Recently Divorced? Avoid these 5 Post-Divorce Pitfalls in order to Prosper
The divorce process is often painful, frustrating, overwhelming, and substantially more drawn-out than the divorcing parties would like. And once you’ve gotten through it, you usually feel a huge sense of relief. (Now you can finally move on! 🎉)
Unfortunately, however, many of us fall victim to one or more fairly common traps upon walking away from our divorces, finding solace in behaviors that might seem appealing (or maybe even appropriate) in the short-term, but that won’t serve us in the long run.
So what are these traps that we can fall into, and how can we learn to recognize and avoid them?
As both a divorce coach and someone who has navigated the divorce process myself, I’ve grown intimately familiar with the most common post-divorce pitfalls. Many of these maladaptive behaviors and characteristics can also manifest after a bad breakup, where marriage wasn’t involved. With that in mind, you might want to take note if any of the following post-relationship descriptions resonate with you.
In no particular order, they are as follows:
1. Tailspinning (the downward spiral)
“Tailspinning” can refer to a loss of control, a mental or emotional breakdown or collapse, or a sustained and potentially severe downturn or decline. Basically, it’s not a word that you’d generally like to be used to describe your life.
However, the fact is that, post-divorce, some of us completely lose our sense of grounding. This can come about for a whole slew of different reasons.
For example, we may find ourselves in a completely new and foreign environment, and simply not know how to operate effectively within it.
It may be that we feel hopeless - as if nothing matters anymore - and that sense of hopelessness and despondency toward life leads us to act out of character and/or do something extreme. For instance, we may find ourselves suddenly getting into legal trouble, doing things that hurt others, or otherwise displaying a lack of responsibility or accountability.
Or in some cases it may be that we’re overcome with a sudden sense of freedom and go overboard in embracing that sentiment. This typically manifests in the form of cutting a little too loose - which might look like engaging in extreme activities, binge drinking, drug use, et cetera - such that your behavior starts to have a negative impact on your job, your relationships with others, or other areas of your life.
Regardless of what leads to it, tailspinning isn’t particularly fun to go through. You feel like your world is falling apart around you, and you aren’t sure whether to duck for cover or pick up an axe to help destroy it.
Another common post-divorce pitfall is to engage in blaming - i.e., tending to attribute whatever is going wrong in your life to other people’s actions.
When we’ve gone through a divorce (or even the ending of a significant relationship), we usually come out of the experience feeling a bit vulnerable.
One of the ways that we sometimes respond to that feeling of vulnerability is to engage in finger-pointing and focusing on the fault(s) of others - such as our ex - when it comes to the negative things that are happening in our lives. We do this because the act of blaming builds up our ego and makes us feel stronger, better, and “in the right”.
And since this behavior tends to make us feel better, it becomes pretty addictive.
However, although it might feel good, blaming doesn’t serve us. It’s a behavior we engage in to mask our denial or avoid taking personal responsibility for our fair share of shit. (And yes, I know that’s hard to swallow. But I’ve been down this rabbit hole too, so trust that I’m calling myself out here as much as I am anyone else).
3. Defeatist attitude or perspective
Many divorcé(e)s slip into a dark mental and emotional space following their divorce. That space is typically characterized by pessimism, fear, depression, hopelessness, and/or a scarcity mindset.
These individuals may view themselves as victims, feel sorry for themselves, or crave consolation. And their feelings of pessimism, fear, depression, hopelessness, and self-pity may lead them to feel helpless and make excuses for themselves.
People can get stuck in these negative thought patterns, particularly if they don’t have strong sources of hope, joy, or inspiration in their lives.
4. Lack of confidence
When it comes to getting divorced, it’s normal to feel uncertain, insecure, or even afraid. You’re crossing into unknown territory, and the transition can be incredibly daunting. Most find it difficult to move forward with confidence.
You might feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit to others that your marriage is over. It may be a struggle to adjust to your new financial reality. You might feel lost, like you no longer know who you are or what to do next.
Unless you’ve been through a divorce before, you will likely lack self-assurance and begin questioning almost everything - including your choices in life leading up to the present moment. If you’re anything like me, you might even find that you no longer trust yourself.
This lack of confidence can be crippling and prevent you from moving forward with your life.
5. Neglecting to rebuild or re-establish your own, unique identity independent of your relationship with your ex
So often, we wrap our identities up in our relationships with our partners. This particularly tends to be the case if those relationships were especially significant to us (as is often the case with marriage).
While we are in these relationships, not only do we come to learn who our partner is, inside and out, but we also learn who we are with them. They reflect our own identity back to us like a mirror, and we grow familiar with that identity.
This space becomes our comfort zone.
As a result, when the relationship ends, we can feel scattered, lost, unmoored. We can lose sight of who we are or no longer have a sense of what we want in life.
As I mentioned above, a major reason why so many of us lack confidence when coming out of a divorce is that we find ourselves facing a great unknown. We’re suddenly having to adopt a new identity - one that feels new, uncomfortable, and foreign to us. And it’s impossible to possess confidence in yourself until you first know yourself and who you really are.
Although these are reactions that I’ve commonly seen play out amongst those who are recently divorced (and, in some cases, ones that I’ve personally experienced), that doesn’t mean they are inevitable or have to be perpetuated.
We each have a choice in how we react to the things that happen in our lives, and sometimes just gaining awareness that we’ve fallen into one of these traps is enough to help dislodge us from it.
But if you find yourself stuck in one or more of these patterns (or perhaps have a friend who is) and need a bit more guidance in order to successfully extricate yourself from it, allow me to offer up some insights that could prove helpful:
1) What to do if you’re tailspinning
It’s important to acknowledge that we all make mistakes. We fuck up. We’re human, and we should try not to judge ourselves too harshly - especially during one of the most difficult periods of our lives.
That said, the deeper you slip into tailspinning, the more you’ll be at risk of damaging the other relationships in your life, destroying opportunities you could otherwise have access to, and losing respect for yourself.
So if you find yourself succumbing to this pattern, it means that you need to take some action to restore stability and self-discipline in your life. You can join a group or community of some sort, hire a counselor to work with, or engage in an activity that helps ground you.
Strive to get clear on what your goals are. Doing so will provide you with greater purpose and direction because it will enable you to see what decisions and behaviors align with and will help you get closer to achieving those goals. (And, more often than not, those goal-driven decisions and behaviors will be drastically different from the ones commonly associated with tailspinning).
2) What to do if you’re blaming
You need to come to recognize and understand that blaming will get you nowhere. No matter how much you bitch and moan about someone else’s behavior, you cannot change it.
You’re solely accountable for your own shit. Your own responses and actions are all you can truly control, and they’re all that you should seek to control.
Even if your ex was at fault or fully to blame for your marriage falling apart, there isn’t really anything you can do about that. And dwelling on it won’t serve you.
Instead, redirect your energy toward personal growth. Focus on how you can improve or somehow become better. Because that’s something you and only you have the power to dictate.
Working to curate and determine who you want to be will be a process. Embrace it as your journey, and let go of who you want others to be.
3) What to do if you have a defeatist attitude or perspective
Possessing a negative attitude is self-defeating, in that it won’t enable you to attract the type of people into your world that could help you learn or grow. The energy that you put into the world attracts like energy. So if you aren’t careful, your attitude will serve to repel those very people you could most benefit from having in your life.
If you’re suffering from a pessimistic attitude, you need to shift it.
Give yourself some time to mourn the loss of your relationship. But once you’ve taken some time to process things, you can begin to shift your perspective and reframe the trauma of your divorce as an opportunity.
Nearly every tragedy in life has a flip side - and your ability to see that flip side depends on your attitude and perspective. (For more on this, I’d strongly encourage you to read Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl).
A divorce offers you a fresh start, a blank slate. Just imagine all of the boundless potential inherent in that. Not everyone gets this sort of opportunity - a transition point in their lives that they can leverage in order to reset, reassess what they want, and work to make it their new reality.
Adopting a gratitude practice, in which you regularly acknowledge all that you have and how appreciative you are of it, can also help shift your perspective and - over time - propel you into a happier state of being.
4) What to do if you lack confidence
Suffering from a lack of confidence can prevent you from moving forward, meeting new people, and living your life to the fullest.
If you’re struggling with confidence, go get some direction. Hire a coach. Obtain some guidance and support to help you rebuild your identity independent of your relationship with your ex.
Cultivating confidence is a skill. It’s not something we’re born with (as much as it may appear to be at times). Confidence takes practice.
Whenever we try out a new activity, for instance, we usually aren’t amazing at it right off the bat. But with time, practice, and continued effort, we gradually grow more comfortable with it. And with comfort comes confidence.
This may mean that you’ll need to get vulnerable. Admittedly, it feels terrifying to be vulnerable, especially if you’re coming off of a heartbreak. But that’s what you’ll ultimately need to do in order to fully put yourself out there and be able to find love with someone new.
Growing confidence will take courage. It will mean learning how to cultivate validation from within instead of seeking it externally from others. And it will be hard. But know that it’s possible and have faith that you can do it.
5) What to do if you no longer know who you are
You may need to go through the process of recreating, rebuilding, and rediscovering a new identity for yourself - which can be a scary, but also an empowering, process to go through.
Start by asking yourself the following questions which will help you begin cultivating your own, unique identity:
What do you love most about yourself?
What do you value and want to bring more of into your life?
What do you admire in or about others?
Once you’ve gotten a sense for the type of person you’d like to be, determine which habits you can begin to establish in your life that will allow you to embody that particular identity.
For instance, if you love serving others and want to build an identity around that, begin forming habits around contributing, volunteering, or doing things for other people.
The more actions you take and the more habits you establish that align with a particular identity, the more you’ll come to view yourself as embodying that identity.
Going through a divorce can be an incredibly disorienting and painful experience. It’s important to grant yourself some leeway during this time to grieve, to process and integrate what’s happened, and to recover.
However, if you find yourself struggling in one or more of these areas (or if someone you know appears to be), and particularly if you are engaging in behaviors that may be detrimental to yourself or others, I would highly recommend working with a coach to get yourself to a better place.
It’s entirely possible to thrive post-divorce. (I can personally attest to that).
If you’d like to learn how, reach out to book a free consultation with me and take control of your path forward.