How to Move On after a Divorce You Didn’t Want

A lot of people don’t like surprises. When the surprise is something life-altering like a request for a divorce, it can throw you into crisis mode in the blink of an eye.

Your feelings at this point are completely understandable. You may be angry, sad, confused, or a mixture of these and other emotions. Whatever you’re feeling, that’s understandable … We say this because divorce is one of the most significant life stressors a person can endure.

We’re here to tell you that you will survive. We also want to acknowledge that divorce brings out some of the most painful emotions and worst behaviors in all of us – especially those who are stuck moving on from a divorce they didn’t even want in the first place.

We’re also here to give you guidance. How will you heal? How will you rebuild? We’ve got some great, time-proven strategies. It may not feel like it now, but the pain you’re feeling will not last forever. You are a resilient human who needs to process your feelings and pick up the pieces of your life so you can start an exciting new chapter.

How long does the shock of divorce last?

Regardless of who filed for divorce or how you and your ex-spouse decided to separate, you will likely experience feelings of shock and denial in the early stages of the divorce process. You may feel numb, confused, and unfocused. As your brain tries to make sense of the situation, you may lose your appetite, experience insomnia, and feel like your entire life is falling apart.

In many cases, these feelings will last anywhere from a few days to a few months before they give way to other feelings such as fear, anger, and sadness. As you move through the stages of grief, you will want to have a solid recovery plan in place so you can come out stronger on the other side.

How do you recover from an unexpected divorce?

If you are working through an unexpected divorce, you may feel responsible for your relationship’s end. You may look at yourself as a failure or blame yourself for not doing what it takes to make your marriage last. 

Here’s the thing, though: Many marriages end in divorce. What’s more, people who go through a divorce almost always find ways to recover and bounce back even better than before. It just requires an understanding of the post-divorce healing process and taking care of yourself as you recover.

The post-divorce healing process

Coping with separation and divorce is anything but easy. However, giving yourself the time and space to heal is necessary in order to move on. It involves working through the stages of grief as they come, processing your emotions in a healthy way, and taking care of yourself as you work through the painful emotions you experience along the way.

Stages of grief in divorce

Divorce comes with its own emotional stages of grief. Much like any other tragedy, we have to work through this emotional pain and process it before we can fully move on.

The stages of grief during divorce include the following:

  •  Shock and denial
  •  Fear
  •  Anger
  •  Bargaining
  •  Guilt
  •  Sadness
  •  Acceptance

The stages of grief don't always come in this order, nor does everyone go through each stage one at a time. Regardless of your experience with grief, though, it’s important to work through each piece – shock, fear, anger, bargaining, guilt, sadness, acceptance – in a healthy way so you can move on to your best post-divorce life.

Finding emotional support to cope with divorce

Many married individuals rely on their spouses for emotional support. However, you can no longer turn to your former spouse when coping with a marital breakup. During this difficult time, you may need to find new friends and individuals to add to your support network.

Divorce coach

If you are in the early stages of the divorce process, you may want to hire a life coach or divorce coach. These trained individuals can help you work through the emotional pain of divorce, provide advice to help you manage your well-being during and after your divorce, and even help you navigate the early stages of life post-divorce. Even if they are in your life for just a short time, a divorce coach can be a valuable asset if you’re feeling lost.

Divorce support group 

Because the painful feelings that come with divorce are complicated, a lot of people also seek out emotional support from a divorce support group in the aftermath of their separation. These specialized groups give you a safe space to share your thoughts, negative feelings, and emotional pain with people who understand exactly what you’re going through. Group members may also provide you with guidance based on their own divorce experiences.

Our partner Circles is one of the leading Divorce Support groups in the United States.

Join the thousands of people who’ve found comfort and support with Circles.

Mental health professional

Sometimes, you may need support beyond what a peer support group can offer, and that’s okay. If you notice that your mental health is suffering post-divorce, you can seek out a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychologist. These experts can help you work through the grieving process post-divorce, help you navigate co-parenting with your ex-spouse, and help you explore your new life as a single person.

How to choose the right mental health professional for your situation 

Finding the right mental health professional is important. If you don’t feel comfortable with the person, you’re less likely to get what you need from them. This can take some trial and error. A good place to start looking is your insurance provider’s directory. Many people want to work with someone whose services are covered by their insurance, so strive for this – unless you don’t mind paying out-of-network fees.

There are also online databases of mental health providers. Some of our favorites include the following:

When you first meet with a potential therapist, tell them about your situation and what you need. The best therapists will be upfront with you about whether they think they offer the type of service you need.

Suggested: How to Find the Right Therapist during or after Divorce

Building a support network: Leveraging community resources and support groups

In addition to the paid services you can get from therapists, there are free (and low-cost) services you might use to support yourself at this time. 

Support groups

We have noticed that many people benefit from joining an online divorce support group. Here, you can find people grappling with situations similar to yours. Some support groups are completely free. Others cost a nominal amount to join. To learn about available support groups, here are a few places to look:

  • Social media sites
  • Specialized websites 
  • Local newspapers
  • Public postings (community center, library, etc.)
  • Your physician’s office

Social groups

You may also benefit from joining a social group in your area. When you join a group that reflects one of your personal interests, you surround yourself with like-minded people who can directly or indirectly bring you comfort. How do you find groups to join? Here are a few places to look:

  • Facebook groups
  • Volunteer organizations
  • Classes and workshops
  • Community gathering places (community center, library, etc.)

Taking care of yourself after divorce

As you work through the painful feelings of a divorce you didn’t want, you may start to neglect yourself to some degree. However, self-care and physical health management are very important during difficult times like these. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself in any way that you can.

Sleep and nutrition

You’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating properly. Proper sleep and nutrition make it easier to regulate your emotions and cope with the stress, anxiety, and sadness you may experience during this time. Also, sleep and nutrition keep your body in check so you don’t develop physical health complications like high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart conditions. 

Physical activity

Additionally, making time for exercise or other forms of self-care can go a long way toward improving your overall health and well-being during this time. Regular self-care helps you think clearly, concentrate, and make decisions more effectively, which is necessary for the aftermath of a divorce. Also, self-care and exercise can give you another outlet for your emotions, which can help you work through the stages of grief more quickly.

Dating after divorce

You may feel excited by the prospect of dating again, or you may dread it. Before you dip your toe in those waters, it’s wise to put some thought into what you want and what you’re hoping to achieve. It’s also smart to assess your readiness for dating and a potential new relationship.

Assessing readiness for new relationships 

Take time for self-reflection. You might ask yourself what you’re looking for when you date: A casual relationship? Companionship? A long-term commitment to someone new? Also, consider whether you’re emotionally ready to put yourself out there. Have you freed yourself from your former identity as someone else’s spouse? Have you fully grieved the loss of your ex and the identity you had with them?

4 strategies for healthy and mindful dating 

We can’t tell you how to date, but we can offer suggestions for a mindful, healthy process that enhances your life rather than hurting you.

  • Figure out what you’ve learned from past relationships. What worked? What didn’t work? What wisdom did you gain from your experiences that could benefit you now?
  • Decide what your boundaries are before you go out for the first time. This includes your physical boundaries and your emotional boundaries. It can also be a good idea to communicate these to your date.
  • Take things slow with new relationships. If you rush into a new relationship after a divorce, it could be because you’re trying to fill a void. Instead, try to fill that void with self-love and personal growth.
  • Trust your gut. If someone isn’t right for you, your gut may tell you before your head does. If dating itself is not right for you yet, you may sense it before you know it.

Does divorce pain ever go away?

It may not feel like it now, but eventually, you will move on with your life. In fact, as you make new friends and enter new relationships, you may find yourself in a place where you are actually thankful for your divorce.

As you work through the pain and mend your broken heart, it’s important to find ways to build a new life filled with things that bring you joy. In fact, it’s the perfect time to pick up a new hobby, find ways to connect with new friends, and explore the world on your own so you can learn what being single again feels like. And, as you put yourself out there and make an effort to embrace your new life, the emotional pain of your divorce will fade into the background.

You may not have wanted your marriage to end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of your new life post-divorce. After all, you deserve happiness and contentment – so let yourself embrace life and enjoy it.

At Hello Divorce, we strive to provide our readers with resources to help them through every aspect of divorce. Check out these additional suggested readings:
Divorce Content Specialist
Communication, Mediation, Relationships, Divorce Insights
A content writer and editor for several digital publications and businesses, including Make Tech Easier, How-To Geek, and Clean Email.