Divorce during midlife can seem like a bad dream that only happened to other people. The emotional roller-coaster and stress of the unknown means that even rational people make mistakes with profound consequences. And when divorce is mixed in with midlife events that are already stressing you out, such as retirement or sick parents, you may think you will suffer a nervous breakdown before the dust settles.
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. Although overwhelm and confusion during divorce is normal, it is important to avoid the common midlife divorce mistakes that can negatively impact your future. Doing so can help save your sanity and assist you as you navigate the process in a healthy manner, enabling you to move on with your life.
Not Looking at the Big Picture
One of the reasons that midlife divorce feels so awful is because we were never taught how to plan for it. It’s interesting. Financial advisors have preached saving for retirement since the day we started working. Doctors have been telling us to take care of ourselves so we will feel better as we age. So why, when divorce comes our way, don’t we apply those same principles?
Instead of asking ourselves, “What are the biggest challenges I need to overcome right now? What’s the game plan? Where do I want to be in a year with this divorce and how can I get there?” we stumble through the days and months, reacting to events instead of calmly planning for them. It’s no wonder why we feel like we no longer control our own life.
Focusing on what you want and where you want to be in smaller, more manageable segments (such as one month, three months, six months, etc.) and taking the smaller steps needed to get there leaves you with bigger dividends instead of leaving you struggling to make it through the day. This method can also help plan for contingencies and worst-case scenarios so you don’t feel like the world is ending if things get ugly during the divorce.
Letting Emotions Guide Your Decisions
When you strip away the stress and the drama that comes with divorcing at midlife, the split is a business transaction: dividing assets and debts and then moving on with your life. This idea does not minimize the life and family you spent years nurturing, but it’s absolutely critical to keep those emotions at bay when dealing with the business of divorce.
It is human to make emotional decisions. In divorce, we do so because we are hurting: we deal with emotions by projecting that pain onto business decisions. We fight and over-react because we think we will “win,” and “get back at” our spouse. This tit-for-tat can go on for months and years, making it very difficult to recover from divorce and move on.
Nobody wins in divorce, and you must make your decisions from a clear-headed and rational place. Otherwise you will find yourself robbed of time, money, and emotional energy—assets that are put to better use in your post-divorce life.
Having Others Decide Things For You
When you’re going through an emotional divorce, it is easy to fall into the following trap. You may tell yourself “You know what?!?! I’m just going to let my lawyer figure it out for me.” Or, “Okay, fine. I’ll give my spouse what they want so they just leave me alone.” You may also find yourself asking friends and family what to do.
There is nothing wrong with educating yourself or asking for advice. But remember that ultimately, this is your future. It is your right and your responsibility to take ownership of your divorce decisions and not rely on others to do so for you. Sure, you can have people advise you—divorce professionals working with you is never a bad thing. At end of the day it is you who has to live with the divorce decisions that are made—shouldn’t you be the one making them?
Staying in the Dark
Do you remember that old phrase, “Knowledge is Power?” There’s a reason it was so popular. It’s because it’s true.
Divorce can feel overwhelming because you’re scared of the future. At this point in your life, you may have thought that the hard work was behind you and that you had a good handle on things, but then this curveball is thrown at you and you’re not sure how to plan for it.
The only way to ease that fear and uncertainty is to educate yourself about divorce. Online divorce resources are plentiful, many divorce lawyers and divorce coaches offer free consultations, and there are free or no-cost community classes that will help you understand your rights, provide you checklists, and offer assistance during your divorce. The more you read, reach out, and take advantage of the resources out there, the less scared and the more confident you will feel.
Dating Too Soon
Why on earth would you invest yourself emotionally right away with someone new, when you haven’t had any time to learn how to be on your own? After divorce, you are given this amazing opportunity to heal, rediscover yourself, and reclaim your independence. These are things that only you can do. And how much worse will you feel when that “new, promising” relationship doesn’t work out?
It’s understandable to feel an emptiness that you’re looking to fill after your split, especially if you and your spouse had not been close for years. Separation is a lonely place to be, but dependence is worse. Relying on another romantic relationship to validate yourself is not the best step here. Lean on your friends, your family, a good therapist, and divorce support groups to listen and encourage when you are lonely. Find the happiness you’ve been missing by discovering and enjoying your new-found freedoms. You deserve to put yourself first right now.
The divorce journey is a long a tricky one, especially midlife when you are trying to sort a number of professional and personal things out. Being aware of these divorce mistakes and avoiding them will definitely make that road less bumpy for you, as you move on with this next chapter of your life.
Martha is a divorce coach who writes regularly over at Surviving Your Split. Another version of this piece was originally featured there.