to indifference, and self-improvement left to lack of effort, then you may have your answer.
Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? Ultimately the decision comes down to your values, expectations and self-accountability. More often than not, even a slight shift toward prioritizing your spouse and infusing hope into your marriage can make all the difference.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach helping people just like you who are looking for advice and support in choosing how to handle an unhappy marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.
Looking for more ideas for what to do about your unhappy marriage? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.
Parenting after divorce is difficult, but these tips can help make things easier for you.
As difficult as divorce is, co-parenting may be even more difficult. And co-parenting with a difficult ex could make you want to hitch a ride with Thelma and Louise.
The drama, the crazy-making, the accusations and bad-mouthing, the manipulation, the constant pushing of limits….Co-parenting with a difficult ex can be incredibly frustrating.
How can you maintain your sanity and ensure that your children have access to at least one ‘adult’ parent?
You know that good co-parenting means you put the children first. But you can do only so much if you are co-parenting with a difficult ex.
And what if your ex is a narcissist or toxic person? How do you pull off a shared effort with someone who is incapable of putting anyone else first?
Strategies for co-parenting with a difficult ex all have two non-negotiables at their core. The first is the highest good of your children. The second is the maintenance of your personal integrity and sanity.
If you can keep those commitments in focus at all times, you will more easily navigate your ex’s efforts to throw you off-course.
Power struggles are often at the heart of why couples divorce. When it comes to co-parenting, however, there is no room for pulling rank.
If your ex thrives on control, you will have to decide if you can co-parent without power struggles.
Many of the strategies for co-parenting with a difficult ex are the same as those for co-parenting without power struggles.
Here are 9 tips for co-parenting with a difficult ex.
- Accept what you can’t change. Control what you can.
You will never be able to change your co-parent. No matter how much s/he needs to change (in your opinion), that work belongs to your ex.What you can and must control are your own life and responses.
If you are co-parenting with a difficult ex, you know your buttons are going to get pushed. You will need a steady temperament and resolved composure in order to maintain your commitment to great parenting.
- Recognize the dynamic and how it plays out.
How does the interaction with your ex go from 0 to 90 in the course of a breath? Are there recognizable patterns to your communication? Do you have fears that get triggered? Are those fears based in reality and logic?What can you do to interrupt an unhealthy dynamic and steer it in a direction that empowers and protects you?
Remember, the children and your integrity and sanity are non-negotiables. And the only person you can control is yourself.
- Set new boundaries.
Again, this is really about you and how you are going to engage (or not) with your ex.Don’t allow yourself to be baited. Take defensiveness and emotional reactions off the table. Set time parameters for communication, and stand by them.
Limit the means of communication — for example, no texting, but email and parenting portal only. (Talking Parents is a free option for both avoiding disputes and documenting communication between co-parents.) You may also want to consider blocking your ex from your social media.
It will be up to you to stand by your boundaries when your ex challenges your resolve.
- Don’t respond immediately.
So much of co-parenting with a difficult ex is about not engaging. Of course, you will have to engage on behalf of your children. But you do have the power and right to choose when and how you engage.If your ex says or writes something that causes an immediate dump of adrenaline into your system, take a breath and step back. Do your “reacting” in your own mind or in venting with a friend. Do your “responding” once you are calm.
Sleep on your response. Choose a doable ‘delay time’ for responding to anything other than emergencies. You’re not on-call for your ex.
- Don’t respond to everything.
Just because your co-parent pushes your buttons in order to bait you into engaging doesn’t mean you have to engage. Stay focused on what co-parenting is about: It’s not about hashing out your unfinished marital discord or diminishing one another.Respond to communication about the children. Let the rest go…or add it to a happy hour vent session with a trusted friend.
- Business is business.
Co-parenting with a difficult ex may require you to keep your communication business-like, factual and pragmatic. Focus on the children and their needs. The fantasy of co-vacations with exes is best left to Hollywood and the rare exception to the rule.
You don’t have to announce it. Just quietly and consistently do it. Keep a dedicated journal for documenting dates, times, communication, breaches of agreements, support payments, etc.The information is for your eyes only — until if and when you may need it in a legal setting. Having proof can save a lot of mud-slinging when things turn into “he said, she said.”
- Consider a court order.
If your ex consistently barges through agreements and boundaries, you may need to consider filing a court order. You can talk with your attorney about your options for modifying your parenting plan so that co-parenting works better.
- Evaluate if co-parenting is possible.
If your efforts to co-parent in a healthy way consistently end up in chaos and distress, you may need to consider parallel parenting. (This is especially true if your ex is a narcissist or is alienating you from your children through power plays, parallel parenting may be the only choice.)How is your co-parenting arrangement affecting your children? Your sanity? Your ability to stay in integrity without feeling crazed by your ex?
If you are holding up your end of the deal but are continually undermined or thrown off-course by your ex, it may be time to consider a new arrangement in the best interest of your children and your own sanity.
Co-parenting with a difficult ex makes an already painful journey that much more painful. In an ideal divorce, both parents would rise to the task of parenting the children they love with dependability and maturity.
But life doesn’t play out on balanced scales. Couples divorce and people disappoint. In the long run, you still have to live your own life.
If you are the one concerned enough to read this article, you have the ability to influence your children’s life in a sustainably positive way. You may even be able to influence a shift in your co-parent’s behavior.
You can also protect your own happiness in the process.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step to working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.