Getting Through Divorce: 8 Tips From a Marriage and Family Therapist

Coping with divorce is rarely easy, but your approach can make a big difference. Consider these expert tips as you go through the process.

We all know it: Divorce is rough. The legal and practical questions alone can be daunting, and that's to say nothing about the emotional impact of the experience.

But that's what we want to focus on here—the emotional side of ending a marriage. We're sharing some pointers from Mary Kay Cocharo, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 30 years of experience.

1. Let Yourself Feel

As you go through divorce, it's important to remember that whatever you're feeling is valid. There's no one "right" way to feel, no one "correct" way of responding to divorce. So give yourself a break, and be kind to yourself.

Research shows that people who are compassionate to themselves are better able to handle the trials and tribulations of divorce in the months after separation.

2. Know That Divorce Doesn't Mean Failure

Divorce is—maybe now more than ever—a normal part of our society. Still, you might be tempted to view your marriage as a failure. Don't, though. As Cocharo says, "It's a good idea not to—or at least try not to—look at it as a failure, but rather as something that's no longer serving each party."

Instead of beating yourself up with the "failure narrative," look back at all the good moments in your relationship and all the moments that helped you grow.

3. Say a Good Goodbye

Cocharo encourages her divorcing clients to complete a "constructive closure ritual." If your situation isn't too volatile, you and your ex could sit together for a few hours or even a day and say goodbye to all the bad and good in the relationship. No matter how you do it—even if it's by yourself—take time to "say goodbye."

Remember that you're saying goodbye to the good and the bad. Some things, like mistrust or betrayal, might be a relief to usher out the door. Others might be a little harder, but it's important that you also say goodbye to everything "thought [you] were going to get when you said ‘I do.'"

"That is a very deep emotional process," Cocharo says. "I find that when couples are able to do it, that they really can have a lot of compassion for what the other is experiencing."

4. Try to Reduce Conflict

Divorce can be nasty, especially when lawyers and courtrooms are involved. But it doesn't have to be. Keeping a positive environment can do wonders for you, and especially your children if you have any. That's why Cocharo suggests trying collaborative divorce or mediation.

5. Find a Shoulder to Lean On

For just about any struggle, having a shoulder to lean on—or cry on—can be extremely helpful. But Cocharo suggests that you keep it to one shoulder, one that belongs to a trusted person in your life.

"The problem with [oversharing] is that the people you're telling these things to are not going to necessarily be moving forward as you do," Cocharo says. "So they will get stuck with these stories that you're telling them, and that's not useful moving forward."

6. Keep Living Your Life

Whether or not you initiated the divorce, feeling lost or unsettled isn't at all unusual; your life is in the midst of a significant change. To get your bearings in your new normal, keep doing your thing. Do the stuff that makes you happy, and don't isolate yourself.

"If you went to Church on Sundays, then go to Church on Sundays; if you used to eat salads, keep eating salads," Cocharo says. "Really stick to a routine, so your life feels as normal as possible."

7. Let Dating Wait a Bit

Getting back into the dating game after divorce can be exciting (and/or scary). You might find yourself wanting companionship again. However you feel about it, though, consider pausing a beat. Cocharo encourages her clients to take a break, work through their feelings, and wait until they feel like themselves again. (And waiting is all the more important if you have kids.)

8. Get Some Extra Support

Cocharo encourages people going through divorce to find a trusted therapist or divorce group, especially if they don't have an obvious shoulder to lean on. She says divorce, like other kinds of loss, has stages of grief—working through them and getting to acceptance often means getting a little extra help.

If you don't know whether you want to try therapy yet, know that there are resources you can work through on your own. Sites like Mental Health America's offer information on getting through this new stage of life.

No matter what you choose to do, know that you have company and that support is out there.

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