Getting Through Divorce: Hurting, Healing, And Moving On

Updated April 4, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is the second highest stressor people experience, second to the death of a spouse. Regardless of how good or bad your marriage was or how long it lasted, getting through a divorce can be emotionally exhausting. Healing from divorce doesn’t happen overnight, but most people do eventually move on. Examining the stages of emotions you may experience, and tips for strengthening your resilience, can help.

The divorce process can be emotionally exhausting

How long does it take to get over divorce?

The process of getting over a divorce is different for everyone, and there is no “normal” timeframe in which you must move on. However, many people experience a sense of grieving that is worst within the first 6 months of divorce and lasts for around 2 years. There are many factors that can affect the time it may take for you to recover, including the following: 

Duration of the relationship

A character from Sex and the City, Charlotte York, once memorably proclaimed that it takes half the time of a relationship’s duration to get over your ex. But this is not accurate. On average, studies support that it takes 3 months to 2 years to recover from divorce. In practice, the time it takes to recover from divorce varies widely, from weeks to a lifetime. 

How much of your life was shared

What can complicate the smoothness of your recovery is the degree to which your lives are intertwined through things like children and finances. If you share many things, you may have to go through each one and determine who gets what, which can impart more emotional strain and stress. 

Your perception of the marriage

If you were unhappy with your marriage, you may be ready to move on. However, if you are still in love with your ex, it may take longer to grieve the end of your marriage.  

Your finances 

Going through a divorce can be expensive, and finances are a major contributor to divorce-related stress. If you have a higher income level, you have more options when it comes to your divorce and recovery. 

Your mental health

Attachment anxiety can predict poor outcomes after divorce. Many people with high attachment anxiety may attempt to reunite with an ex-spouse and find it easy to become preoccupied by their divorce. Studies show that these individuals are the most likely to ruminate on their relationship and experience large blood pressure spikes when contemplating their divorce. 

It’s impossible to predict how long it will take you to get over your divorce, but there are some things you can focus on, like accepting help from your support system, focusing on positive self-talk, avoiding placing blame, forgiving yourself and your ex for wrongdoings, and giving yourself the space and compassion for grief.

The stages of grieving your marriage

Recovering from a divorce is a process that can be like grieving the death of a loved one. Though grieving can be emotionally intense and painful, it is often an essential part of long-term recovery. Most people experience the following grieving stages, though not always in the same order: 

Shock and denial

If you experience this stage of grief, you may: 

  • Feel emotionally numb and glide through routines without much thought

  • Notice that activities you used to enjoy are no longer meaningful

  • Hope that your spouse will change their mind and want to get back together 

  • Be unable to consider the future without your ex

  • Deny conflict that existed in your marriage 

During this stage, the loss of your marriage does not seem real or possible. 

Anger

In this phase, you may be:

  • Harboring anger towards your ex-spouse for leaving the marriage

  • Hoping that your ex is suffering

  • Mad at yourself for your role in causing the end of the marriage

  • Ruminating on problems during the marriage 

  • Experiencing symptoms of depression

Anger is often an attempt to regain control of a situation that feels helpless

Loneliness

After sharing a life with your spouse, you may feel the loss of their company. For example, you might feel: 

  • As though there is an empty space in your existence 

  • The loss of support you received from them

  • Isolated from others 

Loneliness is a normal part of grief, but there are some things you can do to ease the pain. For example, you might want to join a support group, spend more time with people you love, and take time to strengthen your relationship with yourself. 

Acceptance 

During the final phase of grief, you reach acceptance. At this point, you’ve gained closure and can: 

  • Release the past from preoccupying your mind

  • Let go of resentment

  • Develop a social life and relationships with new people

  • Look forward to the future and embrace the present

Healing takes time and looks different for everyone, but it is often helpful to work with a therapist.

How to build resilience in the face of divorce

It is normal for divorce to stir up strong emotions, but, you will not be left grieving forever. There are many strategies that may help you recover from your divorce and build stronger resiliency in the face of major life stressors. You can start incorporating many of the following recommendations into your life immediately: 

Emphasize cooperation and communication

While you are going through the process of a divorce, you and your spouse may both be experiencing sadness, grief, anger, resentment, and other strong emotions. However, especially if you share children and will be co-parenting, you will need to be able to communicate effectively. Instead of undergoing courtroom proceedings, the American Psychological Association advises seeking help from a mediator. They can be useful when you’re dividing assets, arranging custody and visitation schedules, and handling other logistical aspects of divorce. Research demonstrates that mediation may reduce divorce-related stress and improve emotional satisfaction and your relationship with your ex-spouse. 

Focus on self-compassion

Self-compassion, or the process of gently uplifting and encouraging yourself in the face of challenges, can markedly help you recover from divorce. Research from the University of Arizona found that self-compassion is positively associated with lower divorce-related emotional stress

There are many strategies to help you improve your self-compassion, including

  • Write a non-judgmental, blame-free letter to yourself about your divorce and what happened.

  • Talk to yourself the same way you’d talk to a close friend.

  • Try mindfulness.

  • Do something to improve how your body is feeling. For example, take a bath, go on a walk, take a nap, eat a nutritious meal, or stretch.

Self-compassion is something you can train yourself to do, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. People who practice self-compassion tend to have lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress during difficult times.  

Don’t compare yourself to others

It can be tempting to look at your friend’s happy marriage and wonder if you’ll ever have that, but, these comparisons can lead to envy, resentment, dwelling on the negative, and lower self-confidence. Studies find that social comparison can contribute to negative self-evaluation, depression, and low self-esteem. Instead, be happy for your friend, and work on caring for yourself, accepting where you are in life, reducing your use of social media, and stopping the toxic “shoulding” thoughts.  

Instill healthy lifestyle habits

Routine, moderate-intensity exercise improves both mental and physical health. In addition to releasing feel-good hormones, it improves circulation to the brain, and promotes body awareness. Studies show that exercise reduces levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and low mood while improving cognitive functioning and self-esteem. To achieve these mental health benefits, you do not need to be an athlete. Research has found that 3 days per week of moderate-intensity exercise, like jogging, for 30 minutes is sufficient. 

Other types of self-care that improve mental health and resilience in the face of divorce include eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep each night, practicing meditation or mindfulness, emphasizing positive self-talk, and maintaining social connections.  

Practice gratitude

Many studies provide evidence that practicing conscientious gratitude can reduce stress and improve your physical and mental health. Being thankful for what you have and what you learned in your marriage, even during the turbulence of divorce, can help you improve your outlook on life, make new friends, and reduce unhealthy emotions

You can focus on your gratitude for small things, like the person who held the door open for you, or for big things, like the love you have for your child. Many people incorporate gratitude in their journal entries, in meditation or prayer practice, or as a mealtime or bedtime moment of reflection. 

Speak with a therapist

Divorce can be a traumatic experience, and research supports that trauma-centered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve symptoms of depression and increase quality of life. Additionally, it’s both cost-effective and time efficient. During CBT sessions, therapists work with their clients to challenge maladaptive automatic thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors to build healthier coping mechanisms. 

If you’d prefer working with a therapist from the comfort and safe space of your own home, you can always try online therapy. Online platforms, like Regain, offer CBT from licensed professionals who specialize in divorce and divorce-related stress. A 2017 review found that online CBT is effective in addressing a wide range of mental health challenges, including depression, chronic stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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The divorce process can be emotionally exhausting

Takeaway

Divorce is a major life stressor that takes time to recover from. You may find it helpful to know the stages of grief and complicating factors that can impact the time it takes you to heal. Your grieving process is unique, but you are not alone. Adopting some strategies to build resiliency, like incorporating self-compassion and self-care techniques into your daily routine, may make this stressful period in life more manageable.  

Many people find online therapy to be a helpful resource when they’re going through divorce. It can help you establish healthier coping mechanisms, and it’s shown to effectively improve anxiety, depression, stress, self-esteem, and quality of life.

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