Divorce doesn’t happen overnight and neither does getting over it.
Just when you think you’re through the worst, something happens to set you back or challenge you. You bump into your ex in the street, a song comes on the radio that you both loved, your eldest asks you if you’re going to marry Mummy again, and you get a kick in the guts.
Some of these moments will take you by surprise, but there are some divorce milestones you can mentally prepare for because they’re really likely to happen. One day. As you tick each one off, congratulate yourself, you’re a step further in your new life and it’s an adventure!
You move out/ they move out
This is a massive step to physically separating. If you’ve been living together since the decision to separate, this may come as a big relief. For some it’s also a very sad day. If you’re doing the moving out, it can be a wrench to leave your erstwhile home. If you’re the one staying, it can feel very lonely and empty with all that extra space.
As we’ve just said, try to think of it as the start of a new life or even an adventure. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for you both. Think of ways you can be creative to make your new place the exact way you want it. No compromises necessary!
Selling the house
How you feel about this depends on how much emotion you invest in bricks and mortar. For some this can be a symbolic and liberating move forward, for others a sad day as you bid goodbye to the home you lovingly decorated and restored and worked hard on.
I met a couple once who had stalled their separation for years because they couldn’t stomach losing their house that they loved so much. All the love was in the house with very little for each other, it was very sad. If you do have to sell up, it’s probably because you don’t have a choice, so bid it a fond farewell and look forward to a new space you can make your own.
Closing the joint account, opening accounts in sole names, paying off the credit cards, selling joint assets. They’re all steps to becoming independent, individual, single people. Dealing with any of the financial nitty gritty can be a minefield, but once you’re past this milestone, it feels good.
Agree financial settlement
Aaaggh! It’s minging! Tick this phase off and flick it the V as you go past.
First kids visit
The ex’s first visit, or your first visit from the kids can be a very bittersweet time. Great to see them, yet it tugs at the heart if they’re asking you all the difficult questions and if they tell you how much they miss you.
It gets easier every time, although as any parent single or not knows, the parental guilt never quite leaves you. Just try not to beat yourself up too hard, if you’re giving them all the love you can, that’s the best you can do right now.
Each birthday is a milestone.
There’s your ex’s – if you’re at the civil end of the spectrum with your divorce, do you send a card? A gift even? Or do you just mark the day in your own way.
What about your birthday? It’s odd to be apart for many, some find it difficult to think that it’s not where you wanted to be at this point in your life. Try and find a way to be around people you love and do something you enjoy.
Kids birthdays are never quite the same. For some (usually Dads) you may not even see your kids on their birthday particularly if they’re not living nearby and it’s a weekday. But there’s always Skype, the phone and the chance to make up for it when you next see them.
Christmas can be a difficult time for divorcees even years after the event. If there are kids involved there will always be a certain amount of negotiating around this time of year. But even if there aren’t, your first Christmas after separation is quite a landmark. You’ll be letting go of some traditions and long term will start new ones. Try and spend this one with other people if you can, or it can be a pretty gloomy affair.
Divorce comes through
Yeah yeah, it’s only a bit of paper. Still feels weird though! Crack open a bottle of bubbly, call your mates, burn a wedding photo, whatever it takes to mark the day. That bit of paper marks a key point in the process and for some is the final signal they need that it’s OK to move on and maybe find someone else now.
The ex has met someone else. Not always welcome news, but tends to happen after divorce. This can bring with it a whole host of questions and issues particularly when it involves the kids, but in the immediate wake of the news, you might feel relieved, sad, jealous or just want to know that they have picked someone older/ less attractive/ less vibrant than you! All of which your good friends will give you reassurance on if they know what’s good for them!
If you’re the one that’s met someone else, congratulations! But just because you meet someone else, don’t be surprised if you still have a complex or difficult relationship with your ex. The two relationships are mutually exclusive and one doesn’t solve the problems of the other – in fact it can do quite the opposite!
Introducing the someone-else to the kids is also a milestone. It needs to be done sensitively on both sides. Even if you intensely dislike your ex’s new partner, try to act with grace and dignity when it comes to your kids meeting with them, as it makes it easier for everyone (see How to minimise the effects of the divorce on the children).
Ring finger goes back to normal
This was one I heard about the other day and I really liked it as a milestone. A divorced man looked down at his finger and suddenly realised the years of indentation in his finger and the white line caused by wearing his wedding ring had finally gone. It took about 6 months for him, but symbolised another milestone for his divorce.
The day you stop crying
My friend cried every day and wondered if the tears would ever end and on the first day she did not cry, it was a really massive moment thinking as she became confident that things were getting better.
The day you wake up looking forward to your day
One day you at some point, you wake and are actually looking forward to the day thinking, “I like my life”. It is amazing to feel this again after such a long and intense period of grief. To make this happen you do have to invest in yourself by building relationships and interests, so that you can have things to look forward to.
Your first holiday alone
If most of your friends are in couples, you may find yourself having to holiday alone. Some people dread the thought of travelling solo. Perhaps you are worried about how you will cope, about whether you will have no one to talk to or even if people will pity you for drinking your holiday cocktails on your lonesome.
However, it is great to get away and get some sunshine (or snow if that is what you prefer). Think of it as an adventure where you will get to do whatever you choose. If not, there are some great tours for people who are travelling on their own. Once you realise you can take this step on your own and have fun, it really is a confidence booster.
Feeling nothing when you see your ex
Congratulations! This is a happy day. Once you’ve got past the anger, pain, recriminations, bitterness, guilt, hate, and any other dark feelings towards your ex, you get to this lovely stage where it just doesn’t matter anymore. You can look at your ex without feeling strong emotion – maybe you even wish them good things in life. If you’ve hit this stage, you probably don’t need this website anymore and we hope we can get you there!
Lucy Davis is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and a TV Producer. She divorced 7 years ago. She is a passionate advocate for exploring the potential for change and creativity that can result from the trauma of divorce.