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9 Tips to Rebuild Your Life After Divorce


When you get married, you make a decision to wrap your life around not only your own goals and dreams, but also the goals and dreams of your spouse and the goals and dreams you have as a couple. Divorce declares that decision null and void. So, when the marriage ends, what’s next? You have to move on, but where do you go and how?  


“Divorce shakes the whole foundation of your life and puts it on sand that blows in the wind,” said Joanie Winberg, author of “Rising to the Top: A Guide to Self Development.” Winberg became a single mom after a 20-year marriage. Her struggle to rebuild her life after divorce led her to become part of the newest coaching specialty — -life planning after divorce.  


Figuring out what’s next involves sifting through the rubble of your life to find out who you are now that you’re no longer part of a couple. “After a divorce, you have to reinvent yourself,” said Shelley Stile, a life coach who helps clients refocus their lives after divorce. “It’s a time of upheaval, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to understand what matters most to you as well as what causes you to stay stuck so you can go about creating a life around your own unique passions and strengths.”  


Planning a new life after divorce can sometimes feel like creating a road in the wilderness. Here are nine tips to keep your compass on true north.  


1. Work through your grief. 

Give yourself the gift of holding a sacred space for healing because there is no way to create a new life until you’ve let go of the old one. “A divorce is a death. It’s one of life’s great losses. People want to start creating their new life right away, but before they can move forward, they have to work through the denial, the grief, the anger, rage, and depression that are part of divorce recovery,” said Stile. A good therapist as well as a grief or divorce recovery support group can be invaluable. While Stile finds that her clients tend to start feeling better about life in six months to a year, it can take years to finish the grieving. “The single most difficult thing to do is to be able to fully accept what is versus what you think should be, could be or might have been,” Stile said.    


2. Recognize your survival mechanisms. 

In order to survive the difficulties of life, we develop ways of thinking that help us cope with disappointment and stay safe from hurt. “Survival mechanisms are all the ways you know how to be and get things done in your life,” said Accomplishment Coach Josh Miller. “They’re not necessarily good or bad, right or wrong. They’re a way to manage your present and move forward, but they aren’t the most empowering way to live your life.” Survival mechanisms include: whining instead of asking for what we want; being afraid to let people in; saying yes when we really mean no; being so busy figuring everything out that we’re never really present to the situation. Going through the pain of a divorce can add layers to those defense mechanisms. Become aware of the ways you hide from hurt and then tell them, “Thanks for the great job you’ve done protecting me from failure, disappointment, and rejection. But, right now, you’re keeping me from stepping outside my comfort zone and that’s where my goals are — outside my comfort zone.”    


3. Assess your talents. 

When you go through a divorce, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have going for you. However, your talents are the building blocks of your future life, so start focusing on what you do have. “Realize you have gold nuggets you were born with and focus on the good, rather than where you’ve failed,” said Winberg. Write down five things you love about yourself. “Now, look in the mirror and tell yourself you see those five things,” Winberg said. If you’re not sure where to start, ask friends to tell you three things they see in you. Also, check out “Strengths Finder” by Tom Rath, who leads Gallup’s workplace research and leadership consulting. The book comes with a link to an online assessment that determines your top five strengths.   


 4. Start living consciously. 

Survival mechanisms keep us unconscious because they hide who we really are. “When we start living on a very conscious level, we become aware of all the forces at play in our lives. We’re aware of how we really feel about things. Suddenly, we are making choices that are real choices based on our values, passions, and talents,” said Stile.  Ask yourself: What do I love doing? What special knowledge do I have? What would I regret never having done? If I could start with a clean slate today, what would I do with my life? “These are questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no,” said Stile. “They’re about discovering your authentic self and that’s where you need to go to develop a life plan that will have you excited to get up in the morning.”    


5. Write your own story. 

Write out what you’d like your life to look like in three years. If that seems too long, try envisioning where you’d like to be in six months to a year. Write about your finances, your career, your relationships, where you’re living and any BHAGs you have (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals). When you write, put in how you’re feeling and come from positives. For example, instead of saying, “I’ve dropped the lard I put on going through this divorce” try “I slip into my little black dress and give myself a wink.” Instead of “I’m traveling” try “I’ve just returned from Austria and the mountains were breathtaking.” The more feeling you put into the narrative, the more real it will become. “Figure out what makes your heart sing,” said Winberg. To keep yourself moving in the direction of your dreams, read your story first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Soon, resources and opportunities will show up.    



6. Develop a project for the future.  

Take  each objective and develop SMART goals to meet them. That is specific, measurable, achievable, results that have a time attached to them. Don’t overhaul your entire life at once. Try to have five to 10 goals you’re working on at any given time and let those be a mix of short term and long term so all your due dates aren’t at once. For example, maybe your story includes a dream about going back to school. Your SMART goal would be: By Fall 2009, I will be enrolled in a master’s degree program. Now, break that down into milestones. For example: by September 2008, I will have a list of six colleges that I’m interested in. By October I, I will have visited all the campuses and narrowed my selection down to three. By December 1, I will have applied to all three. And so forth. “Decide what rewards you want when you reach each milestone. Now, develop actions steps to help you get to the milestones,” said Miller. Make this fun and take baby steps. For example: go to the library to research schools that offer an ethics major.    


7. Plan for obstacles. 

When you’re not taking action you spend a lot of time feeling anxious and depressed. Yet, stuff will come up to get in the way of achieving your goals. So, what’s your back up plan for childcare? What are you going to do if you wake up feeling really down? Develop strategies to stay on track. “Put your attention on your intention,” said Stile.    


8. Deal with your fears. 

“Some of us are secure in the familiar. Even if it sucks, it’s my suckage,” said Stile. “One of the greatest sources of fear is stepping into the unknown. That will always frighten us. So, fear is the natural response in any new situation. That’s a good sign you are challenging the status quo.” When doubts arise, recognize that the gremlin sitting on your shoulder telling you ‘you’ve screwed up before what makes you think you can do it now?’ is not you. Remind yourself, “This means I’m moving forward.”


9. Take incredible care of yourself along the way. 

Reinventing yourself is very stressful. Be aware of the behavior patterns such as yelling that let you know you’ve drifted into the red zone. Then, ask what you need to do to take care of yourself — a cup of tea? A walk? “Spending just 10 minutes a day recharging your batteries makes a happier you,” said Winberg. “Rebuilding your life after divorce can be like trying to crawl out of a very deep, dark hole with the bank caving in,” said Winberg. “The good news is there is life on the other side.”  


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