You give yourself permission to feel every emotion you experience: rage, hurt, confusion, powerlessness, humiliation, despair, and even numbness to the world. For many people, the end of a marriage is more than the end of a relationship. It’s also the end of an identity. This loss can feel disorienting and sometimes even terrifying.
As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nate Zorich.
After experiencing the frustration of the divorce process himself, Nate Zorich founded Avail Divorce in 2017 to offer tools, provide resources and build a community for the more than 1.5 million Americans who go through divorce every year.
Nate graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he played Division 1 hockey. Nate went on to achieve the classic “American dream” — secured a great job, got married, completed his MBA, had two beautiful children, and bought a house in Fort Collins, Colo. The marriage deteriorated, and Nate found himself at a crossroads with no resources BY divorced people FOR divorced people. Every online resource he was able to find within the multi-billion dollar divorce industry led to a sales pitch or was difficult to understand.
Leveraging his business background, Nate began developing a resource that made it easier to navigate the challenges of divorce. He wanted to provide people with the information they needed to make the right decisions, offer tools to make the process less stressful and create a community of support to make divorce less lonely. Through Avail Divorce, Nate has created practical, tangible resources that work to break the stigma of divorce, save people time and money, and help people come out on the other side of divorce happy and healthy. Nate is set to launch Avail Divorce in Spring 2021.
When he’s not leading and inspiring Avail Divorce’s vibrant community, Nate can be found strumming his guitar, playing ice hockey, co-parenting his children and playing with his rescue dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a small rural college town in Indiana, Pennsylvania. My mother was an entrepreneur who owned an audiology practice and my father was the dean of the library at the local university. My brother is four years older, entered college early, and now is a freelance journalist for Discoverer, Archeology and has worked with The New York Times. Our grandmother lived with us as well as our rescue dog Max. I drove to Johnstown PA each day for high school to attend a Catholic highs school that had a contending hockey program.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I saw an opportunity to help others avoid the trauma I had experienced in a healthy manner. There were so many 3 a.m. google sessions learning everything I could about the process and my rights. I couldn’t believe with the large number of people getting divorced everyday that there wasn’t an option for a trusted resource for the masses that help you avoid common pitfalls, put language to a situation and rebuild yourself from scratch.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver
My mother survived cancer in her late 30s and later my brother survived a large cancerous tumor on his brain. It made me realize that the life I was living was not the life I wanted to settle on. I am grateful for every day and realize how mortal I am. With that knowledge, I’m going to live fearless, curious, creative and continue to improve those lives that I am grateful to touch.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
There are several co-parenting apps out there, but there really is nothing out there with the functionality and the style of the Avail CoParenting App. A few of the main features are the child expense tracker, which provides reports, receipt attachments, delinquency notification and full transparency between parents. There’s also a shared calendar with assigned roles for pick up, drop off responsibilities and can be shared with kids, grandparents, and babysitters. The info bank which can include items like the parenting plan, the divorce decree, insurance cards, pediatrician information, ballet recital flyer, passports, etc. To learn more, visit our website at www.availdivorce.com
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?
Sharing your divorce story is an important part of Avail. Your story destigmatizes the experience and removes the shame and stigma attached with divorce. When you normalize the experience, others are more likely to reach out and seek help. I’m not against marriage, my parents and extended family are still very happily married, but I am against staying in a broken relationship at the expense of your mental health and your family’s well being. There is no shame in doing what’s right for you.
The biggest lesson was redefining myself and developing those skills to gut check what is true to me. Whether it was buying a new couch, or shedding toxic friendships. I became my biggest advocate and developed healthy boundaries to make space for my life I’d envisioned.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
The most common mistake after going through a divorce is not revisiting co parenting plans on a regular basis. Family dynamic, schedules, and income will change on both sides of the house. Scheduling an annual check in to accommodate your life as it adapts can prevent what might be seen as a threat if it comes out of the blue after years of neglect. Other issues are:
1. Parentification- of a kid to participate and manage the younger children.
2. Enmeshment- where the child has to check with the other parent before doing anything.
3. Parental Alienation- Excessive hate of the other parent.
4. Estrangement- When the child is aligned with one parent.
5. Gatekeeping- Limiting the other parents’ access to the children.
People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?
The flip side of the grief of losing your identity as a husband is creating your identity as a single person. Through trial and error, many dates and an unfortunate attempt at skinny jeans, I now know who I am, my style, my strengths and my intentions. This practice of staying in tune with yourself as you grow was the greatest gift of my divorce.
My time without the kids is now spent focusing on myself, mentally, physically, spiritually. I didn’t have this presence while I was married, as my sense of duty and being a martyr parent wouldn’t allow it. Now I’m modeling what self care and boundaries look like for my kids and I’m a better parent because of it.
Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?
Know your limits, be smart, safe, and genuinely curious. If you’re not having fun, then have some prepared bailout lines ready to gracefully exit. You don’t have to be perfect to start dating. It’s okay to put yourself out there as is and know that there are people out there looking for someone just like you.
Apps can be an easy, low-risk way to get an idea of what’s out there. They can be a wonderful tool for connecting with new people and finding people with similar interests that you might not otherwise meet. Take action by choosing two or three apps that seem to match your dating goals and create some profiles and upload flattering, accurate pictures. If you’re already online, take the next step by making the first move and inviting someone you’ve been chatting with for a face-to-face meeting — after pre-screening them, of course.
Online dating is an efficient, and many times effective, way to meet new people, and prescreening your dates makes this process easier. Increase your chances of a match by being open and honest about yourself in your own profiles and doing your due diligence when it comes to theirs. Before you agree to a meetup:
- Double-check that their pictures are an accurate representation of themselves.
- Have a quick video chat to verify identity and get a first read on whether you two have chemistry.
- Do a basic background check to identify any potential red flags and keep yourself safe.
- Don’t share your own personal identifying information until you’ve met your date in person and feel safe with them. It’s okay if it takes a few dates before they know your last name or the street you live on. If they have a problem with this, they’re the problem.
- Keep an open mind — dating post-divorce can be as fun as it can be nerve-wracking! I suggest remembering that the other person is probably nervous, too. And in the event that a date goes terribly, remember that you can probably turn it into an excellent story to share with your friends. Don’t take a terrible date too seriously.
What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?
It’s surprising to see the number of couples who believe that they will be an exception to the rule and have an amicable divorce with little conflict. What starts with the best intentions, slowly deteriorates as the division of emotionally charged objects gets divided between the couple. The triggers that caused the divorce get amplified and often get an explosive reaction. Some people in the divorce industry make a career out of pinning people against each other to run up their billable hours so choose your team carefully.
The one thing people should be open to changing is to practice forgiveness. This removes the emotionally charged decisions to get revenge or try to show strength when all you are really doing is dragging out the process and spending more of your money. Take the high road and make your decisions from a place of dignity.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Prioritizing Your Self Care
Health is the greatest possession.
If you’ve ever grown a vegetable garden, adopted a pet, or owned a car, you know you get out what you put in. The amount of care you give your garden leads directly to the quality and quantity of your harvest. The attention, training and love you give your pet is directly linked to their happiness and health. The consistent maintenance you give your car drives its performance, both in the 0–60 and in the long-term.
2. You’re no different.
Yet sometimes we neglect to give ourselves that same mindful, consistent attention, also known as self-care. This can be especially true when you’re going through divorce. Everything else comes first. You are second.
The reality is, if you’re not feeling 100 percent, it’s far more difficult to take care of anybody or anything else. And the process of divorce can be a grueling one. This is no time to “let yourself slide.”
You need to stay as healthy as you can be for the everyday challenges you’re sure to encounter, and even more so for when the going gets tough. The more time you spend taking care of yourself, the better off you, and the people who depend on you, will be. Practicing good self-care is more than a cliché; it’s a must.
“Many people commented on how healthy I looked after my husband left — that I looked more relaxed, that my coloring was better. The source of a lot of stress was gone and I could spend some time taking care of myself. I was physically healthier than ever, kickboxing in the morning, smoothies for lunch and getting to bed before 10:00. I had started a lifestyle that felt great and one that I can continually build from. I’m now starting to meet people in these circles that share my passion, like cooking classes on Wednesday, and a hiking group meetup on Saturday mornings.” — Jeanette
3. Let’s get practical
Focusing on self-care contributes to your clarity and peace of mind, helping you to make better everyday and long-term decisions. Your healthier self will be more able to manage the negative effects of stress, avoid burnout, and leave you feeling more worthy, with confidence to face the future.
A healthier you will manifest in every aspect of your life, from your family and friend interactions to your work performance to your core feeling of self-worth and well-being.
Here are some simple ways to care for and rejuvenate yourself:
- Get enough sleep.
- Cat nap: close your eyes and give yourself a short rest when you need it.
- Make healthy food choices, choose vegetables and nutrient-dense foods like salads, nuts, blueberries and avocados over empty calorie foods like chips, processed snacks, and sugary foods like soda and cookies..
- Exercise! Even a short walk can make a big difference.
- Block out some time in your schedule to meditate regularly. Even 5 minutes makes a difference.
- Listen to your favorite music while walking out in nature.
- Find a creative outlet and make no excuses to pursue it, even briefly, every single day.
4. Fight for yourself
Not everyone around you will understand your renewed efforts to take care of yourself. Some may see these healthy acts as selfish. Don’t be distracted. Those who love and respect you will get it. You may be accustomed to sacrificing your needs to meet those of family and friends, but during this trying period, it can be a recipe for burnout. Your mind, body, and spirit need — and deserve — your daily attention and care.
5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Sometimes it’s easier to meet the urgent needs of the person in front of you who is requesting — or demanding — your attention than it is to take care of yourself. You may face pressure to meet the expectations of the people around you at work, home, and in the community. This can be especially challenging if your role in your marriage was to be a caretaker or the one who is relied upon to give and do emotional labor for others at the expense of your own self-care and needs. These expectations of others can be unrealistic, especially when you are going through a divorce. Divorce is a great opportunity to break old habits of “running on empty.” Ultimately, the only one you’re accountable to is yourself. You are important, and so is your health and wellbeing. If you know your limitations, you can make the appropriate choices to stop and rest, or even retreat, whenever you need to. Give yourself the permission, power and space to do this.
Take the next step
- Today, do one small thing just for you. Sleep late. Exercise. Read. Shop. Relax.
- Make a plan to enact one self-care step on a daily basis; change up your routine so you don’t lapse.
- When needed, clearly communicate the importance of your good health with family or friends.
6. Minimizing The Drama
Difficulty is inevitable. Drama is a choice.
Drama. Who needs it? Certainly not you at this point in your life. We define “drama” as a consistent overreaction or unwarranted exaggeration for the purpose of gaining attention. And during a divorce, you don’t have the time or energy for it. So, how can you effectively minimize it?
Rather than taking personal responsibility, those who engage in drama often antagonize others and are quick to point fingers. They spin small anxieties into giant disasters, display volatile mood swings, and seek to “one-up” your experiences and feelings with their own stories. While this might make for must-watch reality TV, it only causes more stress and pain when you’re facing the reality of divorce. Drama-free (or even low drama) divorce may seem like an oxymoron, but it is possible.
“We got a divorce because my husband had an affair. When I discovered who she was, the first thing I wanted to do was call everyone I knew and ‘out’ her to the general public. Why not? She broke up our marriage! That’s how I felt about it at the time, anyway. I now realize our marriage ended for reasons that are much more complicated than that. But then I thought about our kids. I realized that, as much as I felt justified in my outrage and anger, turning our divorce into a public soap opera would make this difficult process even worse for them. So I kept my issues to myself and a few trusted friends and eventually realized keeping the drama as low as possible had made the divorce easier for me, as well.”
Instituting a “No Drama” policy from the start will help you to steer clear of pointless emotional drain. This means making a decision not to create or participate in dramatic behavior with anyone involved in the divorce process, especially your ex. Set boundaries. Distance yourself if necessary. Take time away from communication or actively moving the divorce forward if needed. And perhaps most importantly, don’t reward dramatic behavior with the attention it craves.
Take the “No Drama” pledge:
- I will not post anything negative about my ex on social media.
- I will not gossip about my ex, complain, vent emotions, or make unfair accusations (except on occasion to a few select, trusted Power People. Let’s be honest, we all need to vent somewhere, sometimes. The idea is not to vent publicly in a way that fuels drama, or to allow for venting to consume our time and energy).
- I will not overanalyze the intentions of others and choose to be offended.
- I will not disparage my ex to our children or in front of our children.
- I will not allow other people to say unkind things about my ex in front of our children.
- I will encourage our children to love and respect their other parent.
- I will apologize and take responsibility when I am at fault.
- I will avoid bickering with my ex, instead, I will seek to communicate with civility.
- I will not engage in inflammatory language.
- When confronted with drama, negativity, or aggression, I will make peace.
Try on their shoes
There’s a joke that goes, “Try walking a mile in their shoes. Then you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have their shoes.” The real point: seek understanding. When communicating with your ex, seek not only to gather information but to understand where they’re coming from. Drama often gets its start in miscommunication. Listen first. If you don’t understand something, ask about it. Avoid accusations that may fuel future drama. It may feel good in the short term to lash out or recount your spouse’s record of wrongs, but it’s not wise in the long run.
If you do need to air your frustrations or constructively express your anger, seek out counseling or an unbiased mentor who can help you translate your negativity into productive actions. If your spouse is behaving badly while you are trying to remain calm, give it a rest for a few days. Also, mediation or couples’ therapy can allow a neutral third party to mitigate the drama.
Watch for the signs
You can only control yourself. Learn to recognize the signs of drama, refuse to take the bait, and if you can’t quickly end it, politely excuse yourself and walk away. Be thoughtful about how you communicate. Engage in honest and direct conversations, but use restraint. By taking the high road and modeling positive behavior, you can influence the people around you.
Sometimes, people rev up drama because it’s an extension of their grieving process. Creating drama can be a way of getting your ex’s attention, or making them respond to you, or looping them back into patterns of connection (no matter how broken or dysfunctional).
Don’t feed it
When you find yourself confronted by drama, take a moment to consider its cause. If your ex is the instigator, perhaps their dramatic tendencies are coming from a place in them that is grieving, afraid, and desperately missing you. You can set boundaries with compassion. Drama feeds on energy and attention. Denying those things helps reduce it. Think about stepping away from the situation or communication for a few hours or a few days. And always do so with compassion. You’ll never regret taking the high road.
Count to five
Or ten. Or twenty. You know yourself. When confronted by drama, count to whatever number it takes to calm yourself. Maybe give it 24 hours before responding. Or a week. Take deep breaths. Breathing deeply resets the autonomic nervous system from “fight or flight” to “everything is okay, we can relax.” It’s science. And it works.
Take the next step
- Turn off notifications from your ex or any drama-instigator. Set aside one time of day to check in with texts you need to read; if you are receiving texts from people who you actually don’t need to engage with (i.e. your former sister-in-law) you can block or hide her messages. You can tell her now is not a healthy time for you to engage, and block her until you are ready, if and when you ever feel ready.
- For kids, drama is trauma. Shield your kids from any adult drama that is happening. Don’t make your kids take sides. They need attention, safety, and permission to love and be loved by both their parents.
- Make a mental plan about how you can deal positively and effectively with drama when it arises.
3. Dealing With Fear
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Franklin Roosevelt famously said that. Obviously, he hadn’t gone through a divorce. Fear of the unknown is a natural response to times of change when what was familiar is suddenly unfamiliar and the future is unclear. Facing your fears is an important part of both moving through and recovering from your divorce. Fear has a sneaky way of messing with even your most carefully laid plans. Uncertainty can surprise and overwhelm you. One of the most common fears divorcing people say they experience is the fear of being alone. You worry about being rejected, being alone in times of sickness or disability, or the possibility you won’t find love again. Being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely. You may need to learn how to be alone and be content with yourself. One of the greatest gifts of divorce is the opportunity for self-rediscovery. Acknowledge the normal fear you feel during this time, then ask yourself what you want next. Taking control of your journey with deliberate intention can help you see your future and alleviate your fear of it. Alone time can be a good thing. A second common fear is a fear you’ll never be happy again. Dealing with the grief of divorce, it may be hard to imagine yourself smiling today, tomorrow, or even next month. Other common fears include worries about money, children, and an opaque, generalized fear of the future, that great unknown stretched out in front of you. No matter what you fear, know this: others have faced it, too, and have come through it to find new life on the other side. There is a way forward.
“One day as I was getting ready to go out and thinking about the future, I was full of fear. Suddenly I remembered that everything is pretty much a mystery except for the next 24 hours. I was determined to live one day at a time. It helped a lot.”
Consider these strategies to help you move beyond fear to a more positive mindset. Facing fear head-on can lessen its sting and power. Identify: Knowing what makes you afraid can be the first step. Underlying fears can be sneaky, keeping you from moving forward. Know and name the roots of your fears. Sometimes, a good therapist can help. Then you can begin to look for a solution to overcoming them.Baby steps: Take a small step. Repeat. You’ll find small steps lead to bigger ones. The more you face the challenges that are in your way, the more you will gain confidence and power to move on. This is basic inertia. An object in motion stays in motion.
Tune out the chatter:
Mute the negative noise that feeds your fears. We all have that little voice in our head that tells us everything can and will go wrong. Author Anne Lamott suggests imagining that critical voice coming from an actual person — maybe an angry, critical person in your family or community. Visualize that person shrunken down to the size of a mouse. Then, pick them up, put them in a glass jar, and tighten the lid. They can be negative and critical all they want but you can’t hear them.
A proven way to replace the lens of fear with one of positivity and hope is simply to breathe. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can activate your body’s relaxation response and help you slough off fear-based feelings. Spending time in nature can also reduce fear and anxiety, and increase pleasant feelings. Changing your outlook can help you change your reality.
Review your accomplishments:
No matter how great or small, think of all the things you’ve achieved and conquered in your life. Write them down in a gratitude journal, and don’t minimize them. If you’ve triumphed over all these things in the past, you can surely do it again in the future.
We all need somebody to lean on:
Having warm and empathetic people nearby, at least once a day, can help you feel calmer and more in control of your fear-based feelings. Support from others who understand and care about your struggles is essential to moving beyond fear. Who are your Power People? Lean on them.
Fear is normal, so is overcoming it:
Fear is a natural human reaction to the unknown. It’s key to our evolution and survival. Fear can keep you from making a bad decision, or from doing something dangerous. Not all fear is bad. But when fear becomes overwhelming or keeps you stuck in an unsafe or unhealthy place, it’s time to take charge and make changes. There is a new future out there waiting for you to discover.
You’re not alone:
Know that you are not the only one experiencing fear and anxiety because of divorce. Others have gone through the same gauntlet in which you find yourself. The only way you can put fear behind you is to move through it. Face it head-on, experience it entirely, lean on your family and friends, and use these tools. You’ll get through it, too.
Take the next step
- Today, tell a caring friend or family member about a fear that is bothering you.
- Share your fears with the Avail community in the Community Exchange. You’ll see you’re not alone.
- Start a guided meditation practice where you learn to be with your fear, and learn that feelings of fear are normal and okay.
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past — but you sure do change the future.”
– BERNARD MELTZER
Whether or not the dust has settled from your divorce, its effects aren’t over. While the conclusion of your divorce may bring legal closure, in many cases your emotional journey to healing has only begun. Forgiveness plays a vital role in this healing. You may not be there yet and that’s okay, but you can begin to prepare your heart to consider forgiveness. Forgiveness is more than a gift to yourself and your emotional well-being. It’s a choice to let yourself move out of the past and forward into the future.
“In the early days of the process, I desperately wanted to forgive him because I wanted to be free of all the resentment and anger that I felt. I even met with my pastor and begged him to give me some kind of magic prayer that would grant me forgiveness. He reminded me that forgiveness is a process, and that often there are several steps that need to happen before we get to it. So the best I could do was set the intention, feel my feelings, and trust that one day I would feel like I’d forgiven him. I can’t really say when it finally happened. All I know is, one day, years later, I woke up, and I wasn’t mad anymore. Instead, I felt gratitude that we had met, loved each other for a while, and brought a beautiful human being into the world.”
Make forgiveness a practice:
During or after your divorce, it’s important to forgive your ex and yourself. Forgiveness means letting go of negative thoughts and feelings so that you can begin healing. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. It means refusing to allow the memory to have power over you. And it’s not “one and done.” Rather than being a single action, forgiveness is a perspective and practice. Take the following steps to move towards forgiving your ex.
Release your emotions:
Before you can reach a place of forgiveness, you must allow yourself to fully feel your hurt and anger. There’s no set timeline for grief and healing, but try to keep moving forward. Avoid getting mired in negative emotions. It may be helpful to set some time limits for yourself. For example, set an alarm and allow yourself to cry for 30 minutes. Or, if you feel yourself wallowing in anger, tell yourself, I’ll entertain my anger today but tomorrow, I’ll start fresh with a more positive approach. Writing a letter to your ex can be a cathartic exercise as well. Write down all your bitter feelings and tell your spouse how they hurt you. Then release them (and don’t send the letter — the letter is for you. Or create a ritual such as burning the letter in your fireplace to release it.)
Forgiving yourself and others is a necessary part of healthy relationships. As you work through your emotions and release some of your pain and anger, extend empathy toward your ex. This doesn’t mean pretending they didn’t hurt you, but put yourself in their shoes. It may help you understand why they acted the way they did and give you more gracious feelings towards them. Most people have the same basic drives, and most of the time, people hurt others because of their own injury or blind spots or selfishness. By refusing to retaliate, you can break the cycle of hurt. Be vulnerable. Admit that you can be wounded. Gaining a better understanding of your ex’s motivations and remembering their humanity helps you release your desire for revenge.
Being unwilling to forgive imprisons you as a victim. Break free by choosing not to hold a grudge and instead focus on learning from the past so you aren’t condemned to repeat it. Focus on what you can control, such as letting go of hurt feelings. Forgiveness is more for you than for your ex. Forgiveness is how you take charge of your life and move forward with peace.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean it didn’t happen:
Forgiveness is not about pretending the hurt never happened, condoning your ex’s behavior or actions, or giving up your claim to justice and a fair legal settlement. It is also not the same as reconciliation. The person who hurt you does not necessarily get the slate wiped clean, particularly if they have expressed no regret or have not taken steps to make amends and changed their behavior. But your choice to forgive is not dependent on the actions of your ex.
When you’re ready:
Although therapists often identify forgiveness as a critical part of divorce recovery, you may not yet be ready for it. You must be willing to forgive. If it’s too early because the pain is so deep or your ex so unrepentant, that’s okay. Work through expressing and releasing your anger and pain first. Until you can forgive genuinely, acceptance of the situation is an authentic choice while you treat your wound. Forgiveness is an ongoing process and it can take time. Don’t rush it. Remember, it’s for your healing, not for the person you’re forgiving. Forgiveness empowers you to make peace with the past so you’re free to move forward.
Take the next step
- Identify where you are in the process of forgiveness (of your ex and yourself)
- Write a letter to your ex or to yourself where you offer forgiveness (don’t send the letter! It’s just for you.)
When you feel you’ve moved towards forgiveness, even just a step, celebrate it. Forgiveness is a process.
5. Building Healthy Habits
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
When going through a divorce, it can be easier to develop new negative patterns or fall into deeper dependence on old ones to numb the pain. Bad — or self-destructive — habits can be a coping mechanism to comfort you during troubled times. If they ultimately make you feel worse — drained, exhausted, and depressed — it’s important to choose true self-care over quick and easy bandaids.
Habits don’t just happen:
Every formed habit is a result of cognitive programming. The brain builds associations between actions and rewards, pleasure, fear, and pain. The time it takes to build a new habit varies, but, according to a 2009 study by health psychology researcher Phillippa Lally, it takes an average of 66 days to rewire the brain and form a new habit.
“I drank a glass of wine at night when I started divorcing from my ex. Then it became two glasses, then three. At first, it wasn’t every night, but soon it was. I realized I had created a bad habit of depending on wine to soften my thoughts and numb myself from the difficult things I was feeling. Ultimately, it didn’t help me sleep. I fell asleep quicker, but then I would wake up around 2 or 3 am and just lie there. This never happened to me before I started drinking so much before bedtime. I realized I needed to change my habit. Fortunately for me, getting rid of all the wine from my house and deciding I would only drink a glass of wine when I was out with friends helped. It cut back my alcohol intake and made me start getting better sleep again. At the same time, I discussed my difficult time with my doctor and she prescribed me some antidepressants, which I ended up using throughout my divorce at a low dosage that really helped me. I was glad I stopped self-medicating and sought advice from my doctor.”
Make an honest assessment:
The first step to reducing or eliminating unhealthy habits is to identify them. Excessive eating, drinking, using tobacco or cannabis, watching TV, and associating with people who ultimately bring you down are on many people’s lists. Start by making your own list. Plainly and unemotionally acknowledge exactly what your bad habits are and write them down.
Find your reason:
Before you tackle your unhealthy habits, start by asking yourself what your motivation is to change. Perhaps you want to get physically fit so you can be active with your kids. Maybe you want to cut out a vice because it’s affecting your family relationships. Having a specific, meaningful reason can help you be successful in changing your habits.
Identify your triggers:
The next step is to begin recognizing the signs that you may be on the verge of engaging in your bad habit. Sometimes we may not be aware that past behavioral patterns are subtly framing our present craving, regardless of our conscious level of desire for them. Even the most subtle behaviors usually have a key “indicator” leading up to them, whether it’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach or a certain pattern of reactive decision making. For example, perhaps mindlessly watching videos on the internet triggers an overeating binge, or interactions with a particular family member leads you to drink one glass of wine too many. Notice these things.
When you notice that you’re feeling or doing something that triggers your negative coping mechanism, take note of the time and place that it happened. Many people find journaling the signs helps them recognize a pattern. When you can see what you’re doing, it’s easier to change.
Trade a bad habit for good.
If you find yourself gripped with a desire to repeat a bad habit, try replacing the bad with the good. This is proven to work. Say you just ended a stressful phone call and your instinct tells you to grab a beer to relax. Instead, try taking a quick walk around the block. You may find that simply distancing yourself from the conversation by ten minutes was all you needed to reset your mood. For some people, a good way to cut back on drinking alcohol is having an alternative beverage handy that they enjoy — iced tea, kombucha, seltzer water, even something simple like ice water and lemon. Tempted to eat mindlessly in front of the TV? Try popcorn or freshly cut fruit. Portioning helps, too. If eating too many corn chips ultimately makes you feel bad, put them in a small bowl rather than eating them out of the bag. Try different things and go with what works for you. Interrupting your old patterns can help you create new, healthier ones.
Make a plan and get support:
When it comes to breaking bad habits, don’t rely solely on your own motivation and self-control. Set up strategies and schedules to make new habits more automatic and easier to do. Find someone to hold you accountable and remove temptations from your environment when possible. If you like, use an app to help you track your progress or remind you to practice your new habit.
Focus on progress, not perfection.
Breaking bad habits and building new ones takes time. Start slow and don’t try to change too much at once. It’s better to take small steps successfully than take large leaps and fail. Seek to make long-term, sustainable changes rather than quick fixes, and keep your expectations realistic. Don’t worry if you miss a day or two, just commit to sticking with it. The longer you practice it, the more natural the habit will become.
Take the next step
- Identify a habit you want to eliminate
- Make a plan to replace it with a new one
- Identify your triggers
- Ask someone close to you for help
The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?
First, you breathe. In fact, you breathe deeply, signaling to your nervous system to calm down, telling it that everything will be alright. Because it will be. Then you take it one day — sometimes one minute — at a time.
You give yourself permission to feel every emotion you experience: rage, hurt, confusion, powerlessness, humiliation, despair, and even numbness to the world. For many people, the end of a marriage is more than the end of a relationship. It’s also the end of an identity. This loss can feel disorienting and sometimes even terrifying.
Now, some good news: No feeling lasts forever. “Time heals all wounds” is a familiar expression for good reason: because it’s true. You will move forward one step at a time. And you won’t be alone.
You’ll move into a new way of living in the world, evolving your identity as you have your entire life. You’ll discover new ways of showing up for yourself and others.
Even if divorce is far from what you wanted, you can remain in control of your life. You can continue to make healthy decisions for yourself and your family.
Go easy on yourself
In the first few months after a spouse leaves, you may feel incredibly vulnerable. It can help to imagine yourself as a small child. Give yourself the same unconditional love, kindness, support, and infinite compassion you would give to that child.
It can help to set clear boundaries with your ex, their families, and mutual friends. They can drain your energy during this difficult time. Turn off phone notifications for these contacts and set aside a 30-minute window each day to respond to them as needed. Communicate on your terms — when you’re ready.
You may feel depleted from grief. That’s natural. Allow yourself time to rest. If you’re not up for going to family functions, work parties, or other social events, don’t go. Some people find comfort in going out dancing or casually dating. Some people don’t. Listen to yourself.
Find your power people
It’s important not to isolate yourself. Identify the people in your life who lift you up and seek them out! These are people who give you power, who give you positive energy, and who are always there for you. They will continue to be.
And just as they are kind to you, be kind to yourself. Decide what feels energizing and life-giving to yourself in this moment, and do it. It’s okay to binge-watch a mindless show on Netflix. It’s okay to sit in the bathtub and cry (we promise, you won’t stay there forever). It’s okay to go rock climbing with your friends from college. It’s okay to get on a dating app and meet a new person for coffee.
Find one thing each day that makes you feel better. It may be taking a long walk with the dog, watching a movie with your kids, reading a novel, grabbing coffee with an old friend, or going dancing. Try to do one nice thing for yourself every day. And forgive yourself when you can’t. Have patience. Show yourself the same compassion you would a dear friend. It’s a new reality. Doing your best is all you can do.
Ride the roller coaster
Yesterday you felt okay. Today you can barely hold back your tears. Grief isn’t linear. Try to accept the natural unpredictability of your emotions. Welcome them like a roller coaster that you know will rise and fall. Or an afternoon thunderstorm that rolls in and then out. Notice what you’re feeling, embrace it and know that it will go just as it came.
When your body is injured or in pain, you see a doctor. Emotional pain should be treated no differently. Therapists help us deal with our feelings. In fact, deciding to see a therapist is often the most healthy, mature and wise choice you can make. The end of a marriage, especially if it is sudden, can feel as traumatic as a death. Don’t navigate it alone.
Reconnect with yourself
When your identity is tied to another person like a spouse, it can be difficult to remember that you are a whole, worthy person on your own. Single life can be bewildering, but it’s also a starting point for self-growth and discovery. It’s common for divorcing people to feel at once terrified and excitedly free. Fritz Perls, MD, psychiatrist, and founder of Gestalt Therapy believes “fear is just excitement without the breath.” When you reframe your misfortune as an opportunity to recreate your life exactly how you want it, you empower yourself to take control of your life. Use this time to rediscover old interests, hobbies, and friends you may have lost along the way. Spend your free time doing something that you love.
Reframe your divorce story
Although it’s changing, society too often equates divorce with failure. We challenge this outdated idea. Why measure the success of a marriage in longevity alone? What about the quality of the time you spent together? Think of your marriage not as a failure but as a success that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. What was successful about it? What wasn’t? How can you build on that moving forward? Frame your divorce story in a way that is both truthful and healthy for you. Don’t let your ex or others dictate it.
“When my husband told me he wanted a divorce, I was in shock. Soon after that came a deep sense of humiliation and shame. I’d been dumped. The levels of rejection would ripple across not only me personally but through my community and work. This label of “failure” was thrust upon me. I felt powerless, scared and angry. Over time, I learned to channel this energy into a way to approach this new life as an opportunity, one that I subconsciously desired but had always compromised while married. In that way, a scenario that made me feel like a victim at first became a way to empower myself and give me the strength to go after what I wanted out of life”.
The 90-second rule
It can come on suddenly. Heart racing, sinking sensation in your stomach, a tightening in your chest. You’re overcome by a powerful emotion. Follow the 90-second rule. First, take deep, cleansing breaths for at least 90 seconds. A million different feelings or fears may arise from financial to social to parental. This is a time to repeat a powerful mantra to yourself, such as “Every day, I’m learning how to take care of myself” or “I’m going to be OK.” Replace negative self-talk with positive. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
As much as you want to understand all the reasons your spouse left you, you may never feel satisfied by the answers. Digging into the past and replaying every argument will not bring your spouse back, nor will blaming yourself. One thing that can feel especially difficult when a marriage ends is the “how and why” the divorce happened at all. Whereas you and your ex might have shared a common narrative about how your relationship began and the course of your shared lives, it may feel especially disorienting to disagree on how you got to the point of divorce. Part of accepting the divorce is accepting that you will likely never agree about exactly what happened. And that’s okay. There can be more than one truth in a divorce, and more than one truth about how each of you experienced your marriage. Spend your energy building yourself up. Look forward instead of reliving the past.
Take the next step
- Take 5 minutes and write down something you loved doing before your marriage that you stopped doing. What did you love about it? Why did you stop doing it? Do you want to do it now? How could you start?
- Pick a new boundary or goal you want to set for yourself and practice it this week (example: I’ll turn off text notifications from my sister-in-law this week).
- Create a mantra (borrow one you love or write your own) and post it on your bathroom mirror.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
I would recommend the Avail Divorce YouTube channel. There, you can watch or listen to many meaningful, topical conversations for divorced or divorcing people. I’ve been enjoying Yung Pueblos new book Clarity & Connection. I’ve been listening to “How I Built This” with Guy Rozz for many years. Other notable authors are Brene Brown, Mel Robbins, Cheryl Strayed and Ester Perelle.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would get all the world leaders to collaborate to mitigate and plan for climate change.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Richard Branson. He’s a brilliant entrepreneur who has never tired of trying to use his life to make the world a more interesting and better place. He’s infinitely curious and uses his dyslexia as a strength.
Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!
Nate Zorich of Avail Divorce: 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.