A staggering 48 percent of all marriages collapse before reaching 20 years – this is one of the most sobering statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth.1 And here’s another one: 20 percent of couples in their first marriage end up divorcing within the first 5 years.2
Splitting up can be one of the hardest things you go through in your life. As challenging as this time might be, and as tempting as it may be to try to quickly move on and put the relationship behind you, you will need to allow yourself time to process it. This is a traumatic event, after all, and your mind and body deserve quality time and attention to heal. Here are some things you should do.
1. Let Yourself Grieve
You may not think of a divorce or breakup in the same way as the death of a loved one. But in a sense, it is a sort of death of the family unit as you knew it. This means you will need to allow yourself time to grieve. But don’t try to be too clinical about it, especially if it is a hard breakup for you. If you were cheated on, it may take longer for you to recover and work through other issues and insecurities. If you were the one who initiated the split, it may take you less time to move on – but don’t discount feelings of loss that come your way, too.
Your grief could manifest as shock, numbness, or sadness. In fact, it may never fully go away. But in a few months’ time, you should find that it doesn’t engulf you or trouble you as it did before. However, if your grief is still debilitating after a year, you should seek out a professional therapist as soon as possible.3
2. Lean On Your Friends, Family, Or A Support Group
It can be difficult to be around familiar faces when all you want to do is wish the entire situation away. But don’t feel hesitant to lean on those close friends and family members. Talking it out can make a world of difference and take some of the burden off you. If you find it impossible to talk about your split with people who know you, seek out a support group. Meeting a group of people who are going through a similar experience can be a huge help and relief.4
3. Get Professional Support
A professional therapist can also help you through this phase of your life. You may be taught techniques and develop skills to help you learn how to manage the situation better or find solutions to any problems you are facing. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, focuses on effective methods to help you change the way you think, act, feel, and deal with problems. Just be sure to approach a licensed practitioner who is affiliated with a professional organization like the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Professional therapy can also help children who may be affected by a divorce or breakup.5
4. Write It Down
Many people find that just writing down their feelings helps provide an outlet for any emotions they’ve kept bottled up inside. UK-based charity Family Lives, which specializes in professional support for families at various stages, including divorce or separation, suggests keeping a journal or diary to record how you are feeling. If you don’t want to commit to keeping up a journal, they say that even just writing a letter or an email addressed to whomever you want to say something to can help. And the letter or email need not ever be sent.
Just putting down the words can be a huge relief. It can make you feel heard and help you get clarity on how you’re feeling and what exactly is troubling you. These words may come in handy later when having a real face-to-face conversation or to share with your therapist or support group.6
5. Focus On Your Physical Well-Being, Too
About 10 to 15 percent of the population have major struggles coping with divorce. Research has shown that divorce or separation can adversely impact a person’s health – so much so that it could raise their mortality rate by as much as 23 percent.7
To help lower this risk, exercise can go a long way. Along with giving you something to focus on other than your separation, it can also make you feel better about yourself. Exercising raises your body’s serotonin production, which helps lift your mood. And if you’ve been struggling with insomnia or erratic sleep, exercising can also help you sleep better and, subsequently, make you feel better. On top of that, keeping fit and feeling good about yourself physically can also boost your confidence, something that may take a beating in the aftermath of a split, especially if you were not the one who initiated the divorce or separation.8
6. Eat Well
You may experience a loss of appetite or could end up indulging in “emotional eating.” But what you eat becomes absolutely crucial for your well-being, especially during this difficult time. The stress caused by a divorce or breakup will often cause extreme weight fluctuations in both men and women. Eating fresh, healthy foods and produce can help be the antidote to the mental, physical, and emotional stress you are feeling. 9 And remember, as researchers caution, losing weight isn’t always reason for celebration, especially if it is extreme.10
7. Avoid Alcohol, Drugs, And Cigarettes
At this vulnerable time, it can be easy to turn to alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes to help numb the pain. But you may end up dealing with a new problem – an addiction. Instead of turning to these vices, channel your energy into activities you enjoy. Think about all the things you couldn’t do when you were in your relationship and go pursue them.11
8. Get Good Sleep
Having trouble sleeping after you’ve gone through a breakup is normal. Most people are able to cope with a couple of months of unrestful sleep or insomnia as they adjust to a new life. However, if you experience sleeping troubles that persist beyond 2 to 3 months, it may be impacting your health. For example, research has found that if your sleeping troubles continue after several months, it can negatively affect your blood pressure.12 These sleep issues may also be indicative of an underlying problem, like depression, that will need to be treated. Ensure that you get a good night’s rest by setting up a sleep routine. This may include taking a warm shower, listening to some relaxing music, or reading a good book to help you de-stress.
9. Manage Stress Through Yoga
Yoga can be a good avenue for stress management and relaxation. As one piece of research found, women experiencing mental distress saw their condition improve after attending yoga class twice a week for three months.13
If you are taking medication to deal with your anxiety or stress, yoga could even help you get to a point where you may no longer need it.14 That said, you should never go off your medication without first consulting your doctor.
10. Make Time For The Kids
If you have children, make sure you continue to spend quality time with them. Not only do they need your attention at this difficult time, their support and attention can be just as beneficial for you. Also, be sure to take time to help them cope with and understand their own feelings and issues surrounding the split. If you’ve moved out of the family home, these moments together will feel even more precious.
11. Move Forward
Looking ahead and giving yourself something positive to connect with in your own future can be another way of moving on. A good way to explore a new side of yourself – and make new friends – is to start up a hobby, sign up for a class, learn a new language, or even take a full-time university course. These “dormant interests” could be your path to a new, exciting life.15
|↑1||Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible. American Psychological Association.|
|↑2||Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible. American Psychological Association.|
|↑3, ↑15||Emotional Coping and Divorce. Aroostook Mental Health Center.|
|↑4, ↑11||Coping With Separation And Divorce. Mental Health America.|
|↑5||HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH DIVORCE. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.|
|↑6||http://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/divorce-and-separation/thinking-about-divorce/coping-with-divorce-or-separation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Coping in the early days of divorce or separation. Family Lives.|
|↑7||Sbarra, David A. “Divorce and health: Current trends and future directions.” Psychosomatic medicine 77, no. 3 (2015): 227.|
|↑8||http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The exercise effect. American Psychological Association.|
|↑9||Sobal, Jeffery, Barbara Rauschenbach, and Edward A. Frongillo. “Marital status changes and body weight changes: a US longitudinal analysis.” Social science & medicine 56, no. 7 (2003): 1543-1555.|
|↑10||https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smart-people-don-t-diet/201602/the-divorce-diet" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Divorce Diet. Psychology Today.|
|↑12||http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2014/07/divorce-sleep-problems-blood-pressure/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Divorce-Related Sleep Problems Linked to Raised Blood Pressure Months Later. Sleep review.|
|↑13||Michalsen, Andreas, Paul Grossman, Ayhan Acil, Jost Langhorst, Rainer Lüdtke, Tobias Esch, George Stefano, and Gustav Dobos. “Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program.” Medical Science Monitor 11, no. 12 (2005): CR555-CR561.|
|↑14||Li, Amber W., and C. A. Goldsmith. “The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress.” Altern Med Rev 17, no. 1 (2012): 21-35.|