How to Ride Out the Divorce Rollercoaster of Emotions and Get Grounded
Going through a divorce and all the emotions involved is like riding a rollercoaster. You’re at the amusement park and have been eyeing that big ride. It’s a bit overwhelming and outside your comfort zone. Finally, you decide to go for it. It’ll be worth it in the end, right? You want this.
It starts out slow … a little unfamiliar, but doable. You see all the sequences that you’ll ride out. You climb steadily and take each thing as it comes. A few moments of nausea – maybe even terror – but those are to be expected. As you reach the top, the reality that you can’t go back and you’re about to free-fall down the big drop sets in. Off you go!
Like that rollercoaster, the whole divorce process can be full of ups and downs, twists and turns, boring waiting periods, and also moments of high anxiety and unpredictability. You’ll likely experience a long list of emotions, including fear, anger, confusion, grief, shame, guilt, heartache … and then eventually clarity, freedom, and relief.
When the ride (or your divorce) is over, the emotional ride continues. You can expect some emotional exhaustion, feeling a little shaky, distress over what’s next, and anxiety about how to recover. But you can finally catch your breath and decide what’s next for you. Sound familiar?
Common emotions during and after divorce
Emotionally, divorce—like that rollercoaster—feels incredibly unpredictable and
anxiety-provoking. It’s anyone’s guess what’s coming next. The possibilities are endless. Before we get to how you can navigate all these difficult changes, ask yourself:
- Wake up some days and, although you don’t feel great, you have some sense of clarity of what you need to do and how you can care for yourself?
- Get in a thought cycle of doubt, asking yourself questions such as, “What if I had done X? Why didn’t I do Y sooner?”
- Sometimes arrive in a soft space and experience a moment of gratitude (you might think something along the lines of: “Although I don’t feel my best, I am thankful to have the ability to take a pause and care for myself. I feel hopeful about this decision and know that I will feel better.”)
- Sometimes feel sad. Intellectually you know it will be okay “in the end”—but you’re human and you miss the good parts, the fond memories, and the joy you experienced at certain points in your marriage.
You’re likely experiencing all of the above and more. And you need to ride through these emotions to get to the end, where you are feeling present in your new normal and excited about all the possibilities ahead.
But unlike that rollercoaster, there’s no one way to approach the emotional processing of a divorce, and there’s no clear-cut “right” or “wrong” way to do it. How you feel day-to-day is not always a measure of how well you’re handling it.
How to feel more in control and ready to move forward after divorce
If you’re currently considering a divorce, going through the process, or have just finalized your divorce, you might be feeling stuck. Here are some ways to get unstuck and more emotionally grounded:
Give yourself grace
Having it go “smoothly” or not is no reflection on anything that you did or didn’t do. It’s hard on everyone and no one excels at it. Take it one day or even one moment at a time. It will get easier. You are doing just fine.
Examine your boundaries
What was okay or tolerable before might not be anymore. If it doesn’t feel good, eliminate it. If someone is triggering, even unintentionally, take a break from them or keep them at a healthy emotional distance.
Create a support bubble
You don’t have to go this alone. But be strategic and curate people who you can rely on for the ups and downs. Someone who makes you feel bad, confused, or just drained probably doesn’t belong in your inner circle right now.
Own your feelings – all of them
Sometimes it feels easier to villainize your soon-to-be-spouse. They caused all of this, right? But you might miss them. They might actually be a good person and you miss them or parts of your relationship. That doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.
Process, process, process
This helps to prevent a buildup of emotions that becomes too heavy to bear. Therapy can be a game-changer before, during, and for many months or years to come.
And when you’re ready, start to think about your new chapter. Don’t rush it. Take it slow. Sometimes the lows of the process are sustained by the “what ifs” and the questions that you don’t have answers to.
Nurture your core identity
Some identities, like spouse, your profession, student, etc. are temporary or change a lot over the course of your life. Your true self or core identity never goes away – think of it as your inner child. Start to sort through what parts of your core identity you want to retain and what you want to be different.
Make a list of the things you used to enjoy when you were single before you were a parent or adulting really set in. What brought you pure joy and excitement? Find easy options to start and bring those things back into your life.
Leverage thoughts into positive actions
So many thoughts about a variety of things and it can be overwhelming. Feeling like “giving in” to the thoughts is anxiety-provoking. When the thoughts come, write them down. Journaling really can help. Sometimes clearing out the thoughts you are avoiding or judging yourself for reveals a new insight or furthers the healing process. Don’t overthink it. Do it as it comes up. No need to set a schedule to fit it into a routine. It’s a judgment-free zone.
If you still feel stuck on where to start, try a guided journal to take the pressure off. If you’re looking for a way to process your identity, explore the narratives you’ve operated under in past relationships and reframe future relationships, consider using my guided journal, Becoming Me: A Premarital & Pre-Relationship Journal for Women to Heal from the Past and Prepare for the Future.
Get a professional sounding board
Find a therapist you like and trust and let them take the wheel for a bit to guide you through the healing process. Some days you may just need to vent, maybe cry, express joy about a part of the process without judgment, vent, and cry again. Your therapist is there for support in addition to your support bubble. They’ll ride out the twists and turns with you.
Pat yourself on the back
Sometimes one of the hardest parts about focusing on yourself and starting anew is the sense of responsibility you feel for others. Start to acknowledge your wins and the progress you have made.
Even when it wasn’t smooth, it got handled in some way, right? You hung in there and that’s not easy. If you’re a parent and are responsible for other humans, you made your best effort based on what you had to give at the time and those humans are still alive, right? Although it wasn’t and might not ever be the picture of perfection, it also doesn’t mean that you have failed in any way. Get used to giving yourself credit – because you deserve it.
Start to manifest future “you”
You’ve started the difficult task of taking action and working through or even completing the divorce. Past you is healing and present you is managing.
What do you want your next chapter to be? How do you want to show up in that story? What do you want your purpose to be? Ask yourself these questions. Find opportunities to test out the answers and theories.
Explore. Travel. Go back to school. Learn the new thing. Get rid of the old thing. Lean into your wants more and trust that your needs are taken care of. Try it all out and adjust if something doesn’t seem to fit. Give yourself permission to not know the answers. Rise and fall but manifest future you on your terms.