When you announce to your friends over lunch that you and your spouse have decided to separate or divorce, it’s likely that you will get lots of supportive comments and possibly some amusing anecdotes on how they never thought he was right for you anyway. You may even get the “grab everything you can now” speech, or my personal favorite – lovingly entitled, “Take him for all he’s worth.” What you won’t get is the hard-core girlfriend nuts and bolts blow by blow of the five things you need to do right NOW.
I’ve been there. You’re in a daze. You can barely remember to put on a bra let alone wonder if it’s showing through your top (which by the way, it is). Unfortunately, this is the time when you need to snap out of it and get real because, trust me, it’s happening and it won’t get any easier from the bottom of a Chardonnay glass. If you’re lucky enough to have a posse of supportive girlfriends, rally the troops now because you’ll need them to make it through this first phase.
1. Do not panic. Decisions made when we panic are nearly always bad ones. Think back to that haircut you got when the stylist told you that bangs were “so now”. You felt pressured, and panicked and – yup – you agreed to bangs. Then you spent the next three years cursing her and growing them out. Divorces happen every day in every part of the world (I think L.A. is the divorce capital, though, but don’t quote me on it). Calm and rational thoughts need to be gathered and followed to make it through this period in time. If you take just a few moments before making actual decisions, you will feel calmer and more in control than if you rush into the decision and then spend countless hours wondering if it was the right thing.
2. Make a plan. When the first syllable of the word came out of my ex’s mouth, I was already making a plan. I know that thoughts will gang up on you like Crips in a Compton alley, but you must prioritize and then focus. Obviously a roof over your head and food come first. Money is always high up there on the list. Only you know your financial situation, but clearly you’ve got to figure out if you’ve got enough to survive either in your current living situation, getting a new house/apartment… or moving in with Mom and Dad.
Your plan needs to cover only the first 30 days. Take each plan in 30-day increments – otherwise, you’ll panic and we’re back to step one. I started with where to live – mostly because I work from home and so it covered both the money and the living aspect of the situation. Over the years, I’ve had girlfriends borrow money from me to hire moving men, file for divorce or put a deposit down on an apartment. One thing is always the same; they all had a plan.
3. Decide what’s critical. I know many girlfriends will tell you to start trashing his things (tempting) or hiding the stuff you want but – rationally speaking from the other side of crazy – it’s not worth it. Sure, writing short four-letter messages on his dress shirts in your red lipstick might be a super fun way to kill an afternoon, but long term it will do more damage than good. Decide what’s absolutely critical and try to communicate with him (if possible) on whether he’ll agree to let you have it. And yes, get it in writing. Amazing how short term some memories are when confronted with the “you said I could have it” argument later. If you can’t live without Aunt Livvy’s china set? Make it a fair trade.
Chances are, he’ll want the 60-inch flat screen. And ladies, I repeat… it’s just STUFF. If he wants to go 40 rounds over the table in the hall – it’s not worth it. You can replace most of the “things” that made up your life. What’s critical is your sanity. Your mental health. A toaster is just that – don’t get so wrapped up in stuff that you forget to look up and get the big picture here.
4. Think big picture. A divorce can feel like it takes over your entire life (and for some women, it does). But there was life before your divorce and there will be life after it. You need to make sure it doesn’t become this all-consuming thing that all you talk about or think about is the destruction of your former life. You must force yourself to look up, see what’s going on with other people and their lives to gain perspective on yours. The more you focus on the negative – believe me – the more negative you become in other things. And soon, you’re shuffling around in your bathrobe, rubbing your hands together and scheming how to get a stranger to key his car for the $10 you have in your wallet. Not an attractive picture.
5. Take care. All of my girlfriends have fallen into one of two categories; the “I’m not going to take care of myself until this is over,” or the “I’m ONLY going to take care of myself until this is over.” A divorce can drain you; take every ounce of self worth you have and leave you on the ground wondering why they don’t make straws long enough to reach the tequila bottle in the cupboard. Don’t make it worse by neglecting yourself – or worse – neglecting your children. Our kids learn from our good example.
And if you don’t think they’re watching our every move, you’re wrong. (Just listen to the word that comes out of their mouth when you get cut off in traffic.) Yup. they’re listening. Make dinner with them and sit around the table asking how they feel, or how their day went. Hug them more, kiss them more and tell them it’s okay to be mad for what’s happening in their lives. If you don’t have children, make sure you’re eating right and still doing the things that make you feel good. Don’t stop going to the gym or doing your hair. My friend Carlie once told me that even if my soul was lying on the ground in a puddle that my hair should be bouncy and at attention like a Marine.
Finally, give yourself permission to grieve, but then move on. A divorce is a death. Death of a life you once had with someone you loved very much. Someone once said that just because one chapter is bad doesn’t mean the book is over. Turn around and try to look at this as a chance to start that new chapter and write it the way YOU want it to. You can now get a new hero in your story, take it to exotic places, start a new career or even pursue a dream. Speaking from the other side of “HolyCrapWhatTheHellJustHappened”, I can tell you that life not only goes on, but it just gets better from here. Chin up, honey. You’re going to be just fine.