WHETHER you are relieved to be divorced or not, the effects that come with leaving a marriage are undeniable and require you to make some serious adjustments. It can be difficult to move on with your life – psychologically, emotionally or financially. Move! speaks to experts to help you navigate through life after a divorce. This will help you understand why you may be going through certain emotions and how to approach life as a single person.
RECOGNISING YOUR FEELINGS
Cheryl Webb, a legal advisor at Family Law Clinic based in Johannesburg, says there are a number of reasons that make people struggle to move on after a divorce. She says, “People still believe that there’s a stigma attached to being divorced or they feel that they have failed at being a husband or wife. Divorce is often associated with feelings of guilt or failure. No one wants to be a failure.” It is important to recognise that a divorce is not a bad thing, thus detaching the failure stigma is important.
Psychologist and counsellor based in Johannesburg, El Kotze, says, “When we enter into a relationship commitment like marriage, we do so with some sort of vision or fantasy of what it will look like. People envision a house, children or someone to grow old with, for example. When that relationship ends, we lose that fantasy or vision. This means we lose something that is deeply personal to us. Something that has, perhaps, become a deeply entrenched part of our identities.
This loss of fantasy, along with the loss of financial and emotional security that often accompanies a divorce or separation, and of course, the loss of a partner and friend, is like an emotional wound that we often have no idea what to do with. This, in turn, can cause great psychological distress in both parties, including depression and anxiety.” EL adds that’ secondary psychological effects, like an increase in stress levels because of the added financial burden, complicates this further too.
Moving on is important but does this mean that you are supposed to instantly find someone else? Cheryl advises against getting into a relationship immediately after a divorce. You might be using being in a relationship as a coping mechanism and as a result, avoiding issues that you are supposed to be dealing with. “Do not immediately enter into another relationship. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your previous relationship and find something positive to focus on – be it meditation, going to the gym or doing some art work. If you are still finding it very difficult to cope, see a therapist or join a support group,” she says.
MAKING CO-PARENTING WORK
Cheryl says, “Divorce does not have to be a negative thing and all parties, including the children, can go through a divorce with a very positive outcome. For instance, parents need to sit down with their children and explain to them that they still love them even though they have decided to be friends rather than husband and wife.
For co-parenting to work, parents need to treat each other with dignity and not speak badly about each other to the children. They also need to support each other in decision making when it comes to raising the children. Parents should be both be present at the children's sport events and school functions and be amicable. The kids will feel more secure if they see a united front.
MORE TIPS FROM EXPERTS
- Women are advised not to play their children up against the fathers. They need to stop thinking along the lines that, “you hurt me, so I will make sure you hurt just us much by telling the children what a terrible person you are, or I will make sure that you don’t see the children anymore”.
- On the other hand, men are also advised to stop using maintenance as a bargaining tool, saying that “if you don’t let me see my children, then I am not going to pay maintenance”.
- As parents, you need to make your children your primary focus, not your failed marriage or relationship.
SELF-CARE AND SELF LOVE
El agrees that for many people, separation or divorce feels like a failure. “Even in relationships that are characterised by violence and deprivation and where separation is an issue of choosing life over death, there is still an immense amount of guilt that needs to be worked through. This is often accompanied by questions like, ‘what could I have done differently?’ or ‘am I not good enough to be loved?’
I find that it is often these feelings that make it hard for people to pick up the pieces. People’s understanding of themselves and what they are deserving of in terms of relationships is tested and in some ways, they need to redefine themselves in this context that does not include their former partner,” says El.
TAKE IT EASY
One of the most important things you can do to help you survive, is to be aware of your own needs and to respond to them in ways that are nurturing and compassionate towards yourself. It is important to take each day as it comes. “If you feel like you want to stay in bed and you’re in the position to do so, do it. Take a mental health day.
If you feel like you want to go out and be surrounded by friends, do it. Being in the moment, listening to your needs and responding to them brings you closer to yourself and helps you to forgive yourself for mistakes you have made, or for failing to conform to other people’s expectations. The point is, you are suffering a great loss, and you need to give yourself space to grieve,” El says