32 Totally Honest Pieces of Advice About Divorce From Women Who Have Been There
Real Simple hit up Facebook to ask women who’ve gone through divorce to share their personal experiences and advice on it.
“If you’re on good terms with your ex, it can be weird to stop working as a team. At the beginning, my ex and I were in and out of each other’s homes all the time, dropping things off for the kids. It was just too much. Eventually it became clear that we needed a different system—a bench outside each of our front doors—for exchanging stuff. Drawing that line made a big difference.” — M.W.
“We continue to do things like birthdays, graduations, and recitals together as a family. So they never have to decide who to sit with or where to go.” — J.P.
“Know that things like open-school night with your ex the first year will probably suck, but that the second year it will be different. And by the third, you’ll have figured out something. Everyone does, whether it’s being friendly and sitting together or totally avoiding each other.” — K.C.
“Find some kind of spiritual or positive nourishment. I listened to Joel Osteen and other books on tape. I’m not religious, but he helped me focus on something other than anxiety and hurt.” — B.D.
“In the beginning, stay away from social media, which is populated by the happiest people in the best marriages with the most successful children.” — E.M.
“If your ex is angry at the beginning, just count on his getting angrier during the proceedings. The worst part of him has taken over his brain. You think he still remembers how you used to sing silly songs in the car together. Maybe he’ll remember in a few years, maybe never, but certainly not now.” — J.A.
“Don’t talk trash about your ex. It makes you look stupid for marrying him, and makes your kids feel like they have mutant genes. Disagree respectfully.” — D.B.
“Take the higher road any chance you get.” — S.J.
“Find a good shrink and figure out what really went wrong and how not to repeat history.” — S.K.
“I was drawn to support classes. I craved being with others who were also licking their wounds, and I ended up learning the best, most helpful guiding principles during these classes. ” — M.S.
“If you know a couple who have a good divorce, it’s really useful to learn what kinds of boundaries they have, because you’re going to have to try out different things until you find what feels right.” — H.K.
“It takes a while to feel OK on your own, and the loneliness can be crushing. Observe yourself and notice what times and days and activities (or inertia) send you into a despair pit, and manage that. For me, it was those weekends I didn’t have my kids, from 5 p.m. till 8 p.m. I would just be so, so sad. So I started doing things right in that sweet (or bitter) spot, like seeing a movie at the art house near me—killing that patch of time. And then I’d find I’d be OK. Oh, and also I went on Lexapro. :) ” — D.B.
“What helped me through my divorce: stretching myself into unfamiliar territory by enrolling in hard classes with brilliant teachers on cognitive neuroscience, theories of personality, and abnormal psychology; having some very good friends who could sit with me on the phone while I fell apart; listening to audiobook fiction; and relying on a power other than myself or any other human.” — B.J.
“At holiday time, don’t try to replicate every tradition. Honor the holidays and celebrations you always did, but allow yourself new ways to do this, reflecting the new realities that often include less time and money. Create some new traditions, too, for yourself and your children.” — E.M.
“My mom advised me not to talk to my mother-in-law about [my ex]. Not one negative word. She reminded me that my mother-in-law was already hurting and to remember that she is my three kids’ grandma. This was 22 years ago, and as a result, I have maintained a great relationship with her all the while, which has had a wonderful impact on my children (and on me and her).” — S.J.
“You’re going to try some things that fail. I tried this idea of having back and forth bags—big L.L. Bean totes for the kids that were supposed to make it easier to haul things from one house to the other. But eventually these bags became big, clunky reminders of a lot of sadness from the beginning of the divorce that had dissipated. I got rid of them.” — R.K.
“So many people rush right into dating to fill the void or to soothe dented egos. My support-group facilitator asked us to resist any partner relationships for this first year and, instead, spend time and energy strengthening bonds with friends and family members who would be our rocks during difficult days ahead. It was great advice.” — M.S.
“Divorce is, among other things, a grieving process of what could have been. It takes time and active participation to move through it—and that can be scary.” — D.S.
“I told my kids [that I was going to start dating] about six months after the separation. I felt like I should. I said, ‘Do you have any feelings about that?’ My 10-year-old said, ‘I’m glad, Mom, so you have something to do when we’re not here.’ And he also asked me if I would please not date anyone in our small town, because ‘Alex’s mom and Elise’s dad dated and broke up, and now it’s really weird for them on the school bus.’ I said, ‘Of course,’ and he was happy.” — L.L.
“If you have shared custody, try as much as possible to transition through the school and not face-to-face. Don’t make the kids take a loyalty test every time they go from one parent to the other.” — C.R.
“If you bad-mouth the guy your friend has been married to for 15 years, she won’t feel supported. She’ll feel betrayed. If you hate him so much, what have you been thinking about her all these years for marrying him?” — F.L.
“In my experience, the right thing to—very gently and kindly and empathetically—ask a mother who has just told you she’s getting a divorce is ‘How are the kids doing?’ For me, that was the only thing on my mind, and I was so grateful to be understood. The wrong thing is to talk about your own personal feelings: I knew something was wrong. I never would have pictured it. I can’t imagine how I would ever survive if Bob and I broke up. Basically anything that starts with I.” — G.M.
“The phrase ‘I’m sorry’ can be very distancing or very compassionate, depending on how it’s delivered.” — D.M.
“There's a way to offer support that feels sincere, and there are a lot of ways that don’t. Instead of saying, ‘Well if there’s anything I can do...’ and just trailing off, offer a concrete kindness: ‘Let me pick up Jimmy at t-ball and take the kids for ice cream while you’re at that appointment.’ That’s huge.” — S.P.
“The hardest thing is that you spend your whole adult life trying to protect your kids from hurt, and then you do this thing—because you absolutely have to and you have no choice—and it hurts them more than anything in their lives ever has. It’s tough to reconcile that.”— L.W.
“In the first year, when the only thing on your mind is all the change in your life, it’s hard not to talk about your divorce on a date. That’s a good reason to wait. Later, believe it or not, you’re just a person, and divorce is something you’ve been through, not something that defines you.” — T.S.
“Have a friend help you with online dating, if you decide to go there. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. It’s better with company!” — A.G.
“Some people will fix you up in the most thoughtless way—don’t let them. Married fixer-uppers can be careless and messy. One friend of mine compared it to animal husbandry. You can check out the guy online, and you can politely decline. Your singleness doesn’t belong to anyone but you.” — P.N.
“I live two blocks from my ex, and some people think that’s nuts. But it absorbs a little of the discomfort my kids have in living in two places. Whenever there’s a chance to absorb some of the discomfort of that inconvenience, I try to take thaton.”— L.P.
“For those who divorce late, with adult children, don’t try to justify yourself to your children. Divorce, no matter how old the ‘kids’ are, is painful for everyone. No matter how aware your children are of the difficulties between their parents, they want an intact family and may react with anger. Allow them their feelings, and don’t try to be a hero or a saint.” — E.M.
“My daughter was 13 at the time the divorce began. My only regret was not being able to see through the fog at the time to realize that she took on too much of the ‘soothing mom’ responsibilities during those first penniless weeks and months. Burdening her with my grief didn’t allow her to have her own.” — M.S.
“My teenage son said to me one day, ‘Mom, I realized all my close friends are from broken homes.’ It was so jarring, this phrase, and I thought, Yeah, that is his to describe however he wants. I wish he hadn’t used those words, but it’s his experience. I guess what I want to say is that we can do back flips to make it as OK as possible for our kids, but they have their own experience of divorce, and that is not something you should try to edit or change.” — R.T.