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12 Steps for Moving on After Divorce

A divorce can be a turbulent process. Even after the paperwork has been finalized you’ll often find the experience isn’t over. It can still take some time to move on with your life. After all, divorce is a major lifestyle change, not just a legal event.

Moving on after divorce can feel overwhelming. You may want to rush to the finish line, but feel stuck in the stages of grief. here will be elements of your married life, your relationships, and your emotions that linger. Nevertheless, it is essential to take intentional actions to keep yourself moving onward.

We’ve put together 12 steps for moving on after your divorce to help guide you.

1. Let yourself grieve

In many ways, it’s natural to want to move on from your divorce as quickly as possible. However, it’s important to recognize that the end of your marriage represents a significant loss in your life – even if you were the one who initiated the divorce.

So, sit with, acknowledge, and experience the emotions of grief. If possible and you feel like it would be helpful, take some time off of work as you would if you were grieving the death of a close family member. This is a loss and you owe it to yourself to take the time you need to work through it.

2. Forgive yourself – and your ex

Anger and guilt are two of the more common emotions people experience during and after divorce. You might feel resentment about putting so much of your time, energy, and love into a relationship that has now ended. The way you or your ex behaved can be a source of hurt or frustration.

While these feelings are perfectly valid, holding onto them too tightly can have a negative effect on both your physical and mental health. This is why it is so important to forgive yourself and your ex. Acknowledge the circumstances, actions, and emotions but also reflect on them with empathy (or sympathy if you cannot relate). Even in difficult circumstances, you can find making the choice to forgive an empowering experience.

3. Ask for help if you need it

Divorce is not something most people can (or should) go through alone.. Seek help from someone you trust. You may seek out practical help in navigating the post-divorce logistics. Or, you might need emotional support in your more difficult moments. Family and friends can often be helpful in both regards. However, there may be times you need support from those not connected to you or your ex. As such, a divorce support group can be a wise step. 

Learn about Divorce Therapy

4. Figure out what you want (and need)

Part of the difficulty in moving on from a divorce is understanding the things you want or need that will empower you to take those next steps. This includes both immediate practical elements and long-term emotional goals.

One of the most practical places to start is with your living situation. If you need to move out of your previously shared home or a temporary residence, begin by making a list of your priorities for finding and moving to a new home. Is there a specific neighborhood where you envision a positive new start for you and/or your children? What is within your new budget? Can you move close to people who will help you as a newly single parent, or who lend emotional support? Have you always wanted to live someplace your ex didn’t? List out all your practical needs and wishes. 

Apply this approach to establishing your different needs and wants. Sit down and make a list surrounding each area of your life. Formalizing your needs, big and small, gives you greater clarity on what really matters to you.

5. List out all of the positives about your new life

It’s easy to slip into a negative mindset about your post-divorce life as you grieve the loss of your old identity and future. But it’s important to see it as an opportunity for a fresh start. Yes, acknowledging the difficult elements will help you tackle them. But it’s not productive to dwell on the things you cannot change. What do you have the power to do now? What can you look forward to? Even if you aren’t ready to do things like date or buy a new home, those things are going to be possible eventually.

List these out. Take the list wherever you go and add to it whenever you think of another positive. This can help you make forward progress and reset your mind when you start getting into a negative loop.

Related: How Journaling Can Help You Cope with Divorce and Other Life Transitions

6. Celebrate your successes

Divorce can be a time of achievement. You’ve likely gained new independence, you may have completed a move, and you might have freed yourself from a toxic or unfulfilling relationship. You owe it to yourself to celebrate these successes. 

This could involve a night out with friends or private forms of celebration like a favorite treat. It can also be as simple as taking a moment to acknowledge a win and be grateful for it. However you choose to mark your achievements, it can reinforce your self-worth and help you to keep sight of the positives of the situation. Beyond divorce recovery, celebrating your successes is a good life practice. 

7. Spend quality time with your children

If you have children, your divorce is likely to be difficult for them, too. From their perspective, the divorce process is a period of uncertainty and stress. They are also grieving the family structure as it was, and will likely be seeing at least one parent a lot less often. As such, you need to make sure you spend quality time with your children during and following your break-up. 

This means dedicating time regularly to purely focus on your relationship with them. This could involve doing fun or enriching activities together. But it’s equally important to just sit with them and listen to how they’re feeling about the situation. This can help you both move on in a healthy way.

8. Create a co parenting plan

On the subject of children, it’s wise to recognize that they usually need both parents in their lives. While there may be extenuating circumstances that prevent this, wherever possible you and your ex should work out the best co-parenting plan for your circumstances – and that need not be a 50/50 arrangement. 

Parenting plans account for all the basics, including agreeing on custody, timeshares, financial responsibilities, healthcare, education, and emergency arrangements. Ideally, it should also include agreeing to treat one another respectfully as parents for your children’s sake or agreeing to keep your kids out of any negativity toward each other. This helps everyone to move on with clarity and positivity.

Use our free Co-Parenting Plan Worksheet.

9. Set realistic expectations

You’re likely trying to figure out what your new life will look like. Some of your expectations might include good things like meeting new friends or potential partners, and scary things like struggling on a single income and living alone. Set some expectations about what you want, but try not to get into a worry cycle. A lot of what you expect will turn out differently – often, better than you imagined. But it’s important to maintain a sense of realism here. Take some time to examine your areas of expectations. 

Set yourself up for success and simplicity. This might include setting boundaries with mutual friends from your marriage, lifestyle changes like downsizing, a new budget, or hiring someone to help you around the house and mapping out a timeline to get to your new standard of living. 

Take a positive approach but also consider potential hurdles and complications that might be involved. The more realistic your expectations are, the better prepared you’ll be to overcome difficulties as you move on.

10. Exercise or spend time outdoors

A common response to divorce is to retreat to a place of comfort. Unfortunately, this can result in spending too much time indoors in isolation or laziness. As much as it’s tempting to retreat, even just small bursts of physical activity can do you a world of good and help you see things from a new, improved perspective. 

Get into the habit of exercising or just spending time outdoors. This can mean joining a gym or group exercise classes and going a few times a week. Or, it can mean taking walks around your neighborhood or a local trail. It can also be as simple as sitting outside or tinkering around your yard for 15 minutes.

You’ll tend to find being out among nature and being active has a direct positive impact on your physical and mental well-being. It releases feel-good chemicals in your brain and helps you stay in good physical shape so you feel strong and capable, This is an essential component of being able to move on with positivity.

11. Build new relationships

You and your ex will likely have a lot of shared friends and acquaintances. This is great, but building new relationships can also help you to establish a new life that isn’t connected to your previous marriage. You’ll also probably want to date again eventually (no rush until you’re really ready, though).

Seek out new social situations in your community. This could involve joining organizations or taking up new group hobbies. Most libraries have book clubs, there are Meetups in every major metro area, and you can take classes or join clubs. Volunteering is another great way to meet new people and give back.

Socializing also helps you maintain your wellness. Social isolation can increase the risk of numerous health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia, and stroke, and is also associated with more anxiety and stress. While it’s not always easy and comfortable, it is important to take steps to meet new people and develop meaningful relationships. If that is not possible for you, consider online support groups or social networks.

12. Accept what you cannot change

The “what ifs” can take over during and after divorce. Regret is normal, but you need to try and release any what-ifs about your ex and marriage. After all, it’s over. You tried. Sometimes things simply do not work out. . Accept that you cannot change the past – and that’s okay

How do you do this in practice, though? Your best approach is to look forward and focus on what you can control and look forward to. Plan out things you want to do tomorrow, next week, next month … next year. Then take steps toward achieving them. You’ve got this.

How long does it take to move on after a divorce?

There is no set timeframe for this process. Each divorce is different, as are the people involved. While the 12 steps above can help guide you along the way, it’s important to give yourself permission to take all the time you need and adjust your course as you go. Be kind to yourself and know that you have the power to make your post-divorce life a positive one.

We’re here to help. Schedule a free 15-minute intro call with the Hello Divorce team, or check out lots of other free resources to help you in your next chapter.