Divorce is one of the most painful experiences any person on this earth will endure. Especially if you’ve given it your all to save the marriage.
- How do you heal as efficiently as possible after divorce?
- What if you’re not ready to give up hope on your old marriage?
- What common pitfalls make divorce recovery more difficult or painful?
Unfortunately, it takes two people to save a marriage. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try to reconcile, it just doesn’t work.
What do you do when the once-distant nightmare of divorce becomes a reality?
I’ve seen and talked with men who’ve experienced both extremes of post-divorce life. The tips I’m sharing below are based on my experience talking to these men.
As you continue reading, you’ll get the same advice that keeps coming up with men who’ve healed and grieved very well, and warnings based on the patterns that often pave the way for a very painful and prolonged post-divorce recovery.
Have you experienced divorce and want to share some additional advice? Feel free to shoot me an email or drop a comment below this article… I regularly go back and update articles on the Haven, so I may add your advice in the future.
‘How Long Will It Take To Recover?’ is the Wrong Question
Why is this the wrong question to ask?
Healing Is Not A Linear Process
It’s not like there will be X number of days and then POOF, you’re over the divorce and never feel the pain of loss ever again.
Even before you’ve fully healed from divorce, you may have really good weeks where the grief and sadness are totally out of the picture.
… Then, they come swinging back the next week just as strong as ever.
Obviously, you know that. But sometimes men hear that “time heals all wounds” and think that recovery is linear… Like all they have to do is wait and then once they’ve waited long enough, then they feel completely better.
Recovery Times Vary From Man To Man
Even if you do everything right, it’s hard to guess how long recovery after divorce will take for you.
Every man is different. Every man’s emotional makeup is different. Every man’s history and experience is different.
For example, it’s expected that a man who’s been married for 20 years will take longer to recover than the man who’s been married for 2 years.
Also, the coping techniques and emotional awareness that you already have will play a big role in your healing. Obviously, a man with good coping habits before the divorce will heal faster AFTER the divorce than a man who’s learning coping habits for the first time as he goes through marriage crisis.
The point is…
Your Recovery Will Take As Long As It Takes
Your goal shouldn’t be to heal as fast as possible. Your goal should be to heal as fully as possible.
Some men will be feeling much, much better in their daily life within a couple months of the divorce, even if they were married a long time. Great for them!
Others will take much longer, needing 2 or 3 YEARS (or more) to really feel back to normal, even if they were married only a short amount of time. That’s fine too!
The most important thing is that YOU take the time YOU need to heal, and that you develop the self-awareness needed to recognize when you need more time.
And again, recovery isn’t linear, so even once you’ve healed completely, you may still get occasional pangs of regret or sadness.
Don’t Get Stuck On The “What Ifs”
Instead, accept where you are.
After divorce, it’s natural to look back and think “what if”…
Maybe your what ifs come from the marriage… You keep thinking about what you wish you’d done differently while you were married.
Maybe your what ifs come from the separation… You wonder if you’d still be divorced if you’d just done that one thing differently.
The specific don’t matter. The point is that most men have these “what if” thoughts after divorce. It’s natural, normal, and not something you should beat yourself up over.
You’re allowed to have regrets after divorce, but…
What you should try to avoid doing is getting stuck on these what ifs.
In other words, what you do NOT want is for these what ifs to plague your thoughts all day and all night. You don’t want to keep coming back to them over and over again.
Self-reflection is good. Regret to the point that it feels smothering is a stepping stone to depression.
That’s what you want to avoid.
How to process the “what ifs” in a healthy way
Do some serious reflection on the marriage. Go for a long walk and think through EVERYTHING.
- What was your fault?
- What was her fault?
- What was nobody’s fault – just life being difficult?
Take responsibility for your mistakes. Try to forgive your ex-wife for hers. And accept that sometimes life is just hard.
But, don’t get stuck on the what ifs.
Only dwell on your mistakes long enough to learn from them and grieve properly for them.
Go Through Grief, Not Around It
A couple years ago, I was on the phone with a guy who had been divorced for a few months and doing very well. When I asked him how he’d recovered so quickly, here’s what he said:
“You have to go through grief, not around it. Whenever I was cleaning out my house, if I found a picture or something that sparked a memory, I held it for a moment. I let myself remember and think about those feelings. I let myself cry for as long as I needed to cry. Then I packed it up and kept going.”– C.O., anonymous reader
I really like the way he put that… You have to go THROUGH grief. You can’t go around it, over it, under it, or hide it. You have to go THROUGH it.
Since that call with C.O., I’ve heard this same advice again and again from men who have successfully recovered from divorce. Over and over again I hear the importance of facing and dealing with your feelings as they come to you.
Going Through Grief Helps You Heal FASTER
You’re going to have to deal with those feelings eventually anyway. You can push them away or bottle them up, and they will expand and grow with time, and usually start to grow other feelings to go along with them, like hatred or resentment or depression.
Or… You can face them in the moment and be gracious with yourself.
If you want to recover from divorce efficiently, the worst thing you can do is push away your feelings. The worst thing you can do is try to force yourself to only think happy thoughts and push away grief the moment that it comes to you.
Here’s the thing…
It’s not your job to be happy all the time.
You are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to grieve.
You are allowed to mourn the loss of the woman you once thought you’d spend your life with.
You are allowed to weep for the splitting of your family.
So… Allow yourself to do those things! It will ultimately enable
Use The Right Crutch
A crutch is something that you lean on while you heal.
A lot of times, you will hear that you should not allow yourself to use a crutch while you heal from divorce. You will hear that you need to stand on your own.
Do you call a man with a broken leg weak when he uses crutches? Or does his use of crutches make the broken leg weaker?
Crutches enable a broken leg to heal fully. Crutches allow the person to continue relatively normal life while their broken leg heals.
Why should healing a broken heart be any different?
I’m here to tell you that using a crutch is okay! It’s okay to get extra support while you’re healing. In fact, if there’s ever a time to use an emotional crutch, it’s after divorce.
But! Here’s the catch…
You need to use the right crutch.
Here’s how to figure out what the right crutch could be for you, and how to admit you need support.
Accept Help & Lean On Good Things That Support You
Most of us struggle to admit that we need help, much less accept the help that’s given to us.
Set aside your pride and give yourself some grace. Accept that right now, it’s okay to need help. It’s NORMAL and expected that you will benefit from help.
Examples Of Healthy Crutches
I would define a healthy crutch as anything that you can lean on or pour yourself into that improves your life, or the lives of those around you.
These could include:
- Community groups
- Work, if you enjoy it
- Engaging with your kids
- Your faith, if applicable.
These are all things that benefit your life and/or others from the time you spend doing them.
For most men post-divorce, friends and family are your biggest supporters IF you will let them.
Reach out to your family. Reach out to your friends. Reach out to the communities and tribes that you are a part of. Maintain a strong connection with them and LET them help you through this time. This will improve your life after divorce.
Note: Some of you will have family or friends that are not really as supportive as you need, or maybe they’re not supportive in the right ways and encouraging you down a toxic path. I’d recommend either communicating your needs to them, or choosing a different crutch.
Another healthy crutch to help you recover quickly from divorce would be your hobbies, provided they are healthy hobbies. If there is something that you really enjoy doing, or some project that you enjoy working on, by all means, give yourself permission to throw yourself into those things!
As long as you’re still doing all the other stuff that needs to be done, use your self-care time on whatever makes you happy!
Just be careful that you aren’t using those hobbies as a distraction to avoid grief. You still need to go THROUGH grief, like we talked about earlier.
The other major thing that I’ve heard from men going through divorce, or healing from divorce, is how thankful they are for their faith. One of, if not THE most common crutch I see among men who’ve healed from divorce is leaning on God, prayer and time in the Word.
What about the bad crutches you should avoid?
The Bad Crutches That Will Break & Make Things Worse
If a good crutch is one that makes your life better, then a bad crutch can be defined by anything you lean on after divorce that makes your life worse, or the lives of those around you.
Here are some of the most common examples I see of unhealthy emotional crutches after divorce:
- Seeking out a new relationship immediately
- Distracting yourself with porn, drugs, alcohol, or any form of addiction
Sometimes, our mindset can turn into an unhealthy crutch, something we pour ourselves into that takes away from our life or others.
- Hating your ex-wife
- Wallowing in depression
- Resolving to adopt an attitude of selfishness, “Since this bad thing happened to me, I’m only looking out for #1 from now on!” Like getting back at life.
Part of me hesitates to tell you how you should heal from your divorce. Every man is unique and ultimately you need to do what you need to do to heal.
But, examples like these will almost always do more harm than good, and won’t actually help you feel any better. They certainly won’t help you genuinely find hope after divorce.
You Can Hold Out Hope, But You Can’t Build Your Life Around It
Since Husband Help Haven is a place for men trying to save their marriage, it’s no surprise that I’ve seen a lot of men hold out hope for reconciliation with their ex-wife.
Are you allowed to remain hopeful for a future with your ex?
Or is it best to just cut ties?
This is something that I’ve written about before, so I’ll keep this short.
It is okay to hold out hope that your ex-wife will have a change of heart after divorce…
It’s okay to take mental and emotional steps to enable yourself to remain open to the possibility of reconciliation…
What is NOT okay is to build your whole life around the possibility that she MIGHT come back.
Does that make sense?
If you’re not ready to close your heart off to your wife, then don’t! You’re allowed to stay open-minded about your future with her.
But that’s just it…
You can stay open-minded about getting back together, but you shouldn’t make post-divorce reconciliation your number one life goal.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
What Can You Control About Reconciliation After Divorce?
Remember, after divorce just like before divorce, your job is to focus on what you can control and work to make the most of it.
The reason that you can’t keep reconciliation as your overall goal is because you simply can’t control your ex-wife. She is allowed to move on, and chances are, she will be working hard to do exactly that.
So, if we look at what you CAN control about your relationship with your ex-wife, here’s what we see:
- You can control whether you’d take her back or not.
- You can control how long you’d wait for a possible remarriage.
- When/if you interact with your wife, you can control how you act and what you say.
What you can NOT control is her feelings towards you or the old marriage.
Focus On What You Have; Not What You’ve Lost
One of my favorite stories about moving on after divorce comes from a guy named Roy. Roy and I had emailed back and forth a couple times because he was having a hard time with life after divorce. Then one Saturday morning I got this:
I thought I would just share with you a little story which literally took my breath away with its simplicity and beauty.
I had just picked up my 12-year old son from the former family home where he lives with his mother and was driving away when he noticed I was looking a little sad. We very rarely discuss what happened since the divorce, wanting to keep our time together light-hearted.
He said to me, “What’s up dad?”
I answered, “Daddy’s a bit sad because I have lost everything son”.
He answered with something I will never forget…He said, “You haven’t lost those who love you, but the one who doesn’t love you has lost YOU.”
I couldn’t help it but I cried tears of joy that my boy instinctively understood my pain. Bless him.
Thought you’d enjoy that story.
This story illustrates a core requirement to healing after the loss of your marriage.
You will be much happier if you make it your goal to appreciate the things you have in your life.
You will be much sadder if you make it your goal to count the things you’ve lost.
This is good life advice, not just for after a split, but it certainly holds true during your recovery too. Focus on what you have. Focus on the people in your life who still want and need your love. Focus on the other meaningful things in your life besides your old marriage. If you look, you will find that there is more to life than the loss of your marriage.
Your mindset will help you heal faster, but time will also help too. As you put more time between you and the divorce, it will naturally sting less.
Over time, especially if you continue to work to be the best man you can be, you will gain confidence and trust in yourself to be happy without your wife.
You will find that there are things that you like about your life after divorce. You will learn that there is room for new things in your life… Things that did not fit before when you had a second person attached to you by law.
As for your kids, they, like you, will heal. It may take years, but it will happen. The rebellious phase will fade, they will learn to cope, and life will move on. It probably took me a solid seven-ish years to heal from my parents’ divorce, but it did happen eventually.
It WILL Get Better
Going through divorce is one of the hardest things that you will do in your life.
There is a reason why you will often hear that divorce is worse than death… In both death and divorce, there is tragic loss, but with divorce there is rejection too.
Now, my intention here is not to get into a literal comparison between the death of a spouse and divorce. The point is that right now, right after the loss, the pain is fresh and intense and constant.
It is expected that life feel miserable right now. You’re in the thick of a bleak, cold winter in your life.
Your life WILL get better than what it’s like right now. And, you WILL be happy again.
The Best Way To Recover After Divorce?
Prepare For It During Separation
I know that the vast majority of the men who come to Husband Help Haven are here to save their marriage.
Many of you reading this are not divorced and hope not to be anytime soon. You’re still separated, or things are still rocky, but divorce isn’t yet on the table… Or if it is, it’s not yet guaranteed.
But let me tell you this…
It will pay off to prepare for the worst while you continue to hope for the best.
As you work to save your marriage, you can and should still be preparing yourself for the potential outcome of divorce.
Accepting that the outcome of the separation isn’t under your control is a crucial part of the Let Her Go mindset. You can’t truly focus on what you can control until you accept that your job is not to force your wife to love you, and simply to be the best man you can be no matter what life throws at you.
If you’re separated, then preparing for the POTENTIAL outcome of divorce is part of what “preparing for the worst while hoping for the best” looks like.
Whatever you do, wherever you are in life right now, you alone control yourself. Use what you’ve been given to the best of your abilities. If you do that, you’ve done a good job.
Much manly love,
Thank you! Very good post. I’m in a support group with people trying to save their marriages and it seems to me the guys who have accepted that divorce is a possibility are in a much better and much less desperate mindset than the guys who accept that could happen. It’s tough going through this, but not accepting that this could end in divorce won’t make anything better. The letting her go mindset is crucial to getting yourself to where you need to be to weather this season.
My wife left me June of last year. She took our 3 kids and moved in with her parents. The discussion went from working things out, to divorce to no communication at all. Her parents and my older 2 kids got into a physical altercation while my wife hid in the bathroom. I was then asked by my father inlaw to come get the kids. A month later my wife filed a petetion for custody and they awarded me physical custody of my older 2 and 50/50 with my 4yr old. My wife moved into a rental home and has still not mentioned anything to me about our relationship. A GAL has been assigned to our kids and they are just miserable about this ordeal.She left because of mental and verbal abuse. She claims that she is fearful of me. In private she acts like nothing is wrong. Christams Eve she busted through the door like she still lived there wanting to watch the kids open 1 present. Two days later while picking up the kids in a public place she wouldn’t even roll her car window down all the way to speak to me when I had a question. Very up and down. I feel like shes had too many people telling her to do different things. I have focused on working on myself and being a good father but I miss her so much. I don’t know what to do sometimes because it’s like she’s playing mind games with me.
There is only one thing you can do – work on you. There is a recurring theme in any article read from any source on post-divorce and that is that you CANNOT control your spouse/ex. All you can do is become the best man that you can be and let the chips fall where they may. I am desperately in love with my ex, but I created the divorce through years of not treating her as she should have been. I have changed dramatically in an effort to show her I can be better, but inevitably it is her decision. My ex doesn’t trust that the changes can be permanent and she is fearful of being hurt again. All I can do is work on me. And that is really all you can do.
Richard – Those changes CAN NOT be for her…. They MUST be for you…… And you have to believe they are for you and you only…… Think of her and love her internally – However, YOU DO YOU…… It is hard! However, is the only way…… If no kids, then you have to be strong and focus on yourself with limited contact with your ex.
I am very happy to talk with anyone off line – I’ve been there guys (Two years removed) and today I got an apology from my ex. Something, like my divorce, that I never saw coming….
Hope I can circle back with some thoughts that are based upon this article….
Hi Richard, currently going through the same thing myself, I have 3 kids with my ex, but it just seems we got married all of a sudden and she is very young. She suddenly feels the need to be going out. Almost as if her best years passed her by. She is now dating some guy and i am not sure if this is to get over me or just because she really likes him.I am trying very hard to keep a straight face but it gets very very tough.
Your situation sounds very similar to mine… how did things work out?
Richard I can relate. But sometimes I get the feeling there was another guy showing attention to her. I always face her the attention but maybe not enough. I am having a hard time forgiving myself. I blame myself. Lost my job. Fractured my family. Pushed her away. Can’t shake the guilt.
Many thanks for your amazing efforts and and skills to make hhh.com work! … I got the helps earlier, mmr, but now my wife says its too little, too late. Yes, i will admit to th relationship divorcing as it being me, th lion’s share, perhaps, of this demise. I regret that i’m not relationship savvy, and have been pretty much th loner and non-connecting type. So, as i sit right now amidst of a 19 year marriage sinking, i find much help in hhh.com. i know th transition to be an easier one as life here has been slowly chipping away at us, and i had all sorts of helps to keep th ship sailing, however lack of focus, connection, and consistentcy were my weak points. Now to work on future, and seeking to make the best of what is to come!
I don’t know what you mean by HEALING unless it’s ceasing the poor-me’s and temper tantrums — which should never have developed anyway.
Trusting heaven with my future (as I’ve been divorced since 2001) doesn’t mean trying to forget about my marriage and move on with life.
Learning from my mistakes starts with knowing that I was misinformed at the start. I’ll do well to understand my deficiencies by studying some wise writings about maintaining a marriage vow. I didn’t know much about determination or about leadership. The sexually immoral will not be saved, therefore I’m concerned enough to pray for my wife’s repentance of a so-called remarriage. Cohabitation is a possibility if she repents.
Thanks for this great website! Halleluyah!
Very insightful article. Well thought out and very helpful. I am currently separated after being married for 19 years and it has been a very difficult period in my life.
After some considerable time I have started moving through my grief and despite my initial use of an unhealthy crutch (alcohol) I have come to terms with my situation and I am utilizing healthy crutches now.
The dissolution of my marriage is a really stressful and highly emotional event for me. And I really needed help to hire an attorney for my divorce process. Thank you for sharing these helpful tips.
This is a great article as there are many great articles on this website. I spent many hours reading these articles over the last 2 years as I was going through separation and divorce. I am currently divorced now 6 months. My ex has had a boyfriend for almost a year now. These articles along with going to therapy has helped me tremendously. Focusing on yourself and only on what you can control is vital. Once I accepted that I can not change her mind about divorce and started to focus on me and my thoughts, and what I do and what I say (really the only things you can control) that is when I began to heal. I started getting out of my comfort zone and doing things I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have time. I spent time with friends and outside. I started working out again (running and biking). I went back to church and now serve at church. I also went on a men’s retreat. I did all this for me not for anyone else and it has helped me heal and accept what is. My ex and I are civil and amicable. Mainly because I have chosen to respond and be reactive anymore. I also have a daughter and she is the most important thing to me. I have 50% custody and when my daughter is with me it is all about her. When she is not with me that is when I work on me. Time + doing the work on yourself for yourself will heal you. Do not try to convince her or make changes for her. The changes are for YOU. For you to be the best version of yourself for YOU. I have changed for me and it has paid off in many ways. I feel and look better than I have before. Women are approaching me and it helps with confidence because I thought my failed marriage defined me and it does not. I am still single because I choose to be. Date yourself and do things for you get out of comfort zone because that is when you really grow. I was there feeling low and down and like a failure but trust me everything will get better once you start focusing on you and what you can control. Best of luck.
I have a wife that drinks too much. She is also very angry/upset. We have 2 girls and I am about done putting up with this. I am scared for my girls though as they do not get along great with her…she is very hard on them. I worry about the affect of divorce on them. Also what if my wife gets some custody…they will be miserable and I will not be there to protect them. I am miserable currently, but I love her as well. Please help.
William I sent you a couple emails.
Hi, I have been browsing your website for a few months, I found it while researching emotional affairs, which I discovered and confronted, yet it remains denied regardless of extensive email history. After 15 years of hard painful marriage things blew up last year. I have gone through much pain opening my eyes to see the true state of the ‘marriage’, which really hasn’t been a marriage at all for just about as long as I can perceive. I have many failures and shortcomings and I am trying to address them and have made significant personal progress but nothing changes in the marriage and there is constant strife and rejection. There has been incessantly the threat of divorce or separation and I never believed it but after the pain of the last 18 months I am beginning to regain some self respect and dignity and I am ready to give up on her and the marriage. I am excited about the prospect of space from her and the possibility of freedom and peace. I have finally come to the end of painful hope that we could be fixed and despair that we were over. We are not yet separated but I now see that she has ‘divorced’ me in every way but legally long ago. I am going through a process of emotional divorce to protect myself from the pain and shame of complete rejection and abandonment. It is freeing but I am afraid that my heart is closing and it feels permanent. I don’t know how to still love her and hope or work or endure for the marriage because the rejection and opposition only brings excruciating pain. Any thoughts or recommended authors or articles are appreciated.
My ex wife left me out of the blue. We were doing things as a couple/family all the time, and she went away on a yoga retreat one weekend, and had a “epiphany” that she wasn’t truly happy. She said it would be too hard to fix our 12 year relationship. “Too much damage had been done over the years, and relationships shouldn’t be this hard” is what I was told. We have two kids together, and no matter how much I tried, begged, pleaded…… it all fell on deaf ears. She had found another guy. She started their relationship before she even moved out. In plain sight of me. Acted as though I was crazy for being bothered. I would hear her talking with him on the phone at night, as i moved upstairs until she found her own place. She would cry during our mediation, and say things that kept me emotionally connected from time to time, and I would always take the bait. This happened for the next year and a half.
She would say that she missed our family sometimes, and even said we should just run away and move from our home town so we could start over. Said she was going to leave her BF, but never followed through. There was a time when I even went to two counselling sessions with her to see where we were at. Just enough to keep me thinking there was hope. There was not. she would text me nice things from time to time, but never do ANYTHING to show she really wanted to be with me and get back together.
I am 2 and a half years removed from her now, and I am in a much better place. Being true to yourself and the situation is very important. Protecting yourself during this super hard time HAS to be a priority. BOUNDARIES!!!! If divorce is inevitable. If action is being taken to divorce, but comments are made to try and keep you connected emotionally, recognize that. A man who is still attached emotionally to a woman who is not can be manipulated very easily. Set up boundaries when it comes to those communications. If no action is being taken, then it is time to recognize that and ensure those conversations aren’t had. They take a huge toll on a person, and make the process of grieving the marriage last much longer than it should.
Things are great for me now. I am in a relationship that is more than likely leading to a new marriage. My GF is super supportive, and actually tries to hear, and I mean really HEAR me. I feel supported. Even though I am with this new person, I still feel sad sometimes when i think about the loss of the family I had envisioned for so many years. Nothing is like i planned it to be. I see my kids much less, which still affects me, and tares me up inside, but I acknowledge what it is. I try and control what I can control. Your articles on this site have helped me to truly understand the process of grieving a divorce. It is the hardest thing I have gone through, and I am a war veteran who has been through some stuff. Nothing has been more emotionally draining, but there are better days ahead. Keep your heads up gents! Be true to the actions that are happening, and take care of yourselves. Do not do what I did and elongate the pain by hoping and planning for something that isn’t happening. If all signs are pointing to separation and divorce, get yourself ready for it. Look out after yourself and if you have kids, look out for their best interests.
That is my two cents, anyways. :)