Can I be happy after divorce?
One of the most common concerns for people going through a relationship breakdown is, “Can I be happy after divorce?”. Peter recalled “I felt so low I could hardly get out of bed, and all the things I used to enjoy, felt pointless. I wondered if I could ever be happy again after this draining divorce”.
Peter did find happiness after his divorce, although it took time, “It was really gradual. One big moment was noticing that I laughed and then I thought, “Hey, I can still find things funny!” and these moments just got more frequent”. It was not plain sailing though, “Some days I felt worse again, like when I found out that my ex was dating someone new, but overall things got better.”
So how do you find happiness after divorce?
There is a lot of research about grieving and recovering from break-ups. Perhaps one of the best studies found from Stanford University . They found that how quickly you recovered depended on how many additional stressors you had in your life, and what coping strategies you had.
It is hard to avoid some stressors but you can work on your coping strategies.
What this study found about coping strategies was actually quite suprising. They found that talking about your problems could actually make things worse! Talking too much and repeatedly about how low you feel can lead to you focusing too much on this horrible time.
Talking to people who you think do not understand what you are going through can also increase stress. It is important for people to know that the way they feel is normal but without focusing on their own expereince the whole time. This is why you should come to one of our Divorce Club Events which you can find here!
So what are the adaptive coping strategies that can help us be happy after divorce?
According to bereavement expert Nolen-Hoeksema, adaptive coping involves “doing things that renew your sense of control and take your mind away from your worries for a short time. People typically use things like sports or hobbies or going somewhere with a friend, such as to a movie or shopping,” she said. “A little bit of distraction leads to more motivation to do more pleasant activities. You can start small and build.”
Ineffective coping strategies, include distracting behavior that is reckless:drinking alcohol, casual sex and other risky behaviours. Another unhelpful strategy, (which is also the one we are most likely to do), is sitting home and thinking, “I just don’t have the strength to do anything,”. All that happens if you stay at home, alone and without distraction is that you go back over the same distressing thoughts without actually doing anything to relieve your low mood. This is known as passive rumination and unsuprisingly, those who engage in passive rumination will remain depressed for longer.
So is talking bad for you?
No! It is important to talk about what is going on. People who just try and shut it out, end up ruminating more. Men have typically been the ones prone to finding happiness more slowly as they are less likely to talk about what has happened to them, particularly if their wife was the only ones they used to talk to about their problems.
The important point is that you must balance talking, with also doing other activities which can give you a break from thinking about how bad you feel. And when you do talk, pick people who will understand you, and even a therapist who can stop the talk becoming passive rumination, and instead be a helpful perspective that can set you on the path to feeling happy again.
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.