Support When Dealing with Divorce

December 15, 2021

Support When Dealing with Divorce

Going through a separation or divorce can be very difficult, no matter the reason for it. It can feel like your world is being turned upside down. It can distract from work, family, and friends. People’s emotions can range from guilt, to relief, to grief and more.

JF&CS Clinician, Dr. Helen Ann Kotler has been helping people get through marital issues and divorce for 34 years. She has been working with couples at JF&CS for 15 years, she has been helping those struggling to get through a divorce with an Uncoupling Support Group since 2007.

We talked to Helen about how to move forward after a hard break-up or divorce. “It’s really individualized, how someone will react,” she says. “I don’t like to generalize about it. It all depends on the person, but the Uncoupling Support Group can help people to move beyond the break-up of the couple or family."

Even though each situation is different, there are things Helen suggests that help people through this difficult adjustment:

Recognize that it’s OK to have different feelings. 

It’s normal to feel sad, angry, exhausted, frustrated or confused—and these feelings can be intense. You also may feel anxious about the future. Accept that reactions like these will lessen over time. Even if the marriage was unhealthy or abusive, venturing into the unknown is frightening.

“First, most people have to deal with the shock. People must come to terms with breaking up the family or that the spouse doesn’t want them anymore or just their new situation. That can be extremely painful,” says Helen. “It takes time to deal with the pain and to heal. It can be like grief but you’re grieving the end of the life you have been living.”

As with grief, there are no wrong emotions. Each person has to live with the emotions they have and work through them. It may feel like it will take forever, but it’s a process.

Take time to heal. 

“People have to be self-caring and try to get rid of their anger and anxiety about the future,” says Helen. “People need to give themselves permission to feel and for it to affect them for a period. No one is superman or superwoman; take time to heal, regroup and re-energize.”

“I would love to tell people, ‘Just wait two weeks and you’ll be better.’ But it’s a lot slower than that. It takes baby steps,” says Helen. “I always tell people, though it’s hard to digest at the time, ‘you’re not alone. You have yourself.’”

She goes on to say, “To me that means that you may not be a part of a couple anymore but that doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your identity. Your insights, personality, who you are belong to you [and not your ex]. You have yourself and you can go on and have a life. I’m not saying it’s not painful or it’s not hard. But you have to survive and be easy on yourself.”

Concentrate on You and Your Interests

Many therapists suggest that you take some time off and be good to yourself and to your body. Exercise. Eat well. Relax. Reconnect with things you enjoy doing apart from your spouse. Invest time in your hobbies, volunteer, or take time to enjoy life and make new friends.

“I’m not saying to be selfish,” says Helen. “But people need to look forward and create a future for themselves. You can take a course on something that interests you. Go back to school and get a degree. Apply for a new job. There are a lot of things people can do. It can help people to work on themselves.”

Don’t go through this alone. 

Sharing your feelings with friends and family can help you get through this period. Consider joining a support group, like the one Helen initiated and co-facilitates at JF&CS. Everyone needs a place where you can talk to others in a similar situation. Isolating yourself can raise your stress levels, reduce your concentration, and get in the way of your work, relationships, and overall health. Don’t be afraid to get outside help if you need it.

“Therapy can be a great way to take care of yourself. It can help to find a space where you can say what you don’t want to tell friends and family,” says Helen. A therapist will also look at health wholistically. “A therapist might ask if you’re eating healthy, drinking enough water, as well as being mentally healthy. A therapy session or group session is a place where a person can let everything out.”

It also helps that therapy is totally confidential. For people who don’t want to talk about a separation or divorce in front of the kids, it can be tough to find a space to express themselves. Some people see therapy as time away from the world, where they can feel safe and not judged.

Don’t Start Dating Before You Are Ready

“It’s hard to know when you’re ready,” says Helen. “But I think first you have to be comfortable with yourself. Then you can be comfortable being with other people.”

“If you’re ready, the key will be not to get too immersed in another person. Someone shouldn’t date because they want someone to lean on, or to protect them, or to support them. Those are the wrong reasons. Instead, they should look inside and decide when they’re ready because they are comfortable with themselves and want the companionship of being a couple.”

When you have built up your self-confidence, are healed and feel ready, Helen recommends getting out and joining groups where you can meet new friends. Singles groups, lectures, parties are all great places where you can meet lots of people. As Helen puts it, “You have to be over the past in order to live in the present and think about the future.”

Think positively. 

Easier said than done, right? Things may not be the same, but finding new activities and friends, and moving forward with reasonable expectations will make this transition easier. Be flexible. Do the things that make you happy. “If you want to have a spa day, do it. If you want to learn French because you want to take a trip, I say do it,” says Helen.

If you have children, family traditions will still be important but some of them may need to be adjusted. Help create new family activities. If you’re feeling down, especially during holidays, seek out friends, a therapist, or a support group. You’re not alone.

If you would like to talk with a therapist about your relationship or break-up, you can talk with someone one on one by calling 770-677-9474. If you’d like to join the Uncoupling Support Group, you can call Dr. Kotler at 404-210-9571 or Julie Zeff at 619-818-6917.

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