My Best Advice for Navigating Divorce

 

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Thoughtful people, including my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and even customer service representatives, offered heartfelt condolences when I informed them of my divorce. I felt awkward, because by then I had already shifted into renewal and optimism. Getting divorced was the final step in a deliberation and uncoupling that had gone on for years. I wasn’t broken-hearted over the divorce, though I was still recovering from the many years of unhappy and unhealthy marriage. I suppose condolences are meant to blanket the past, as the diversity of divorce experiences are connected to loss. The loss of an idea, an unrealized expectation, the loss of trust and intimacy, the loss of a partnership you thought was guaranteed; as is said for solidarity in grief: loss is loss is loss.

I assume the condolences were also for my implied future of lifelong energy I must put forth to support my kids in an expanded family dynamic. How are the kids taking it? I was asked countless times. I had to fight my defensiveness around this question. I begrudge the implication that I have done something that makes my kids worse off. I wish I could have taken away their anxieties during the long adjustment period, but I trust that my commitment to them and our family culture will help them to develop resilience. If I were to spiral into regret, it would not be about establishing them in two homes instead of one. It would be that I did not more quickly figure out the ideal strategies for healthy conflict resolution, and they had to grow up most of their lives (to that point) with tension between their parents. But it’s NOT TOO LATE to model healthy relationship and self-care behavior for them.

In addition to the condolences and concern, I also received a lot of advice. Here’s what I found most helpful during my divorce:

 

Self-care

Step into your future self. I tried to treat divorce meetings as opportunities to practice the kind of communication that would be ideal for co-parenting long-term, and that I could use as evidence for myself that I am a peaceful, level-headed, and secure person. If you find yourself falling into old negative dynamics, don’t beat yourself up, but stop and say to yourself, Woops! I’m not playing that role anymore! I am free to be [compassionate/independent/abundant/humble/secure/clear/honest/private/unperturbed/in charge], whatever your new healthy boundaries look like.

Find a good therapist. I am fortunate to have a therapist I really click with, and for two years I met with her weekly, and continue to meet with her sporadically. Therapy was key in regaining mental health and confidence to start a “Plan B” for family life.

Pamper yourself from the outside-in. I bought new underwear and bras. I prioritized hair treatments. I gave myself a ring that I was drawn to, as a symbol of delightful surprises during times of heaviness. I revisited books like Orgasms by Lou Paget and Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

Practicing yoga and hiking in woods are vital to my spiritual, psychological and physical self-care and development. Those two activities are my personal favorite tools for the broader mission to prioritize healthy eating, body movement, mindfulness, curious exploration, and community connection at all times, but especially during times of transition. Do what feels good to you, and never discount the power of moving your body.

Yes, it’s hard sometimes, but it’s OK to have fun. There are times I grieve not having the parenting lifestyle I thought I would. I honor those feelings, but try not to let them stain the upsides. Yes, there are upsides! Divorce is a lifestyle change, not a punishment! I set appointments, run errands and do more housework and more working on days they’re with their dad. But I also use that time for grown-up fun. I have date night, meet friends, dress sexy and go out, take hikes and spend restorative weekends away with my boyfriend, and attend events that are fun and enriching for me, but not kid-friendly. It’s OK to be happy, and you deserve to be happy. It’s also OK to feel sad, or angry, or anything else. Feelings don’t need to compete; there is room in each of us for a full and rich experience. Just don’t wait to have fun.

 

Online Resources

Parenting Plan Checklist

Divorce Mediation Checklist

Expense Charting

Sharing Celebrations Advice

Good Divorces Do Exist (THE ONE internet stranger’s story I found relatable and which offered me hope and inspiration)

I also used my county’s website for collecting forms and information. I found going to speak to the courthouse clerks in person so helpful and clarifying. I was also able to consult with a lawyer free of charge. Accuracy and organization make a huge difference not only for the divorce process, but for situations like the following year’s taxes and your individual financial planning. (I did great during the process, but not so well in the first six months after my divorce, so I learned the hard way–keep all your financial and legal records organized and easy to access!)

 

More Practical Tips

A friend encouraged me to hire a lawyer. I didn’t (except for one very helpful free consultation) and maybe I should have. In any case, I would offer the advice to anyone divorcing with kids, as it really is difficult to understand how to fill out the paperwork correctly, not to mention understanding your state and county requirements, procedures and precedents.

I didn’t use a divorce mediator, but I have only heard good things about mediation, so I would recommend that, too. Neutral third parties with a working knowledge of the system can save time and energy. Even if you hire a lawyer, it can be helpful to hire a mediator, too.

My ex-husband had a great experience in a divorced parents class which was run by a church and free of charge, and provided child care.

This may vary by state, but in Minnesota, the most efficient order for changing your name (if you do) upon divorce is

  1. bank and financial accounts (loans, insurances, phone bills, will and testament, etc.)
  2. Social Security card
  3. driver license
  4. passport

Financial institutions just require making a copy of the official decree, so immediately get two copies for yourself. (I had to go to a county services branch and pay to print official copies of both the divorce decree and the name change decree a few days after the divorce was finalized in court.) Many places, including my credit card, car insurance and gym membership, took my word for it and no documentation was required to change my name. The driver license system is not always synced to the social security records, so waiting until you receive your new physical social security card is the best way to guarantee a smooth DMV encounter.

 

If you’re navigating a divorce, I wish you vibes of healing, renewal, power, and prosperity. You will be able to create a life happier and healthier than you ever imagined. You are not defined by your marital or relationship status. If you are one who finds satisfaction and joy in committed partnership, know that you can be the partner you want to be, and you can experience the partnership you have dreamed about. This is one step in your story. Peace to you.

 

 

 

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