Life After Divorce: 12 Tips to Start Anew

Divorce, much like a marriage, tends to be a life-altering event. The process alone can bring plenty of changes, from quieter meals to an empty house, or even a new house. If you have children, your co-parenting schedule could mean spending days without them for the first time. As you begin to adjust to the altered shape of your life, you might experience a complex blend of thoughts and feelings ranging from betrayal and loss to anger, or even relief.

To put it simply, divorce can throw your life into upheaval. As you begin to reestablish yourself, it can help to keep in mind that divorce doesn’t mean your life has ended. Rather, it signals a new beginning. Caring for your emotional and physical needs is an essential step to navigating the post-divorce period effectively. The 12 tips below offer a place to start.

1. Practice acceptance

People generally don’t get married assuming they’ll eventually divorce. Though divorce is common, you might feel perfectly confident your marriage will last.

The dissolution of your marriage, then, may come as something of a shock. It’s entirely natural to have regrets, wish things had turned out differently, and wonder whether you could have done anything to prevent it. You might also feel some confusion, even denial, and find the divorce difficult to accept. But despite these (completely valid) feelings, the fact remains: The marriage has ended. While some ex-partners do remarry, divorce tends to be a pretty final break. Holding too tightly to the past, or the future you envisioned, can get in the way of your healing and make it difficult to move forward. So, try to gently redirect your thoughts when you begin to notice them drifting down the path of:

  • “If only I had…”
  • “But we were so good together.”
  • “How could they throw it all away?”

Instead, try reminding yourself:

  • “The divorce happened, and there’s no changing that.”
  • “Life may not turn out as I planned, but I can still find contentment and peace.”

Acceptance generally doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t worry if you need some time. What matters most is treating yourself kindly as you come to terms with your loss.

2. Give all of your feelings space

Along with acceptance comes self-validation.

In the immediate aftermath of divorce (and sometimes for a good long stretch after) you might experience:

  • pain, betrayal, and sadness
  • fear, uncertainty, and doubt
  • contempt and disgust
  • anger, hostility, or rage
  • grief, loss, and regret
  • relief and peace
  • loneliness

These feelings can often lead to internal conflict.

If your ex-spouse initiated the divorce because they fell out of love or found someone new, you might feel plenty of anger, resentment, and grief. Yet at the same time, you might still love them as much as you ever did. If you chose to leave a toxicunhealthy, or abusive marriage, you might feel overwhelming relief at knowing you made the right decision. But you could also harbor some sadness alongside this welcome sense of calm. No matter what you feel, all of your feelings are valid. This might feel overwhelming now, but these feelings will likely ease as time passes.

In the meantime:

3. Create a co-parenting plan

Evidence suggests children do better in every respect when parents cooperate with the other parent to share parenting responsibilities:

  • According to a 2014 summary of 40 studies, spending at least 35 percent of the time with each parent led to better emotional, behavioral, and physical health and improved relationships with both parents.
  • According to research from 2020, maintaining a quality parenting relationship with your ex after divorce plays an important role in both healthy child development and overall family well-being.

Developing an effective plan right away can minimize disagreements over who gets first dibs on holiday weekends, summer vacation, and so on. It can also help you establish a pattern of respectful communication right from the start.

Tip: Try to focus on what’s best for your children, not who “wins” or gets a “better deal.”

Say your ex works from home and plans to continue living in the neighborhood where your children already go to school. It might make more sense for your children to spend slightly more time there during the school season and more time with you during the summer.

A good co-parenting plan includes things like:

  • schedules for time with each parent
  • routines for bedtime, homework time, and screen time
  • rules and consequences for breaking them
  • chores and other household responsibilities
  • how you’ll stay in touch with children while they’re with the other parent
  • what to tell them about the divorce

In short, it lets your children know, “We may no longer live together, but we’re still on the same page when it comes to you.” Get more tips on co-parenting.

4. Keep calm and practice assertive communication

Sure, you might feel upset, angry, and have nothing but contempt for your ex. Still, when you have to stay in contact, it can help to temporarily set those feelings aside. That’s not to say you should ignore those feelings. Just aim to avoid letting them tint your discussions as you hash out details.

A few helpful tips:

  • Set boundaries around communication. Will you call, text, or email? How often?
  • Limit your conversations to essentials, like childcare or any financial arrangements you’ve put in place.
  • Avoid jabs, insults, and any hurtful or snide remarks.
  • Make sure you both have time to speak and listen to what they have to say.

Learn more about how to practice assertive communication.

5. Spend quality time with your children

Making a point to enjoy fun activities and create new traditions with your children can help ease the post-divorce transition. No matter how busy and overwhelming your new day-to-day routine becomes, dedicate some time each day to checking in with your children and relaxing as a family. You don’t need to make every moment fun and exciting, or deviate too much from your regular routine. But you might:

  • Take time for one fun outing each week, like a trip to a movie, beach, or park.
  • Establish new rituals, like cooking dinner together or having a board game night.
  • Spend 30 minutes each evening sharing details from your day.

If your children have questions about the divorce, it’s generally best to:

  • Answer questions in an honest but age-appropriate way.
  • Maintain a calm and neutral tone.
  • Avoid critical, judgmental, and unkind comments about the other parent.
  • Stick to the facts.

Emphasizing that sometimes relationships don’t work out, however hard partners try, can also:

  • help remind your children the divorce wasn’t their fault
  • lay a foundation for healthy relationship skills — if they someday find themselves in an unhappy relationship, they’ll know they have the option to leave

6. Reach out to loved ones

You’ll most likely need some space to vent any anger, sadness, and pain you feel. Turning to your support system to express these emotions out can make a big difference in your overall well-being, along with your ability to weather the ongoing stress of the divorce.

Friends and family can listen with empathy (and understanding, if they’ve also experienced divorce) and offer both emotional support and tangible solutions: a place to stay, help with childcare, or simply thoughtful guidance. Just remember there’s no need to share your feelings with people who pass judgment or make you feel worse. Aim to connect only with loved ones who offer validation, compassion, and kindness.

7. Consider expanding your friend circle

Divvying up shared belongings is one thing, but what about mutual friends? It’s not uncommon for shared friends to gravitate toward one partner or the other after divorce. If you didn’t have many friends of your own before getting married, you might have “inherited” your spouse’s friends when tying the knot. You may have grown close enough that your friendship continues after divorce, but that’s not always the case. You might, then, find yourself feeling lonely, even isolated, once the marriage ends. Forging new bonds can help ease feelings of loneliness and create lasting opportunities for social connection.

A few helpful tips for making new friends:

  • Volunteer in your community.
  • Invite a friendly co-worker to coffee, lunch, or a weekend walk.
  • Take a class in art, music, cooking, or exercise.
  • Join a divorce support group.

8. Reconnect with yourself

Even if you thought you knew yourself pretty well, you might find divorce calls your sense of self into question. There’s no denying that relationships can change people, and you might realize you’re not quite the same person you were when you got married. Some of your current habits and preferences might have evolved naturally, in response to your own likes, dislikes, and preferred routines. Others, however, may reflect your ex’s needs and preferences.

Maybe you’d rather (or rather not):

Don’t forget to consider your hobbies and interests, either. After all, the way you spent your free time during your marriage might not entirely align with your own personal goals for relaxation and downtime. As you embark on your own path post-divorce, taking time along the way for self-discovery can help you identify key needs, plus ways to get them met on your own terms.

9. Try out new routines

The sense of aimlessness that often creeps in after divorce can leave you with plenty of time to mull over what-if scenarios and sink into a spiral of uncomfortable feelings.

Changing up your regular schedule could go a long way toward:

  • countering feelings of loneliness and other unwanted emotions
  • preventing rumination and other unhelpful patterns that stem from emotional distress

There’s nothing at all wrong with following a tried-and-true routine. All the same, establishing new patterns can promote a sense of renewal, while reinforcing the fact that your life belongs to you alone.

A few ideas to consider:

10. Avoid casting blame

In most cases, many different factors contribute to the breakdown of a marriage. Unless your partner was toxic or abusive (abuse is never your fault), both of your actions likely played some part. Right now, you might find it difficult to consider things from their perspective. But it can help to keep in mind that people change over time.

A star-crossed courtship, a fairytale wedding, a lingering honeymoon phase — all that can quickly fizzle away when you realize you didn’t actually know each other all that well. Or maybe you married young, before you finished growing up and figuring out who you were and what you wanted from life. Communication problems or lack of compatibility never excuse lying or cheating, but these issues can sometimes help explain how and why things went wrong. Assigning blame, to yourself or them, may not do much to help you move forward. Instead, try to take a more neutral perspective, one that involves openly acknowledging your own contributions. Doing so can help lessen anger in the moment and improve your relationships in the future.

11. Take time to yourself

Speaking of future relationships, it may be worth taking a break from dating rather than rushing into a new romance. Love and intimacy might seem like a great way to fill lonely hours and soothe the wounds in your heart. That said, starting a new relationship when the loss of your marriage has yet to heal won’t necessarily help.

You could end up:

  • comparing your new partner to your ex
  • finding it difficult to give the new relationship the emotional commitment it deserves
  • sidelining your physical and mental health needs in favor of your new partner’s needs

Without a doubt, time alone can feel terrifying, especially if you’ve never lived alone. But it’s absolutely possible to find contentment, even happiness, on your own.

Dive into living alone with these tips.

12. Work with a professional

Divorce can have a lasting impact on your emotional and mental well-being, but a mental health professional can always offer compassionate guidance and support.

A therapist can help you explore strategies to cope with any painful or difficult thoughts that come up, including:

family therapist or co-parenting counselor can also help promote a smoother transition for your family.

Reaching out for professional support is always a good option if you:

  • have difficulty handling everyday tasks or parenting your children
  • notice a drop in your performance at work or school
  • have trouble eating, sleeping, or taking care of basic needs
  • find yourself avoiding loved ones

The bottom line

Divorce marks the conclusion of one chapter in your life, certainly. But just as closing one book allows you to open another, the end of your marriage might illuminate a new path forward. Taking time to grieve, heal, and focus on yourself can help you make the most of what the future holds.

– Article from Crystal Raypole on Healthline.com