Whether your divorce was initiated by you, or your spouse was the one wanting to pull the plug on your marriage, you are likely to experience depression as you say goodbye to your life as a couple.
Divorce depression is experienced by all couples, even those whose marriages were conflict-filled and acrimonious. Divorce signals the end of a dream, the end of the possibility that perhaps we can make this work if we just try hard enough.
The good news is that divorce depression is situational.
It is unlike clinical depression, or unspecified depression, in that it is related to a specific event, and therefore a little easier to manage because it is a temporary state.
Here are some tips to make that stand as short-lived as possible, all while giving you time to properly grieve the end of your life as husband and wife.
1. Grab a pen and paper and write a letter
In this exercise, you are going to write a letter, saying goodbye to everything that was part of your married life, the good and the bad.
Let it all out, because you aren’t going to show this letter to anyone but yourself.
Here’s Kristina’s letter to Philippe, her soon-to-be ex-husband:
Goodbye to the secure future that I thought we both wanted.
Goodbye to more years raising our children together, all under one roof. Goodbye to being “my person”, the one I counted on and felt safe with, the man who had my back through thick and thin. Goodbye to loving you, remembering our better days and our first years together which were fun and light-hearted.
And goodbye to the later years, where you basically ignored me, didn’t talk to me, didn’t see me, where you spend every weekend playing your video games or watching television series, only interacting with me and the children when you got hungry and wanted us to fix you a sandwich.
Goodbye to all the attempts at trying to get you interested in our family life. Goodbye to the fights, the tears and the slammed doors. You broke my heart.
Done with that?
Good. Now take that same pen and paper and write yourself a “hello” letter, listing all the wonderful things that now await.
Again, here is Kristina’s “hello” letter to herself:
Hello to a fresh start, the second chapter of my life. Hello to doing things that honor me. Hello to taking care of myself, starting with my yoga class and my diet. Hello to sleeping peacefully, without Philippe’s loud snoring which forced me to go sleep in the guest bedroom. Hello to weekends spent not in front of the television but out and about, engaging actively with the world.
Hello to dating again, and this time getting it right.
The letter-writing exercise is a real catharsis and a way to infuse yourself with hope for what will be ahead once you are past this depressive period.
2. Non-sexual touch
Research proves that human touch is helpful when going through a depression.
You might not be ready for dating and that kind of touch, but you can offer yourself a deep-tissue massage from time to time, which will not only make you feel zen-blissful but give you that benefit of human contact in a non-sexual ambiance.
In addition to massage, become a hugger. Hug your children (lots!) and your friends. This is another way to bring yourself into contact with your community, helping mitigate the effects of divorce depression.
3. Stop telling the divorce story
You might find this suggestion curious, because people around you may be urging you to share your divorce trauma because it is “good to get this out of your system.”
Remember, each time you retell the story of your divorce, you actually re-traumatize that part of your brain and relieve the hurt of the divorce.
Of course, you do need to share the news once you have decided to divorce, but spare your mental health and don’t go over and over the details with friends and family. If you can avoid even saying your ex’s name, do so. Just call him your ex. It’s better for your mental state.
4. Take up an activity that engages your brain
Divorce is a trauma, and much like other trauma survivors, you may replay certain conversations in your head. Sometimes these seem to be on a perpetual loop. You need to break that loop.
Discover an activity that demands your concentration, so that when you find yourself going over something your ex-said or did, you can distract your brain and engage it in something productive.
Take up knitting. Play a musical instrument. Swim laps. Study a foreign language and memorize verb tenses. Anything that takes your attention away from these past events that you can do nothing about now.
5. Make some changes, large and small
Divorce is a huge life change, so why not look at other areas of your life and make some positive changes there?
Did your ex-move out of the house? Repaint the rooms to reflect your personality. Change the curtains, redo a bathroom. Change up your own routine; try a new sport.
Get yourself back in high heels, change your hair color or style. Were you a country music fan? Put on Spotify and get some new music recommendations.
Have your own renaissance, and bring forth the new you, full of energy and ready to meet your future head on!
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.