Divorce and Separation: How to Handle The Reactions of Family and Friends

“I’ve been separated for a few months now and am still feeling pretty shell-shocked. How do I handle my friends and family? Everyone is telling me what to do, how I should feel, asking all sorts of questions I don’t feel like answering. I feel like shutting down.


The transition from going from married to separated can be pretty rocky. It sounds like your emotional stamina has been really tested, which is to be expected. Your family and friends and all of their advice and questions are well-intentioned, but it sounds like they aren’t really helping. So how do you ask for what you need?

Don’t be afraid to tell your supporters that you appreciate their help but right now the best way they could help you is simply to offer you love and to listen to you. Listening deeply to another without an agenda to “fix” them or solve their problem is such an important gift. Too often people listen more to what they want to say next, instead of ….

just listening and letting someone pour their heart out. Tell them the barrage of advice and “Here’s what I would do” are adding to your sense of overwhelm instead of helping you get your feet back on the ground.

Realize that your friends and family are likely going through their own emotional upset as well. People don’t get training manuals on divorce etiquette, so they are doing the best they can and may simply be feeling uncomfortable themselves. They may have strong feelings about your ex-partner, or are concerned about your well-being, or both. It could be bringing up their own feelings of insecurity or doubt about their own relationship. Regardless, it’s totally acceptable to let them know what you need. If the conversation starts to go down a road you don’t want to travel, simply tell them “You know, I’d rather not get into that right now. Let’s change the subject.” They will follow your cues.

It is important, however, that you do find some forum to express and explore your feelings. Divorce isn’t easy, but it’s an opportunity to discover new wisdom and strength within yourself, if you’re willing to look. So I wouldn’t recommend simply “shutting down” permanently. The risk there is that you could simply repeat past mistakes because the lessons that are in this separation for you haven’t been fully excavated and digested.

The Divorce Resource Kit offers many tools, such as the THRIVE Principles ™ and strategies to help you get your sense of center and confidence back. You may also want to work with a divorce coach or find a local support group where you can connect with others going through divorce. You don’t need to travel the divorce journey alone.

Ask your question, in confidence, by clicking here or you may email us at askthrive@thriveafterdivorce.com. We’ll answer your question in upcoming issues!

Divorce and the Holiday Season

Q. “The holiday season is coming up and I’m recently separated. I have two school-age boys. My stomach feels like a knot thinking how different the holidays are going to be now for them. Is there some way to make it easier?”

A. Family holidays are supposed to be relaxing and stress-free, but often they aren’t. Planning family holidays is a particular challenge for the millions of divorced families out there. In fact, one out of three Americans is part of a blended family (and I suspect the statistics are similar for Canadians).

Divorced families face an even bigger challenge with holiday planning with children shuttling back and forth between mom’s house and dad’s house. There are all those logistical questions. Whose turn is it to have the children for Christmas morning? What if both parents are having a turkey dinner on the same day? How do you handle summer break? What do you do if you end up solo on a major family celebration day?

The key for separated families, like yours, is to doing some advance planning and preparation. Without that, holidays can end up being a time for stress and re-opening of old wounds instead of a time to relax and unwind, both for divorced parents and their children. There are some tips I can offer to make it a bit easier. First of all, instead of planning your holidays one at a time, … Continue reading

Divorce and Separation: Stopping the Negative Mental Loops


How can you stop the negative loops recalling what went wrong (and what was so right)? How do you stop trying to ‘fix’ it in your own mind?”


Divorce, heartache, grief and rebuilding your life – it’s all part of the healing journey everyone must travel when your relationship ends. The mind is a beautiful problem-solving tool. But when it comes to matters of the heart and relationship, our brain is often not well-equipped to help us heal.

Having those cyclical thoughts and questions of “What if….?” or questioning what might have turned out differently if you’d made different choices in the past is quite natural. It is simply the brain sifting, sorting and trying to find patterns and solutions from past experiences it has stored to find a way out of the situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you know your relationship is on the rocks, and sometimes you don’t. So our powerful brain is literally scanning its memory banks to find pieces of data that might help you to create a solution and get to the other side of your heartache.

But your power and choices lie in each present moment. The problem with unchecked cyclical thoughts is that they keep you replaying the past or projecting yourself into a fantasy future that is sheer speculation. The key to making empowering choices for yourself and navigating through your divorce is when you stay present, moment-to-moment.

If you find yourself caught in a mental spin cycle, a great way to break out of it is to write it all down. Use a journal to capture your thoughts and questions. This will assure your brain you’re doing something productive with all of its gyrations and help loosen the grip of these negative loops on your mind.

You can also set some boundaries around this kind of thinking. Give yourself a time limit of some kind to fully review the good, bad and ugly about your situation and how you got there and then once your timer goes off, stop. Break your physical and mental state by putting on some great tunes and dancing, or do some jumping jacks, and then undertake another kind of activity.

It’s also important to ask great questions. Setting your brain to the task of “How could I “fix” things?” assumes that something is broken that you are responsible for fixing. Redirect your powerful mind to answering the question “If this experience is part of my soul curriculum, what are the gifts in it for me and my personal evolution?” or “What can I learn from this that will serve me in all future relationships?”

Have a question about divorce you’d like to see answered? Submit yours to Thrive after Divorce by sending an email to askthrive@ThriveAfterDivorce.com.


Divorce in a Small Town


“I live in a small community. My biggest challenge is I am always seeing my ex and the woman he had an affair with and married on a weekly basis because of the children’s activities. I feel like I can’t “get over” my divorce because I am kept inflamed constantly in the present.”


Living in a small community where “everybody knows your name” can pose an additional challenge to those trying to rebuild their life after divorce, particularly when your ex and his partner seem to be omnipresent. Nonetheless, the basic principles of thriving after divorce … Continue reading

Divorce Relief: What to Do When You Can’t Stop Thinking About Your Ex

Q. “I am challenged by wondering all the time about what my soon-to- be ex-spouse is thinking or doing, and most agonizingly sad, who is is with?

A. Separation and divorce is a bumpy road and it takes some time, dedicated effort and great tools to help get through to the other side. You are not alone is having part of your mind get on a frustrating hamster wheel of wondering about your ex. Our brain can get like a dog on a bone, chewing endlessly (often in the middle of the night) with a litany of questions like:

Is he as sad as I’m feeling?

Is he regretting his choices?

Is he healing faster than I am and what is wrong with me that I still feel grief?

Has he moved on in love, and who is he with? What is she like? How do I compare to her?

Divorce, even if you’re the one who initiated, is still a shock to your emotional system. The brain wants to make sense of it all, so it starts to seek and scan for answers. Our egos want to compare and judge – who is “winning the race” for getting through the pain and over the divorce first. It’s simply a natural way our sense of self-identity gets constructed.

It is important to realize excessive speculating and wondering is actually a distraction from your own healing journey. Here are some ways you can break the pattern and stop fixating on your ex….

Keep a journal and write out all the questions you have running around in your head. Like taking the lid off a boiling pot of water releases the pressure, journaling your worry thoughts will help them to dissipate more quickly. You get to see your questions from a more objective perspective.

Sometimes we let our attention wander and get ourselves stuck in the past is because we don’t have a clear vision for our future after divorce. Do some work to help create your road map through your divorce. The award-winning Divorce Resource Kit to has questions, exercises and guided meditations that can help you chart your course for your future.

It’s also important to keep your focus on what you actually have control and influence over, such as your own thoughts, words and actions. Diverting your energy to anyone else instead of your own process of understanding the deeper spiritual lessons that are available through your divorce is a distraction. Take responsibility for what you can change and learn, and let the rest go.

© 2012 Carolyn B. Ellis


Divorce and Separation: How to Handle Criticism from Your Ex

“How do I handle my anxiety? My ex-husband says negative things to me constantly.”

Thank you for a great question about how to learn to manage your emotional state so it doesn’t go completely topsy-turvy when your ex-spouse fires off a nasty comment or jibe. So many people can relate to this situation, and there are indeed some strategies that can help you to not spin out emotionally.

In divorce there are lots of strong emotions that run rampant, often for months on end. This makes it hard to keep your emotional balance. Ex-spouses seem particularly gifted at knowing how to push those hot buttons that can send you into fear, anxiety, anger or depression. But it’s important to realize that we may never be able to get them to stop pushing the button BUT we can learn how to unplug that button so it doesn’t take you out of your power. To do this properly requires far more than can be offered in this article, but here are some strategies to get you started.

First, realize that what your ex thinks of you is actually none of your business. As I explain in my award-winning Divorce Resource Kit, the degree to which you continue to allow your energy and time to be sucked into drama about why your ex said something derogatory is the degree to which you help contribute to your ongoing suffering. Recognize that your ex is upset and acting out in a particular way because of their emotional reality, but that is your ex’s responsibility to sort out. Your primary responsibility has to be to your own healing journey. Don’t let your ex’s emotional state become a distraction to your own healing.

Second, go beyond the content of the negativity and get curious about what the dynamic is underneath it that bothers you so. If you’re having a strong emotional reaction, there is some gold here to mine for you.

For example, perhaps your ex mouthing off about you makes you feel totally disrespected. But look at that button of “I feel disrespected” closely. Are there some ways you might be disrespecting yourself? If so, what steps could you take to better honor and respect yourself. Often when you dig more deeply into the issue you will find some area where you need to uplevel and support yourself. When you address that, you’ll invariably find that particular barb from your ex will have far less ability to upset you because you have started to defuse the button altogether.

Ask your question, in confidence, by clicking here or you may email us at askthrive@thriveafterdivorce.com. We’ll answer your question in upcoming issues!

Divorce and Separation: Crying in Front of the Children

Q. “How can I stop crying so that I can function in my life and my job, and is it ok for my kids to see me crying?”

A. Crying, grieving and feeling the loss of your relationship and the loss of your dreams of “living happily ever after” with one person is normal. It’s important to feel all of your emotions fully instead of trying to stuff them down or ignore them. Tears are not a sign of weakness. It’s been said that tears are simply the ice around our hearts melting.

We are important role models for our children about how to be responsible for our own emotional well-being. If you find yourself in tears in front of the children, let them know you’re feeling sad and that it’s normal to cry if you’re feeling sad. This normalizes their experience and gives them permission to fully feel and express their emotions as well.

Explain to your children that feelings simply move through us. It is healthy for us to give them an outlet so we don’t get… Continue reading

Divorce and Separation: When Your Ex Badmouths You To Your Children

Q. “How do I maintain a good relationship with my son who is regularly exposed to negative talk about me from his father?

A. This is a great question and unfortunately it is an issue that way too many separated parents have to deal with. Badmouthing, criticizing, or gossiping about one parent to the children hurts the children far more than it hurts the parent who is being criticized. Children see themselves as a product of both mom and dad. When one parent is derided by the other, the children quickly conclude that there may be something wrong about them too.

I would recommend a two-pronged approach. First, focus on building … Continue reading

Divorce and Separation: You’re Not Losing Your Mind

Q. “My husband and I are getting separated after 15 years (his idea) and I feel crushed. I feel like I’m losing my mind though – I keep forgetting things and can’t seem to focus my attention any more. Is this normal?”

A. Going through a separation and divorce is one of the most stressful things people go through. Emotions swing wildly. We feel loss and uncertainty as the world we knew is turned upside. I’m not a medical expert, but this feeling of overwhelm and being unable to have the same speed and efficiency of mental function you used to have is pretty normal. I remember having that thought more than once myself! It’s hard to retain or recall information. It’s challenging to make a decision. I felt like I could only absorb so much information before I started to feel swamped and agitated. So know that you are not alone in having this experience.

When we go through a big change that feels threatening to our security in any way, we get triggered into a flight or fight response. The hypothalamus in the brain fires up our nerve cells and… Continue reading

Divorce and Children: Should You Put on a Happy Face?

Q. “My head knows my relationship is over but my heart has yet to catch up. I’m not sure how to grieve. My children (3 are adults and live with me) dislike seeing me sad at any time. Should I put on a happy face in front of them?

A. Having your heart and head synch up and fully realize that your marriage is over is often a challenge. In some cases, our hearts feel that the connection and love are gone, but the head can rationalize that the relationship is “perfectly fine.” In your case, your mind is being practical and accepting of the end of the relationship, but your heart is still aching and in grief. That is quite normal. I encourage you to find ways to honor your grief and your emotions, rather than trying to manage over them by keeping up a happy front for the sake of your children.

There is no way around it. Divorce is a time of great emotional upheaval. Divorce is also an opportunity for us to learn about how to be resilient emotionally and discover wisdom and strength that we may not have know that we had. It is an opportunity to give expression to your feelings so that you can move your way through them, rather than repressing or denying them. It is also a time to consider what… Continue reading