In the words of Louis C.K., “Divorce is always good news . . . because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce.” True as that may be, it doesn’t make divorce any easier to deal with, no matter how short your marriage was.
It’s a fact of being in your 20s and 30s: a surprising number of your newly married friends start to get divorced. Despite going into it with the best intentions, many young couples split up after just a few years. You could argue that the end of a short marriage is on par with a bad breakup, but having been through both, I’d argue that divorce is more difficult, even if you’ve got no kids, no house, not even a dog.
After all, getting married results from a major decision to set your life on a certain course. It’s high profile, it’s public, you get gifts and congratulations, and you’re left with all sorts of physical mementos: a carefully chosen dress, extra invitations, photo albums. When the marriage comes to a screeching halt a few years later, you not only have to come to terms with your life not turning out the way you expected, but you also have to explain it to everyone watching.
Here are my tips on how to cope with a divorce after a short marriage ends:
1. You shouldn’t take it lightly.
Don’t take it lightly. Even if you don’t have child custody issues to resolve, divorce is never easy. The legal process still takes far longer than getting hitched, so acknowledge that divorce is a big deal. It will make it easier to get through later.
2. You need to sweat the small stuff first.
You’ll have plenty of to-dos to cross off the list right away: one of you will have to find a new place to live, you’ll have to inform your families, and there’s the not-minor task of grieving the relationship’s end. So unless you have a real reason to start the legal paperwork right away, wait a few months before hashing out the nitty-gritty.
3. Put away the mementos, but don’t destroy them forever!
For a long while, it’s going to be very difficult to look at your wedding photos, your engagement ring, and other remnants of your wedding. But don’t do anything rash. In 20 years, the pain will have lessened, and you might look back on that wedding album and that beautiful ring fondly.
4. You’ll probably need to change the scene.
Change up your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and join the Peace Corps. You may even want to stay put in the very same house where you made your married life. But make it your own. Move around some furniture, hang some new photos, and decorate in ways your partner might have objected to – even if that means simply having the whole couch to yourself. Surround yourself with photos and objects that make you feel good.
5. Break the news gradually.
There is no rule about announcing your divorce, so do it when you’re ready. If you can, talk to your partner about who will break the news to your mutual friends, and make sure those closest to you know as soon as you can bring yourself to tell them. For acquaintances, co-workers, and other far-off friends, it’s OK to let the news spread slowly rather than start every conversation with it.
6. It’s OK to give yourself a break.
It’s natural to feel a lot of guilt, even if the divorce wasn’t your idea. You might feel guilty that your friends spent money to come to the wedding. You’ll feel sad that your spouse’s family welcomed you into their lives. You’ll feel bad about yourself when you do stupid things like drink too much – and you will do stupid things – but give yourself a break. Recognize that you are going through a hard time and you will make some mistakes and it’s OK, at least for a little while.
It’s OK to play the divorce card every so often. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, favors, or small allowances from friends and co-workers. Obviously, you don’t want to overplay this card so much that you become annoying, but taking a few personal days here and there or reminding friends why you don’t seem like yourself is perfectly OK.
7. Reconnect with loved ones.
Rather than taking a vacation by yourself or moping around your apartment, plan a trip to visit a good friend or your family. Not only will it be comforting to talk to people who really understand you, but spending time with people who knew you before your marriage will help you reconnect with the things you value about yourself, as an individual.
8. You’ll want to stay busy but not too busy.
Time alone after any breakup can get pretty lonely, especially if you’re used to sharing a bed, and many people find their attention spans are even shorter than usual after a life upheaval. Make sure you have plenty of healthy activities to keep you from wallowing in your sorrows. But don’t distract yourself so much with vices – be they drinking, drugs, or promiscuous sex – that you can’t let yourself be sad sometimes. Sadness is inevitably part of the process.
9. Now’s the time to reconnect with yourself.
One perk of being single? You are your own boss. You can make decisions without consulting anyone else and do what you want to do. Immerse yourself in favorite activities and friends from your “before” life and remember that you are a valuable person in your own right, even if you are divorced.
In addition, don’t stress too much about the future; instead, reset your priorities to where they were before you fell in love. Having your marriage fall apart can leave you asking all kinds of questions about your future, but just as when you were single, trying to fit your life into a timeline of dating, marriage, and kids will only make you feel worse. Remind yourself that for a little while, all you can do is what you’re ready to do.