Divorce Field Guide: Best Advice

5th July 2012

-via my Instagram stream.

Thanks everyone for your comments and emails last week (re: Divorce and Grief). I should preface this post by saying that I’m able to write about divorce now because the worst is over. I’m in a happy, productive place. As I mentioned last week, there are still flashes of grief, and I expect that to persist for a while, but overall I’m looking forward to what’s next.

I didn’t post much through the divorce, because I was too tender, but I’m here now because I’m hoping these notes and the comments can be helpful – especially to those of you who are going through the worst of it right now.

What follows are the three best pieces of advice I received from friends when I was at my unhappiest:

1. Lower the bar for a while.

A girlfriend said she had a kind, mild friend who went a little nuts during her divorce. She was enraged, destroying expensive common property, and behaving in other ways that were out of character. But after a year, she’d mostly returned to normal.

“Everyone gets at least a year of crazy,” my friend said. “Don’t expect to be yourself for a while.”

Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I remembered those words. I didn’t feel like myself, but temporarily setting a lower bar made me feel accomplished for not throwing a rock through anyone’s window. Small victories.

2. There’s good stuff waiting.

Shortly after my separation, I had lunch with an acquaintance whose parents had been divorced when she was around Hank’s age. She said both parents had found new mates who made them happier, and that she could see how hard things would have been if they’d stayed together.

“I’m so excited for you,” she said. “You get to have your own place, figure out who you are on your own, fall in love again, and have first kisses again.”

She knew I wasn’t there yet, but she’ was genuinely excited for me. She’d seen first hand that there could be a happier life on the other side of the hard part, and it gave me hope.

3. It takes a very good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all.

There’s no loneliness as deep as feeling alone in the company of someone you love.

A while after the separation, I was starting to feel better. I was listening to new music, enjoying time with my kiddo more, and having long chats with far-flung girlfriends.

On one of those calls with a friend who had also been through a divorce, we talked about how it’s scary to wonder whether you’ll ever be in a relationship again.

“Take your time,” she said. “It takes a damn good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all.”

There’s the wisdom that got me through to a happier place. What’s the most helpful breakup advice you’ve received?

36 thoughts on “Divorce Field Guide: Best Advice

  1. Shelly

    #3 is so true and it’s something I’ve experienced with both my divorce and with “breaking up” with a bad work situation, actually. I learned to set the bar for how I should be treated much much higher!

    I think the best advice I got was from a friend who was going through a breakup at the same time as me. I was wasting a lot of energy doubting whether I’d ever be able to trust anyone again and he just said “Well we’re probably not the only two good people on the planet.” It made me step back and realize that there are a lot of good, trustworthy people in the world and that moving on wasn’t a hopeless endeavor.

  2. Megan

    This might sound harsh, but I remember my twice-divorced dad saying to me about my separation, “Other people are only going to care so much about this.”

    Whether that’s true or a sad commentary on the people who were in my dad’s life at the time of his divorces, what I took from it was, “No one is coming to fix this for you.” It forced me back on my own resources – I had to find them, cultivate them, strengthen them, and there was no one else who could do that for me. It stopped me from trying to find an out for my grief and try to deal as best I could. A huge lesson.

  3. Sam

    The best advice a friend gave me when I was going through the mires of self-doubt and regret after my divorce was, “Sometimes you have to go all the way down a road to see where it leads, or where it ends.”

    It helped me to stop beating myself up for not seeing the problems with my relationship before I was married, rather than after.

  4. valerie

    Respect your grieving process. Everyones is different. Your friends will understand. The ones who don’t are not your friends.

  5. Susan

    My version of #3 was “Lonely alone beats lonely-together.” It’s so very true, but hard to grasp when you’ve become accustomed to living together-apart with someone.

    I got another invaluable piece of wisdom from a coworker at the time: “Remember it was the relationship that failed; that does not make you a failure.” (Sure we can all probably point to the places where we could have done more, but that’s different than extrapolating out a ‘truth’ that a failed marriage means I suck at everything).

  6. SAWK

    Thanks so much for this!

    I love the third one . . . it really helps me.

    That is the reason I realized we needed to separate: that – despite the fear, upheaval, and lonely potential that I would stay solo forever – I would rather be alone than where I was.

    You’re the man. xoxo

  7. laura

    #3 is close to something I had to tell myself in order to break up with a boyfriend of 2 years. It was something like – the unknown is better than the current situation. Flipped to mimic #3, being alone is better than being with a bad partner.
    Much love.

  8. The Lil Bee

    I give you so much credit for sharing this info. I’m still in the really sucky phase. Thank you for this.

    My only advice is to journal everything. And remember that just because it ended doesn’t mean you or the relationship failed. It just ended. For better or worse. Move forward.

  9. Laura

    “It takes a very good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all.”

    That, my friend, is the rock-solid truth. And I have one that I love very much, but yo – spending some significant time living alone as an adult is gold. Gold. My happy memories of being single and living alone are something that no one can ever take away from me and they are a source of comfort and strength at the oddest times and I think they make me a better girlfriend now.

    Cheers, Maggie, for sharing your thoughts and helpful bits from this process. I’m so excited for you too. Love!

  10. kate

    Oooh I love (and can attest to) number 2. I knew it had to be true, and that gave me the courage to leave. And sure enough, a year or so after, I met the love of my life.

    As for the best advice I received, it was this: we are teaching our children what marriage (and love) looks like.

  11. Lisa

    Overall, good advice. However, I do take issue with the statement, “New mates who made them happier.” We are each responsible for our own happiness; seeking it from an external source is temporary and unfair to both parties. Find joy within yourself first and then find someone who supports that joy.

  12. Martha

    Congratulations on reaching the other side. I’m glad you are confident enough now to share your divorce advice. I hope things continue to look up for you.

  13. Kate Andrews

    Best advice I got was “Remain classy at all times.”
    Given that my ex is still very hostile, angry and bitter five years down the track, I still remind myself of this one regularly. It enables me to look at my actions with no regret, and in the knowledge that my kids can be proud of how I’ve behaved.

  14. Sprinkle

    This was a great post Maggie, thank you for writing it. Especially number three – that needs to be pinned! Keeping that in mind has really helped me not settle which is really important with a little one to take care of, because I might have otherwise. The best advice I was given was the reminder that anyone I introduce to my life I will be introducing to hers. Keep smiling!

  15. Malin

    What I’ve learnt from my own break-up after 8,5 years is somewhat similar to #1. Take your time, it says. Take. Your. Time. You know when you’ll be ready for something new. Now is the time to enjoy yourself, to indulge yourself and to cry violently at night because sometimes it still seems your life just got a bad, bad turn.

    Take your time. Don’t rush into new things (whether they be boyfriends or haircuts) just because people think you’ve done enough mourning. You know when you will.

    Take care in there xoxo

  16. Sassafras Mama

    Hi Maggie. I think that your guiding principles are great and wise (especially number 3…..it took me 5 years to be serious about meeting someone and wow, worth the wait!).

    To your list I would add “ask for help.” I needed to do that when I was suddenly on my own with a 6 year old and it didn’t come easy. But I did need help and asking for it made me open to the world in a whole new (good) way.

    Glad you are in a better place.


  17. Jen

    I’m newly going through a divorce and the best advice I’ve gotten is so super straightforward: You only have to survive the day you’re in. So I would literally let myself off the hook from worrying about the future and the gaping void of the unknown and think, “Ok, today I need to do X and that’s all I have to worry about.” One day at a time, and don’t feel obligated to solve all your problems now. Hang in there.

  18. Shelly

    I’m going to tuck away #3 as advice for my soon-to-be-teenage daughter too. Finding and being happy with yourself is so, so important! And, even finding it again and again as we go through this life.

  19. Nelle

    Best piece of breakup advice is #21, Jen – so true. Helped get me through a lot – just today.

    Also, when I did find someone else, I knew it was perfect because being with him is that same awesome feeling of having the house to yourself. That’s how I knew he was perfect for me.

    Hang in there!

  20. Kathy

    As someone who ended a 10 year relationship recently this post resonates with me so much. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of supportive people around me giving advice, but the following really stuck with me.

    1. Don’t be afraid to ask people for what you need. A lot of times people don’t know how to react, but if you let them know how they can help they’re more than happy to be there for you.

    2. You can’t see it now, but some day you’re going to realize how amazing you are.

  21. Little Big

    Take care of yourself, your health, your body. It’s the advice I always give to anyone in a tough spot. I’m so glad you’ve weathered the storm.

  22. kaela d.

    ah, I’m so glad I stopped by and read #3. I’m young and single and this may be my new mantra. My parents have been separated but not divorced for the last year. My mom has attachment issues and is obsessed with a deranged alcoholic. I wish more than anything that they would’ve divorced when I was 4 rather than when I was 24. It would’ve given them both a chance to BE happy with themselves and then find happiness with the right person. Instead they drug me as an only child through their hot mess of a relationship. Be proud that you’re brave enough to be alone. It’s not something just anyone can do. <3

  23. kaela d.

    not that it matters but I should add that the deranged alcoholic is her low life boyfriend that she’s dating WHILE she’s married to my dad….not my dad hahahaha

  24. Kayla

    I was just sitting here and waiting for a friend and I read this post. Thank you. I’m still in the midst of a relationship divorce, we weren’t married, but dated for two and a half years. I lost my husband 7 years ago, raising two now teenage girls and relocated my whole life for this relationship and within 7 months of moving he couldn’t handle it. He ran away. I’m still trying to find the good, but it is hard. Thanks for the advice. I’m glad you are in a better place.

  25. Kat

    The best advice I was given, right after my ex-husband moved out, was from a friend who had been divorced before. He said, “You’re going to be really uncompromising for a long time. It’s going to be frustrating for partners you have after this.” And he was right. I have a much harder time compromising on the things I want now, and it is frustrating for my partner at times. But knowing this about myself means that I can be kind and acknowledge it, and sometimes stop it in it’s tracks when it’s about something that isn’t actually that important to me.

    Advice I would have given myself, especially in the very very beginning stages: be kind. Not just to yourself (which is INCREDIBLY important), but also to your former partner. My ex-husband and I are tentatively forming a friendship now, and some of the things that we said and did when we were being very mean are hard to get past. Even if you know that you never want to see them again, or they are being very mean, be kind. You will feel better about the way you handled it later if you are.

  26. shelly

    It is ok to be alone. I needed two years alone before I was ready to be with someone. You need to allow yourself time to greive. Today we expect people to ‘get over it’ to ‘move on’ . The victorians had a better grasp on things when they mandated a mourning period. A divorce is like a death. Give yourself a year of full mourning and a year of half mourning. It will pay off. Rushing into anything while.half healed doesnt work

  27. Asha Dornfest

    Just read this and “Divorce and Grief” and wow, Maggie. Not only do you write beautifully about the potential for transformation at the center of a trauma, your READERS are so wise and loving in their comments. No divorce in my life or future, but have had my own “transformational events” and I agree with everything people have said here…while I would never choose such a painful path, it has made me better, stronger, and happier. Helpful (if heartbreaking) as a parent…when we watch our own children go through hard times as well.

  28. Heather

    First of all, I love when you write about your personal life and forging ahead when things are looking bleak. You do so beautifully.

    Second, while I am not going through a divorce (duh) I think all of these pieces of advice can be true for any separation. Right now I’m going through work separation and I need to realize that I deserve to be treated better, that things will get better and I shouldn’t jump into something just because this part of my career is over. And as another commenter said: no one is going to help me through this. I need to be better about helping myself.

    I thank you, Maggie.

  29. Alison

    When my five-year relationship ended, the best advice I got came from a friend who said grief was an oscillation. At the start, the waves are very high and very close together — you can barely leave the house. But as time goes on, the waves get farther and farther apart.

    Viewing my grief as a wave that just had shifting patterns helped so much. It was like storm systems gathering and dumping so much rain, then passing so the sun could come out. As time went on, there was more and more sun, even when the occasional storms were very violent.

    This may be the nerdiest advice you’ll read, but it worked for me. xo

  30. Katie

    Haven’t been here in a long time and just heard the news. The divorce advice above is priceless. I usually tell people to not settle, because you don’t have to (and I’m now living proof!)

    It took me about two years to really settle into being divorced, and it was actually just recently when a friend told me I am so much happier these days, and seem much more relaxed/myself. It’s a journey and it takes a while. Someday looking back, I hope you realize it was the best decision for you. It was an absolute gift for me.


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