It’s over. You’ve signed the divorce papers, and the relationship you entered with so much hope is officially dissolved.
Everyone’s divorce story is different. Maybe you had been married for decades, maybe just a year or so. Maybe you have children, maybe you don’t. Maybe the divorce was your idea and maybe it was your partner’s, or maybe you both agreed that separation was best. Maybe you’re relieved, maybe you’re heartbroken — or a bit of both.
But however you got here, the question now is where do you go from here? And how do you figure out who you are and what you want as a newly single person? What is your new life going to look like, and how do you start moving in that direction?
Here are eight of the first steps:
1. Let yourself mourn.
Nobody gets married thinking, “I sure hope we can get divorced someday!” Even if, by the time you split, the divorce was something you wanted, a divorce still represents a loss.
“Whatever your marriage and divorce experience has been, there will be emotions that have to do with grief,” says psychotherapist Florence Falk, PhD, MSW, author of On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone.
2. Work through your feelings.
Don’t tote that heavy baggage from your previous relationship into your new life. Find a way to work through the lingering emotions from the demise of your marriage, advises psychologist Robert Alberti, PhD, co-author of Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends.
That may mean talking out your feelings with a therapist or focusing your energy in a healthy activity you enjoy. “It’s common to sweep these emotions under the table, but you have to work through them or they’ll pollute your life going forward,” Alberti says.
If you find yourself resisting the idea of therapy, you might want to keep in mind that therapy doesn’t mean you have a problem or that you’re in crisis. It can be a way to work toward a better life, with someone who has no agenda but YOU.
3. Learn to like yourself.
That may sound cheesy and New Age-y. But the fact is that many people feel a lot of self-rejection after a divorce.
“You might think that there must be something wrong with you if you couldn’t make this relationship work,” Alberti says. “You have to work on getting confidence and faith in yourself and ability to believe in your own worth.”
This is also something you could pursue in therapy, or through Tip No. 4:
4. Rediscover who you used to be.
Especially if you were married for a long time, you may have given up a lot of the things you enjoyed as a single person because they didn’t fit with your “couplehood.”
Maybe you loved to go out, but your spouse was a homebody. Maybe you always loved going to the theater but your husband hated it.
“What were your hobbies and activities before the marriage? What did you defer in favor of the relationship?” Alberti asks. “Exercising your interest in those again is important to rebuilding yourself.”
5. Discover a new side of yourself.
The life-changing period of divorce, though often difficult and unwelcome, holds a silver lining: to shake things up and try on a new lifestyle.
Maybe it’s as simple as a pixie haircut after a lifetime of wearing long, flowing locks. Maybe it’s trying a new sport, considering a different place of worship, or going back to college. Maybe you realize that you’d like to move to a new city or even spend a year living in Paris.
Of course, you can’t just flit away and throw caution to the wind. Chances are, you have some very real considerations — kids (if you’re a parent), a job, and a budget (which may have been hurt by the divorce).
“As long as the changes you make are healthy and constructive, these are very appropriate,” says Alberti. “Think about who you want to be — the person you were before the marriage, or maybe a new person? What are some of the things you can do differently?”
Look for changes you can say yes to, instead of dwelling on what’s out of reach.
6. Dare to be alone.
Being alone doesn’t mean being isolated and never seeing anyone. It just means not being coupled up, or in a rush to do so.
Society is much more accepting of singles than even a decade ago, when solo restaurant diners often got the hairy eyeball.
“There are more than 30 million people living alone in this country today,” Falk says. “That’s a lot of people, and there are a lot of opportunities for social connection. There are possibilities to pick up new friends and enter different kinds of groups that have to do with your interests. The social dimension after a divorce can be very rich.”
7. Consider transitional relationships.
This isn’t about rebounding. It’s about considering dating (once you feel ready) outside your comfort zone — someone who’s not your type — without thinking that it has to head toward a permanent relationship.
“For example, maybe you’ve always dated people from a certain socioeconomic background,” Alberti says. “Or perhaps you always preferred sensitive musicians, or athletes, or the quiet, shy type. Turn your usual preferences inside out and stretch your dating horizons a bit.”
8. Embrace your new roles.
Especially if you were coupled up for a long time, your partner probably handled certain aspects of life while you managed others. Now it’s all up to you. And it’s not likely to go perfectly, but that’s OK.
“If your partner was always the one responsible for the money — earning it, managing it, investing it — suddenly you have a whole new realm of learning and responsibility,” Alberti says. “Dealing with those can give you confidence in your own ability.”
You don’t have to figure it all out yourself. Look for help.
“Even if you make mistakes, like paying too much for a car, you can learn from that experience,” Alberti says. “Mistakes give you life skills and teach you that you can handle being alone.”