Three Simple Ways to Feel Better During Divorce & Separation

So you wake up one morning and the person you had kids with is gone. Maybe they vanished into thin air, or maybe they’ve found themselves a quaint place on the other side of town, or maybe they’ve made themselves comfy at their new partner’s  house, or maybe you’ve just put the last of their things on the front yard (with or without the gasoline and match) and have just turned your brand new lock. The family life you were living has changed.

And so begins the Emotional Onslaught. It doesn’t matter who left who. It doesn’t matter why someone left. The torrent of emotions happens to everyone. Oh, they’re all over the place aren’t they? Anger. Freedom. Guilt. Joy. Terror. Confidence. Doubt. Love. Hate. Contentment. Sadness. Clarity. Confusion. Pride. Insecurity.

Yup, they all slam into you. There’s no order, no sense. There’s no predicting what comes next. There’s no knowing you’ve definitely moved past one to another. You’re up, you’re down, and you’re turned around and around.

What the hell do you do?

Here are three very simple, very immediate things you can do to feel even the tiniest bit better one way or another.

Pull ups
“Pull Ups” by Mechtrose on Flickr

1. Pick a small physical goal and work at achieving it.

First of all, forget Couch to 5K. Forget half marathons. Forget losing a gazillion pounds. Forget dropping ten sizes. Forget some sort of crazy deadline.

Simplify: Think about something you can’t do right now and work at doing it.

For instance, during my separation, P90X was all the rage. Relax, I’m not suggesting you do P90X. The only reason P90X is relevant is because it involves a lot of pull-ups. I couldn’t do ONE pull-up. I tried. I couldn’t. So that was my goal: Mutant does a pull-up. I didn’t say by when or aim for ten. I just wanted to do ONE pull-up.

Oh it took me forever (no, seriously, like a few months) and one day, I did a pull up.

So, try to do a pull-up. Or a push-up. Or a sit-up. Or walk one mile. Or jog one mile. Or bike one mile. Do a freaking handstand. Just pick something physical you can’t do right this very minute but you KNOW you’ll be able to do at some point if you just keep trying and then do it.

And then when you do it, double it and make that your next goal.

This is a really great way to get a boost. There’s something about making yourself physically strong in some tiny way that brings reassurance. Forget the way you look, just prove to yourself you’re not a weakling. And trust me, you’re not.

“Restricted” by Dim.Gkatz on Flickr

2. Create the “List of Past Compromises”

“A compromise is an agreement whereby both parties get what neither of them wanted.” – Anonymous Genius

In a relationship there is a lot of compromise. You’re not in an active relationship anymore so you don’t have to compromise. Do yourself a favor and write down all of the things you compromised when you were with your partner.

How easy this task is depends a lot on your current emotional state which we know is insanely unpredictable. If you’re in that place where you’re grateful for your Ex because they’re a good parent and love your kids and wasn’t really too horrible with you, you might struggle at first. If you’re really bitter, your list will probably be never-ending so please don’t let me stop you.

For the strugglers, yes you could wait until that happy feeling passes in a few minutes OR you can start with something totally stupid and “irrelevant”. Think of the “easy” compromises and don’t be surprised when you start realizing just how many of those you made and how many really shouldn’t have been so “easy”.

Did your partner insist meat be served at every meal? Was there a food they couldn’t tolerate that you salivated for? Was there a color you liked but your partner hated? Do you have a love for throw pillows your partner barely tolerated? Did your partner hate the way you looked in jeans? Was there a smell that made them sneeze? Was there a place that intrigued you but never could get them to go? Did you buy that underwear because they swooned? How many movies haven’t you watched you really wanted to? What’s the one song you had to play when they weren’t around?

Got your list? Good. Now, pick one thing and let go of the compromise.

Make a vegetarian meal. Treat yourself to a favorite dish or full meal. Buy something, or paint something, in that color. Throw pillows everywhere. Wear your jeans every day for a week. Hell, buy new jeans if you can afford it (or even new to you jeans) and ditch whatever it was you wore “as a compromise.” Get that smell everywhere and in every form—candles, air freshener, shower gel, detergent, perfume, plug-ins, etc. Go to the places—the garden, the museum, the country store, the ballet, the opera, the friend’s house (you know, the one they hardly stomached), the restaurant where people dance on tables, the park, the marina, the wherever. Wear the panties that make you swoon (with comfort or sexiness or freaking polka dots). Use and abuse Netflix. Make a No More Compromise Playlist and blast it.

In other words, be naughty. Seek and destroy. You will find this to be very silly and therefore very fun. It’s also the type of thing that easily breeds. You do one thing and then you remember another. Believe it or not, people change during a relationship—substantially. Oh we say we won’t, but we do. And you’re going to love remembering Old You. No more we, no more us. It could be sad, but in this case, you’re going to make it fun.

“Journal” by MemoryofDon on Flickr

3. Keep a journal.

Get a notebook and write in it. If you can, write in it every day even If all you can muster is one three word sentence (there are lots of those to choose from).

Single parents can feel very neglected and alone. Sometimes, you really feel like no one cares, or everyone’s scared to death of you (because divorce is contagious, didn’t you know?), or everyone might mean well but you just can’t explain or relate right now.

Thankfully, journals aren’t full of human ears, they’re full of pieces of paper. And, there isn’t a set of eyes other than your own who will be perusing.

In a journal, you can get as ugly, whiny, pathetic, resentful, bitter, happy, joyful, jealous, panicked, crazy as you want to get. No one’s judging, because no one’s reading.

If you go back and read what you wrote and find yourself filled to the brim with nausea? Guess what? It’s paper. Shred it. Burn it. Soak it. Ruin it however you see fit.

You know how you keep bursting into tears at your desk?  Or how you keep hauling ass as away from the kids so you can sob? You’re corked. You need to let something out. It’s better to let it out in little daily ways like writing in your journal than letting it just explode out of your poor abused heart.

I’m not saying the outbursts are going to magically disappear, but I think you’ll find they slow down, are shorter and easier to manage. Now when it starts you can tell yourself, “Not now. This is for the journal.”

Grief isn’t simple and it isn’t brief. When a family changes dramatically, grief is inevitable. These three small things aren’t the absolute ticket to happiness.

I encourage you to seek therapy (no, seriously, you need it). Get a lawyer to handle the yucky stuff (try and get a flat fee one and hope you don’t need to go to trial). I am telling you to give yourself a lot of time—at least two years. Read about it. Find others. Talk about it.

But, becoming a single parent doesn’t have to be a total nightmare either. We’re always reading about how horrible it is aren’t we? The thing about these three things is they all have an immediate effect and they all bring you in touch with YOU. Some will feel better than others. Some will feel awesome one day and only ok on another day. Some will have a lasting positive impression, and others will be just the briefest sense of positivity. But that’s their beauty.

Simple and effective—unlike pretty much everything else in your life right now.


18 thoughts on “Three Simple Ways to Feel Better During Divorce & Separation

  1. great stuff. i swear, i just woke up today wondering where i read how to prep or work up to be a runner. i visited your blog and voila! Couch to 5K! That is exactly what I was looking for this morning.

    but secondly, would you mind telling how you finally made your way to doing ONE pull up?

    and third, great article. i feel like crying today. i miss “him” so damn much. but “him” from 2009. not the 2011 “him”…….

    ugg, this sh*t is hard. i’m glad you are lighting the way for me. i don’t feel like i can do this sometimes. this letting go.

    and……. nice hair cut! will anyone ever get to see your face sometime? 🙂


    • Ha we have a psychic connection!! I did couch to 5k one year and it was great. It was actually in the months leading up to the separation so maybe it was one of those things that made me feel like I was strong enough after all.

      The pull up! HA! I bought an iron gym. I talked to a friend who was doing P90X and his advice was this. Buy gloves. Your hands are going to shred. Start small. First, just hang from the bar as long as possible. Then once you feel comfortable and ready to move on, grab a chair and put it under the pull up bar. Grab the bar and use the chair to get yourself up. The hard part is lowering yourself. Don’t use the chair. Lower yourself slowly and steadily. You do that as many times as possible. Then you start doing things like getting yourself up as high as you can and use the chair to get you the rest of the way. And so on and so forth. And then one day– you freaking do it and call everyone you know and listen to them just be all quiet because they don’t understand why you’re so excited about a pull-up. By the way, when my friends didn’t get excited for me, I’d make them try and do one. “Holy crap this is HARD. You can do this?” and then they realized why I was so excited.

      I’m sorry you’re having a lonely day. That’s what it is that causes those crying spells. Try the Compromise List. Maybe doing something “forbidden” will help cheer you up. I’m telling you, those little acts of rebellion can get really silly but really fun.

      Thanks for the compliment. I don’t know. I debate the face thing all of the time. I’m very reluctant and I don’t know why. I post pics of my kids and friends so it’s not completely anonymous but after keeping myself away so long, I feel strange revealing that.

  2. This was by far one of the best “what to do after divorce” posts I’ve read. I think I pretty much did all of the above and therapy. Heck ya, you need it. It does really put things into perspective, especially the compromises. My ex hated green peppers, the sight and the smell of them. I love them. It was so funny one day in the grocery store, months after separation, it occured to me…hey, I can have green peppers. The little things are the best.

    • Thank you!!

      The green peppers thing is definitely a very familiar experience. I had epiphany after epiphany like that. “Wait a minute. He doesn’t live here. I don’t have to do this HIS way.” It feels GOOD.

  3. Oh boy did I need to hear this today. Since my ex was constantly gone, I felt like a single momma who was married so transitioning into true single mommahood wasn’t that hard. Or so I thought. I found out I was just in my own little happy world and things are not as I thought. It makes me laugh that I wrote my vent up then came to check out your page and it was definitely what I needed to hear. Thanks for writing this and helping me have my Aha moment! 🙂

  4. The second suggestion particularly struck me. My mother in law lost her husband unexpectedly, and we didn’t know how she’d take it. He was awesome. It was a tough loss of course, but she did better than we expected. After about a year or two, the thing she embraced most was having her freedom again. She loves decorating and she finally had 100% control over her decisions. The color on the wall was no longer one that she had to get permission to use. She could paint her walls any damn color she wanted. She can go on vacation anywhere she pleases and eats out as much as she wants. She’s always hated cooking, but my FIL liked eating at home. That was a big compromise that she had no problem letting go of.

    What a great post. Really fabulous. It’s so nice that you’ve healed to the point where you can really help others in a similar situation.

    • That’s such a nice story! It’s amazing to me how many there are like that. Everyone seems to have one of those moments where the realization they have freedom suddenly has a sweetness to it and it’s not all bitterness. Thank you for your sweet words. 🙂

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  6. Journaling definitely helped me. It took a long time to get past the guilt for my kids, but thankfully I’m in a much better place. Great post..wish I read it about 15 years ago…

  7. I just read the beginning of the journal I started when the Ex and I first separated. Ouch. It made me realise just how far I’ve come. I’d share but it’s just too damn bleak!

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  9. I see some of these posts are from 2011, for me the nightmare began just a week ago, we went on a cruise and had a argument
    we have been having problems, but did not know it would end this week after a cruise, I am shattered right now, my teenage daughter is suffering as well, we feel like our world has just been turned upside down…………… thanks for the info, I will try them all.

    • Hi Diane. Yes, for me the big storm was during 2010 and 2011. The good stuff started coming in 2011. I’m sorry you’ve just been faced with this wreck. You’ll make it, little by little, stumble after stumble. But you’ll make it. And you’re going to learn A LOT about YOU. Hugs to you. Keep me posted and feel free to contact me.

  10. This has helped me so much today! I left my husband just two days ago and today has been a hard day for me – can you get dehydrated from crying? I have been unhappy for a long time but it wasn’t until I looked over at him and asked myself if I could really see me and him together into old age? He changed, a lot. Or maybe I have. Either way, my new journey is going to be a bumpy ride but that’s ok. I just kind of wish he would have asked me why I am so unhappy instead of just letting me drive away.

    • Hi Tracey. I am so sorry to hear you’re going through this experience. It can be really rough and I know what you mean. It sure as heck felt like crying dehydrated me on more than one occasion. Just keep yourself focused on moving forward. The pain is part of it. I’m glad you were able to get some help from my writing and hope you continue to find strength in many places, in many ways.

  11. Seven years after separation, and four years after divorce, I still read these posts in search of some peace. I am still not convinced that divorce was a good decision. Sure, my love life went from hell to heaven, no question. But the ongoing stress over children and custody seems neverending and as gut wrenching as ever. Only those who have been there can understand how sick to her stomach a mama can get, when the ex promotes his new wife to the children, fails to stick to an agreed upon schedule, blames the mama for their bad behaviour, or accuses of other negative stuff. Sure, I sit in my own world and think I let go of things. Then I face him, and it turns out I have hung on to so much. Divorce would have been fantastic, had he vanished in space or at least moved to Australia. He didn’t, he lives in the same town, we know the same people, and so I sit in my kitchen at four in the morning looking for advice on the internet…

    • Yup, seems pretty universal. I don’t think you ever fully recover and like you I feel that a better recovery would happen if they just disappeared. It makes sense when they have research that shows a parent dying is easier to handle than parents splitting up. Sorry you’re struggling today. We all have our lows.


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