Having a healthy divorce

Paula Hall

Getting divorced can lead to several mental and physical health problems, explains Paula Hall, relationship psychotherapist at charity Relate.

"Stress, anxiety, depression and panic attacks are not uncommon when people get divorced. This can affect sleep, which can cause tiredness, exhaustion and a lack of focus and concentration. There's a lot to think about during a divorce, particularly looking after children, telling your parents and dealing with their emotions, moving house, dividing possessions, setting up bank accounts and continuing your job.

"Even though you may not want to get divorced, there's a way of getting through it healthily rather than simply surviving it."

Paula identifies a strategy for coping, which includes seven crucial steps.

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1. Accept the reality of your situation

Accept that the marriage is over. Understand what went wrong and take your share of the responsibility, but only your share. Some people want to take all or none of the responsibility. Ask yourself questions about what happened, and try to understand what went on beneath the surface. For example, if the other person had an affair, try to understand what caused them to do that. Similarly, if you grew apart, think about how you've changed since you first met.

2. Manage your emotions

The most common emotions people experience during a divorce are grief, fear, anger, resentment, doubt, regret and guilt. At this early stage in particular, you need help and support from friends. You also need to give yourself time and space. Some techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can really help, such as changing negative thoughts and learning how to be optimistic.

3. Develop strategies for personal growth

Recognise your strengths and your weaknesses, and develop an action plan. The action plan involves setting goals. For example, if you know you'll struggle with loneliness, decide how you will deal with this. This will build your self-esteem and help you manage feelings, such as missing someone.

 4. Let friends and family help

Identify your support network. Think about the people who are already there for you. But also recognise that some relationships may be challenging, such as friends who will be hard to socialise with or a family member who might say, "I told you it’d never work." Think about the relationships you want to strengthen. If you’re fairly good friends with someone you work with, see them more often. Or maybe you could renew contact with someone who has been through a divorce.

5. Deal with money and practical matters

Think about your financial and practical resources and challenges. This might include how to release some of the equity in your house, or how you can make money during the free time you now have. It may also include things as simple as how to use a lawnmower or the washing machine, or how to cook for the children when they're staying with you. It’s often these practical things that make people feel they can’t cope.

6. Communicate effectively with your ex

This is another area that can cause a huge amount of stress. If you have children, learning to communicate effectively is very important. This involves trying not to get angry, managing your emotions and entering into conversations with a clear idea of what you want to achieve, without getting drawn into old arguments.

7. Set goals for the future

It's important to adopt the belief that "today is the first day of the rest of your life." This means being single, being satisfied, dating and finding love again, as well as realising your hopes, dreams and ambitions.

"Divorce can be devastating and painful," says Paula, "and there will be bad days. But negative thinking leads to negative emotions, which lead to bad health, so it’s important to think more positively on the good days."

Lastly, Paula is keen to stress the potential for a positive outcome. She says, "Divorce is an opportunity for change. There are lots of things you can’t do if you’re married. People compromise and put things to one side, such as hobbies or even careers. A divorce is an opportunity to think about the things you loved but might have let go of, while recognising that you can reshape your future."

Page last reviewed: 25/03/2013

Next review due: 25/03/2015

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Pusia2 said on 11 May 2014

thanks Cupel for pointing out that some partners are without responsibility. If you have worked to save your marriage but your partner wasn't interested and decided they didn't want to be married to you then surely this is where as you say there is no share to 'take responsibility for'?

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Cupel said on 29 November 2012

This article should also point out the adversarial nature of UK Divorce law with an Applicant and a Respondent. This means that the applicant is encouraged and obliged to place responsibility on their partner. It should also be noted that some partners are without any responsibility or fault and there is no share to 'take responsibility for'.

Most of the recommendations in this article rely on an understanding partner. Releasing equity from the former family home is no possible without the agreement of both parties.

Communicating effectively requires both parties to participate.

The think positive message applies equally to everything in life, and has no link to divorce.

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