Tips for getting over the practical and emotional challenges of an unexpected divorce.
No one walks down the aisle wishing there were a rewind button. And no one says “I do” while secretly worrying about how to get over an unexpected divorce in the future.
It can seem absurd, if not surreal, to look at your life in review from the middle of a divorce. How did you go from the assurance of a happy life to the gut punch of having it ripped away?
It was only yesterday that the diamond ring was dangled. Now you’ve been served with divorce papers, leaving you to figure out how to get over an unexpected divorce.
It’s bad enough to be forced into a divorce you don’t want. But there is an extra sting, a piercing shock, when you didn’t see it coming. Wham! You’re thinking it’s time to add to the family or renew your vows, and your spouse has one foot and a suitcase out the door.
No matter how you got here or what role you played in the decision, the process of divorce isn’t easy. You will need the best of yourself in the game — alert, prepared, well-advised.
The question of how to get over an unexpected divorce starts with asking yourself if it is truly over. If you were broadsided by your spouse’s decision and believe that he/she is even slightly unsure, it may not be.
If it’s possible to negotiate a separation, you may both get the needed space to re-evaluate before throwing your marriage away.
If this is not possible, regardless of the torch you may still carry for your spouse, then you have a choice. You can either fight the divorce — at great emotional and financial expense — or you can prepare to move on.
There will be both emotional and pragmatic considerations in a divorce. And for the person still shell-shocked by the decision, it can be challenging to isolate the two. Even if you are both committed to parting with at least a modicum of maturity and amicability, you will still need objectivity.
An essential step in successfully navigating the divorce process is surrounding yourself with a strategic and compassionate support system. And first on that list, harsh as it may sound, should be an attorney.
Figuring out how to get over an unexpected divorce isn’t as simple as one person keeping the house and the other getting a posh new pad across town. In a very real way, divorce is a ripping apart of everything that represented a unified existence. And that goes for children, pets, dreams, expectations and assets.
Even if you do not intend to fight your spouse’s decision, there are long-term and often complicated decisions that need to be made. If you have children, there will be the obvious issue of custody and living arrangements.
That out-of-state move you had hoped you would make as a family may not even be allowed for you if you want to see your kids. And things like tuition and college-expense planning may get a little more burdensome when added to the heap to be divided.
We all know how inadvisable it is to make major decisions during emotional times. Stress hormones, lack of concentration, and the flooding of memories and their accompanying emotions can wreak havoc with decision-making. And a decision made in the moment can change the course of your life.
That’s why the detached counsel of a divorce attorney can be crucial to the divorce process. In a meltdown moment of thinking, “I don’t want anything! He/she can take it all. I can’t handle this!” a divorce attorney can reel you back in with a reality check on reactionary decision-making.
Be prepared to show several years of tax returns, bank statements and investment statements in order to paint a complete picture of your assets. Consider, as well, that one or both of you may lose access to your private health insurance (if provided through a company) and may have to distribute retirement funds.
If one of you was not a major breadwinner, it will be extremely important to have clarity around going forward with financial security. Entering the job market after years away is fraught with learning curves, earning curves and inequality in future earning potential. You will need to take all of these factors into consideration when committing to a fair division of assets.
While trying to keep your wits about you to deal with pragmatic matters, you will obviously have the emotional weight of your divorce to deal with. And when the divorce is both unexpected and unwanted, feelings of isolation, loneliness and a parched self-esteem can run rampant.
Now more than ever it is important to create a circle of loving support around yourself. You may be surprised that some of the family and friends you thought you could count on part ways when you and your spouse part ways. It’s okay. Let them go. Your life is in flux, and that doesn’t have to be all bad. Welcome new friends, immerse yourself in relevant support groups, and make sure you have those sacred few with whom you can talk about anything.
As with any loss, divorce carries a dance card with “grief” written across the top. Give yourself a time limit, but don’t sit out the dance. It’s cathartic. It’s insightful. It’s healing. It’s essential. And it will lead you, so you can follow.
The hopeful side of divorce -- let alone one that is unexpected -- is that you have the opportunity to do for yourself what someone else can’t do or won’t do. Reacquaint yourself with the small, lost-in-the-shuffle sources of your happiness. Rediscover your passions...and pursue them. Give yourself the gift of time to heal. And let romance sit on the sidelines until the big breaks are nothing more than light-revealing cracks.
Sometimes we are forced by life to look for ourselves in the darkest places. While we have no power to keep someone else’s promises to us, we do have the power to keep our promises to ourselves. And what matters is that we promise not to stop looking until we are found...again.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. If you would like additional help in learning how to get over an unexpected divorce, I can help. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you're ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.