Self-Care Tips for When You’re Going Through a Divorce

Self-Care Tips for When You're Going Through a Divorce

Take Care

The nature of the relationship between divorcing couples tends to fall anywhere on the range from amicable to highly contentious, but regardless of the dynamic, going through divorce is never easy. Self-care and social support are critically important areas for divorcing spouses to focus their attention on as they navigate such a challenging time. 

As a therapist and breakup recovery coach, I like to walk my clients through the process of building self-care routines that can help aid in the recovery and healing process after a breakup or divorce.

Creating a List of Self-Care Activities

In my work with breakup recovery clients, I like to encourage you to create a list of self-care activities (I also like to call these “feel good” activities) that are diverse enough that you are able to engage in at least one activity from that list every single day. 

The reason why it’s important to have a diverse list is so that you can set yourself up for self-care success. It’s so easy to push off self-care when you’re going through a divorce, especially if you have a family. But it’s imperative that you remember to set aside time for yourself. 

I ask that clients are thoughtful about including activities that are in-home and some that take place out of the home; ones that are free and others that cost money; some that are outside and some that take place indoors; activities that require other peoples’ involvement and others that are solo activities, and so on. 

It might sound impossible to engage in self-care on a daily basis, but when you make a self-care list that is as diverse as possible, you are able to come up with activities that are appropriate regardless of the time of day or how much free time is available. 

For example, activities such as taking a long shower or watching a TV show can be done from the comfort of your home. Actions such as listening to music by your favorite artist or engaging in breathing exercises can occur at work. Going on a trip or out to dinner with friends require more planning and money than some other activities, but might still be appropriate for your self-care list. 

Anything that brings you joy and makes you feel good belongs on this list. 

[For more on creating a self-care plan, see: A Self-Care Plan to Cultivate Calm]

Establishing & Building Your Social Support

Social support is extremely important when going through any challenging experience, including divorce. Seeking support from friends, family, and/or a therapist are all good options, as is joining online support groups for people experiencing divorce. 

While you may find that you’ve lost some friends due to people taking sides or maybe you’ve lost touch with friends during your marriage and find you don’t have as many as you’d like, focusing on maintaining and rebuilding important relationships is a great way to ensure you have the support necessary to navigate and recover from a divorce.

Your support system can help you maintain your self-care activities, check-in and offer support when you are experiencing a more difficult day, offer encouragement, offer distraction, and help you work through your healing journey.

If now is the time when you are realizing that your friendships could use a little growth work of their own, check out these articles for tips on building healthy relationships:
The Importance of Healthy Friendships 
Feeling Lonely? How to Find True Friendship in a Frantic World.

Practicing Self-Care for Big Emotions

Big emotions are bound to spike during the divorce process and that can make it difficult to communicate effectively. Some divorce methods, such as Collaborative Divorce, have a mental health professional involved to help address these kinds of situations in the moment, but in other situations, you may feel more alone in terms of managing your emotions. 

Remember, divorce is a process and while there may be an urgency felt to settle the issues as quickly as possible, you are better off taking time to cool down and revisit the contentious issue, rather than making decisions while emotions are ramped up. 

Self-soothing is extremely important when it comes to managing emotions. Self-talk, such as telling yourself that this difficult period will pass or that you’ve been through other hard times and survived, can be extremely helpful, as are breathing exercises, such as inhaling through your nose, pausing for a few seconds, and slowly exhaling through your mouth. 

These are self-care activities you can engage in on the spot or immediately after divorce-related conversations or milestones.  

Feeling big emotions is part of being human, and it's important that you allow yourself the space to work through them. Emotional Self Care When Your Life is Falling Apart and It's Okay to Cry: How to Handle Big Emotions each share how to work through these big emotions while supporting yourself. 

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Managing Anxiety Around Rebuilding Your Life

Anxiety about the unknown surrounding life post-divorce is completely normal. People tend to try to eliminate the “bad” emotions as quickly as possible because they can feel so uncomfortable, but they are absolutely normal responses, and the sooner we allow ourselves to acknowledge them and even indulge them, the sooner we’re able to move through them. 

Self-talk can really make or break things and you have a huge amount of power during this process by choosing what kinds of thoughts you’d like to feed yourself. The anxiety-ridden thoughts are probably going to come to mind more easily, so it can be helpful to create a list of positive changes that are occurring as a result of the divorce so you can revisit that list when you feel bogged down by the anxiety.

I am a firm believer that crisis points often lead to opportunity and that nothing is 100% good or 100% bad, so when you feel ready, as strange as it might sound, I encourage you to contemplate the silver lining and the new opportunities that could come your way as a result of the divorce and capture that list in the notepad in your phone so you can continue to add it it as new ideas come to mind. 

Working Through Divorce Stages of Grief

When going through a divorce, it can feel like everything is falling apart. Rest assured, this feeling is not permanent, but there is validity to it. Navigating the Post-Divorce Stages of Grief can feel really scary, unstable, and uncertain. I strongly encourage you to treat this end of the relationship as a death because when we allow ourselves to frame our experience in that way, we also tend to be more gentle on ourselves and give ourselves permission to grieve in many of the ways we would if we suffered an actual death. The reality is, the end of a marriage is a death, and it’s okay if you are struggling to take care of yourself. 

The best course of action is to do one small self-care activity each day and not think too far ahead because the recovery process can feel too daunting. If that means that today you were able to get up and take a shower but not muster much else, that’s okay. Acknowledge small efforts to yourself and you will find that the efforts eventually build and build until you’ve developed a new normal. 

Perhaps most importantly, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Friends and family are often waiting in the wings to step in and help, but might not know that you’re suffering unless you communicate that to them. Likewise, therapists are always available to help support you during these difficult times, so reach out!

If you are going through a divorce or breakup, I recommend the book, How to Survive the Loss of a Love to help you on your healing journey. 

Dr. Rachel

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

Dr. Rachel Merlin is a relationship coach and marriage and family therapist who assists couples and individuals in transforming their lives by creating more satisfying relationships.



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Healing After Infidelity

The Pain of Infidelity

Is it true that the pain of infidelity never goes away? Is it possible to get over infidelity pain? What does the road to healing look like after infidelity? As a Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Relationship Coach, I have couples come to me looking for help through the process of healing after infidelity. They often ask questions similar to above – and it’s true – infidelity recovery is a long road, but for couples who put the work into the relationship it can be healed. 

It is NOT true that pain caused by infidelity never goes away. Like with any trauma, it has an impact on someone’s life, and regardless of whether the relationship is repaired or not, healing from the trauma is absolutely doable [see more on Post Traumatic Growth here]. 

To move past infidelity pain, it is important to talk through and process the event. For couples who choose to repair and rebuild the relationship, it is important for them to understand that their previous relationship needs to be grieved because the relationship as they once knew it no longer exists after such a significant breach of trust. 

Couples often wish they could “go back to the way things used to be,” but I always like to remind couples that “the way things used to be” actually didn’t work for them. Instead, through couples counseling work, you can create a new, more effective, healthy, and satisfying relationship. Most couples who successfully achieve healing after an affair report that their relationship is stronger and more connected than it ever was before the affair took place. 

The work that is done during the affair healing process allows couples to evaluate all areas of their relationship and to pull what worked into their “new” relationship, and to address and “fix” the areas that were not as effective. 

Falling Out of Love After Infidelity

But what do you do if the trauma of infidelity has impacted your relationship to what feels like the point of no return? Or, what if the affair itself has brought to light major discrepancies in your relationship that has completely changed your outlook on your partnership? In my work with individual therapy clients, clients who have experienced an affair in their partnership have questions like, “I don’t think I’m in love with my partner anymore – is it possible to forgive them/myself and recover what we once had?” And,  “When do I know it’s time to move on?”

A great way to know when it’s time to move on is if your partner is unwilling to be patient and participate in this process. It isn’t easy, but it is possible and requires both partners to be invested in the healing process. It is absolutely normal for either couple to experience frustration and even hopelessness at times during the healing process because it can feel like a never-ending issue. At times, it can be very difficult for the spouses to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the healing process requires that couples trust their therapist to guide them through it. 

What you may be feeling right now is completely and totally okay, and the only way to move forward together is to process these emotions and work through healing together. As I mentioned above, many couples who successfully achieve healing after an affair report that their relationship is stronger and more connected than ever before. 

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Infidelity and Divorce

Should divorce be the route a couple decides to take, there are less damaging options for divorce than the traditional litigation route, such as the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Process is an alternative dispute resolution method in which two attorneys, and in most cases, a financial professional and a mental health professional, work together as a team to help a couple separate legally, financially, and emotionally. 

Alternatively, couples can explore mediation, which allows couples to find resolution with the help of a third-party mediator. Both of these alternatives to traditional litigation allow the couple to stay out of court, which is beneficial to the family for a number of reasons, and they grant the couple more autonomy in creating marital settlement agreements that are specific to their unique family needs. 

[If you would like to read more on your options when it comes to divorce, read: Considering Divorce? Or Is There Still Hope?]

Infidelity Recovery Stages

So what does the road to recovery look like after infidelity? What can you and your partner expect in couples counseling and throughout the healing process? Typically, the partner who has been cheated on has many questions, and it is important for them to grasp the entire situation and have all of their questions answered. The healing process requires that the person who has been unfaithful to answer all of their spouse’s questions with the exception of details about sexual encounters. 

The spouse who has been cheated on needs to feel like their pain and experience is thoroughly heard and understood by their partner. Inevitably, frustrations occur during this time because the person who cheated is eager to move past the situation, and oftentimes, the same questions or triggers need to be addressed over and over again. 

After the spouse who has been cheated on feels completely understood by their partner, it is time to switch roles and hear from the spouse who has cheated. There are often concrete reasons that led to the infidelity, and it is during this time that many of the areas in need of “fixing” come up so that this issue can be prevented in the future. 

Finally, the couple develops new rules so that the relationship can function better. For example, one spouse might ask the other to change their phone number/email address so that there is no way for the affair partner to contact the spouse. They also might decide that they will carve out time for a date once a week and make the appropriate arrangements, like for childcare, to support that new rule.

Ultimately, it is up to each spouse to determine whether they want to repair the relationship and whether they are willing to put in the effort that is required to accomplish that goal. Healing is possible, regardless of the path the relationship takes. 

Wishing you the best, 
Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed

For more on Daring to Trust again after a breakup or divorce, see: Daring to Trust Again

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed, is a relationship coach and marriage and family therapist who assists couples and individuals in transforming their lives by creating more satisfying relationships.

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