7 Ways to Thrive After Divorce
Posted 3/9/2016 by UHBlog
Any major life change can leave you stressed, but for many, divorce is an especially challenging transition. Besides the many emotions you may feel about the end of your marriage, rediscovering yourself after divorce can overwhelm you.
But with 48 percent of first marriages dissolving by the 20-year mark, many people in midlife will find themselves divorced. How you adapt to divorce can have a huge impact on your health and well-being, says psychologist Danette Conklin, PhD.
“The stress of divorce can lead to a lot of health problems,” she says. “It can be a precipitating factor in depression. It can also contribute to emotional eating, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol use and increased drug use or abuse.”
Fortunately, there are tried-and-true strategies to move forward with your life and get over negative thinking and/or behaviors. Here are seven ways that Dr. Conklin recommends to help you thrive after a divorce:
- Be kind to yourself – According to Dr. Conklin, there's no one process to work through your feelings about your divorce and managing your daily life after your divorce. But with more than 20 percent of first marriages ending in divorce within five years, chances are you’ll know someone who has been in your shoes.
“It can help to talk to someone who can relate to you – and basically validate your feelings,” she says. Or you may want to write a list to help you see the advantages of being divorced, particularly if your marriage was difficult or abusive.
This is especially important for men, Dr. Conklin says, because their support systems – family and friends – often aren’t as extensive as women’s.
“A lot of times women adapt better to divorce than men,” she says. “That’s because women tend to have healthier coping behaviors.” For example, women talk to friends and family about what’s bothering them, while men may hold it inside.
- Rediscover yourself – If your marriage lasted a long time, you may have put your own interests aside and now need to relearn what you like.
“Getting to know yourself again can be very empowering,” she says. “You have time to explore and develop your interests and what you're good at. People find themselves saying, ‘I really like this’ or ‘I’m good at this.’ It helps you get back into life and realize that you don't have to rely on a spouse.”
- Accept the older version of you – Usually maturity and age go hand-in-hand. Sometimes learning to accept what time does to your body is a stumbling block for the recently divorced, Dr. Conklin says.
“Sometimes there is this mindset of, ‘Nobody is going to want me because I’m old,’ or ‘What if I fail again,’” she says.
Instead, approach your current stage of life with a desire for self-knowledge and self-appreciation.
“Education is really key,’ Dr. Conklin says. “We see a lot of changes in our bodies – physically, cognitively, emotionally, etc. Educate yourself as to what is normal in your body and be accepting of it. You're not going to be who you were in your 20s. You'll have become sophisticated and experienced.
“This will help you to be proud of your age, especially when you realize the wisdom you have that you can now share,” she says. “Embrace your wisdom and all the things you’ve learned. Focus on how you can use your insights to benefit others.”
- Take baby steps – If it intimidates you to socialize – let alone date – start small, Dr. Conklin says. Likewise, with handling various child-rearing, household and/or financial tasks. This allows you to grow more confident in your own capabilities.
- Redefine your roles – You may need to talk to others about what they can expect of you, especially if you’re a parent.
“If you’ve been doing things for your child as if he is 10, but he's 30 now, that relationship needs to change,” Dr. Conklin says. “Consider this part of your self-care and process towards empowering yourself.”
- Develop healthy habits – No matter what your age, it’s important to practice healthful habits, Dr. Conklin says. These include eating healthy, taking part in regular exercise, getting enough sleep and seeing your doctor regularly.
- Get help – If you find yourself “stuck” – meaning you’re angry, hurt, depressed, etc. – after your divorce and unable to move on emotionally, you may want to see a psychologist.
“We can help you sort out your feelings so that you’re able to move on faster and gain self-confidence,” she says.
Danette Conklin, PhD is a psychologist and director, Midlife Wellness for Women at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Conklin or any other University Hospitals doctor online.