how to get over a divorce

Go ahead and get ugly. You're entitled for one year. 

Over the summer I visited a longtime friend. As we sat at the beach, our kids playing nearby, I noticed her hair was uncharacteristically oily and snarly. Her unkempt bush was bursting out the crotch of her green tank suit, and her toddler son sat nearby, eating sand and crying. She didn't notice.

“I'm in a good place,” she said, looking away from me. “I'm thinking of dating.”

“Hm,” I said.

What happens in the first year after divorce

She was in a good place: That post-divorce, hot, steaming, crying, screaming, angry, elated, miserable, hopeless, desperate, stinky, hairy, eating-sand place:  The first year after divorce.

My friend's husband, you see, had moved out — after she discovered he'd secretly gambled away all their savings.  She was exactly where she was supposed to be: deep in the denial phase of grief.

I see it all the time, and you likely do, too. People fall apart when their marriages end. No matter if it is an amicable, Gwyneth Paltrow uncoupling, your decision or his, whether there was plenty of money or everyone is now destitute, divorce is trauma. Every single vertical of your life unravels: finance, real estate, the kids of course, and how much you will see them and where. Money is a giant, scary question mark, and your relationships with friends and extended family likely change and are challenged. If you are like I was, your ideas about your own sexuality, identity and future are questioned, and your health can take its toll.

Do you feel guilty for divorcing a nice guy?

How to get through the first year of divorce

You get a year. A free pass for 12 months to be a freaky weirdo. Drink too much after the kids go to bed. Smoke a few cigarettes at break time with your colleagues. Let the house go, let the dishes pile up in the sink. Hell, might as well preemptively cancel the gym memberships, because you're not going. Be stinky and oily, and let your pubes hang out of your swimsuit on a public beach in the midwest. Sleep with a bunch of completely inappropriate people and wear things that no one at your age with your body should ever even think about wearing in public. Stay up all night stalking your college boyfriend on Facebook.

You're good. No judgement here!



Listen to my podcast on post-divorce shit shows!



Am I describing your friend or sister? Let her have at it, hang it all out. It's part of the process from which she will emerge, mind-blowingly successful and stronger than ever.

Learn how to coparent with your ex

You might not reach Gwyneth Paltrow-level co-parenting (vacation with your ex is not for everyone, after all), but you can aim to be civil, fair, positive about him when speaking to the kids (and others — otherwise you start to sound bitter. Not a good look). 

A co-parenting app like Our Family Wizard can help with features like a shared calendar, closed messaging and text, financial record keeping, an information vault for keeping track of contacts and medical and school information, as well as a way to download and submit records to courts.

Our Family Wizard costs $99/year, with a free 30-day trial, military discount and cost assistance for low-income families. Check out OurFamilyWizard now >>

The 2020 list of best and free co-parenting apps

More tips and advice on how to co-parent with even the most toxic and narcissistic of exes.

What about the one-year anniversary after divorce?

But at month 13? Time to tidy up business. Your Post-Divorce Hot Mess Pass has expired.

Get a wax. Go on some nice dates with nice people. Get that career going, wrap up the final, ugly details of your divorce, and pay a little more attention to the kids. Early to bed, and go to the gym for crissake. Hit the therapy, online or IRL. [My list of best online therapy apps]

And if you're the friend? Bring over a decent bottle of wine for after the kids go to bed. Two glasses each, and a toast to celebrate that that horror is finally behind her.

Best online dating sites and apps for single moms >>

What about the one-year anniversary after divorce?

But at month 13? Time to tidy up business. Your Post-Divorce Hot Mess Pass has expired. Hit the reset button with these three tips:

1. Engage in self-care activities

Drinking a glass of wine at the end of a long day isn’t self-care. A proper self-care routine includes activities you do daily to invest in your mental and physical health. Try these self-care ideas:

  • Take care of yourself physically. When people talk about self-care, they usually only address the emotional aspect of it, but it’s just as important to care for your body. So exercise, eat healthy foods, take a warm bath to relax your muscles, treat yourself to a massage (if you can afford it — debt is not self care!), and get 8+ hours of sleep each night. (Add this lavender bath tea to your tub to calm your mind while you soak.)
  • Put your phone away. Endlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram can be detrimental to your mental health. Take regular breaks from your phone and set guidelines on social media use. Try an app that limits screen time, like Space
  • Go to therapy. There’s no shame in getting professional help. You don’t even need to see a therapist IRL anymore, thanks to the plethora of self-care apps out there. Online therapy apps connect you with a licensed professional right from home. You can also use an automated mental health chatbot like Woebot or Wysa as a supplement to therapy to keep yourself accountable.

2. Practice yoga and meditation

Science shows yoga and meditation are incredible stress-relievers and mood-boosters. Here’s how to add them to your routine:

  • Start your day with a morning meditation. Take advantage of the quiet you have before the bustle of the day begins. Even just five minutes of meditation in the A.M. can make a difference in your mood. 
  • Download a meditation app. There are lots of free meditation apps out there. Some of the best include Headspace, Calm, and The Mindfulness App
  • Read meditation books. Yep, pick up a good ol’ fashioned paper book to learn the ins and outs of meditation. A break from from devices is an added bonus.  Meditation Made Easy, Practicing Mindfulness, and Mindfulness Made Simple offer easy-to-understand meditation tips to help you master your practice. 
  • Follow yoga videos. Can’t make it to a studio? No problem. You can still get your Ohm on by taking an online yoga class. Tune into Yoga With Adriene for straightforward yoga classes with none of the woo-woo. 

3. Get your financial act together. 

Financial wellbeing plays a huge role in how well you feel physically and mentally. Follow this advice for getting your finances in order: 

  • Make a financial plan. Use a tool like Betterment to get focused on your goals. This investment platform helps you create a free financial plan, with access to human advisors for an additional fee. 
  • Work on improving your credit. This will allow you to apply for a mortgage, get a business or student loan, and more. Start by applying for a 0% balance transfer credit card. You can also boost your credit score immedately by an average of 13 points by using Experian Boost, a free tool that also gives you a credit score and FICO report (all free!). 
  • Slash your budget. See what monthly memberships you can cancel or scale back on to save dough: cable, that fancy gym you belong to, all those random subscriptions to services you don’t use. Use a budgeting app like MoneyPatrol to help you reach your financial goals. (Want more money advice?

Here are even more tips for getting your financial act together this year.

4. Sell your engagement ring and wedding ring

I wrote about why I decided to sell my diamond ring, and how to do it safely. That post also gives step-by-step instructions on how to sell a diamond ring.

Top reasons to sell your engagement ring, wedding ring, and other sentimental jewelry include:

  1. You don't use it, so get rid of it.
  2. Your engagement ring or other jewelry likely has bad memories and energy attached to it, so best to set that free — open your life up to new and better experiences.
  3. The money you earn from selling your jewelry can be invested in positive things, like retirement, buying a home or car, a vacation, or starting that home-based business you've been thinking about.

For most jewelry, CashforGoldUSA is my recommendation, as they pay within 24 hours, have a BBB rating of A+ and guarantee the highest price.

For jewelry that will sell for more than $1,000, Worthy.com is also an excellent choice with its online auction platform and insurance up to $100,000.

I have personally used both online jewelry buyers.

Read my Worthy review.

Learn more about selling gold jewelry.

Educate yourself about your diamond's value.

Why sell your engagement ring?

I am a huge fan of selling your engagement ring in the event that your relationship ends, and I did so myself about five years ago.

I only received a fraction of what my now ex-husband and I paid for it, but I felt I got a fair price and used the proceeds to fund a trip my kids took to Europe with their dad to visit family — which, again, I felt good about.

 The real value in selling bridal jewelry, or other jewelry you don't wear, is that it frees up all that negative energy attached to the item, stewing indefinitely in your jewelry box.

Even if you loved the ring, loved your ex, loved being married (yes, yes, yes for me), it is time to move on and free the mental energy attached to the ring — not to mention the money!

Time to stop fretting about what to do with it, sell it, and move on already!

The bottom line is that I sold an engagement ring that I didn't use, no longer wanted, and kept me holding on to a relationship that I was no longer in.

Plus, I got some cash that I needed at the time.

I don’t think it was insignificant that same month I started my first significant relationship in two years.

I also think that selling those diamond and gold rings has something to do with the fact that my ex and I have been getting along better than since before our split.

In ways I don't fully understand, I was freed.

Real moms respond to “After divorce you get a one-year pass to be a hot mess” (and notes on restarting life after divorce):

I giggled at the article while giving you the “oh yes sister, you’re talking about me” nod. Feels like I’m on my way to recovering now though thank goodness. I do have my drink when the kids are sleep. My “woe is me” when some of my favorite love songs come on. Also my angry I hate this dude moments. Incomplete projects and the home is a wreck. And oh my poor kids hair…sometimes it’s cute and sometimes it’s just not…smh. I just want my life back. Unfortunately I’ve made the decision not to date and my trust for people is just not there anymore. But Jan will make a year so we shall see. Oh yea…2 days ago I chopped off all of my hair so start fresh, lol! No telling what I’ll do next!

– Jenn

Looking for inspiration for your new life? Check out my list of books for single moms, and gifts for single moms (from yourself, your kids, lover, friends). Also, my single-mom homie Karen Salmansohn is a great source of inspirational quotes for moms.

Why are you so focused on your friend’s (and by extension other women’s ) public hair? What business of yours deals with how she holds up to your physical ideal about her body hair, especially relating it to being unkempt/lazy/etc? If a woman’s hair is a bit too greasy for you, or bed head, or god forbid crotch not waxed into submission, does that make her a hot mess of insanity? Is this how women are supposed to support and motivate each other? I’ll pass.

– Wendy

It’s been 3 months and a year since I left my husband.
Reflecting on the past time, I don’t think I went too crazy.
I can’t believe how many dinners I’ve gotten to go to or how many times I’ve gone out dancing…even how many times I’ve got picked up in the air! My ex husband has NEVER picked me up in the air!
But your right about squaring up. It’s time to get more serious about work, show more love to my babies.

–Azuri

Did you lose it during your divorce? Thoroughly embarrass yourself? Go on … share in the comments! 

About Emma Johnson

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.

21 Comments

  1. Jodi on September 3, 2020 at 1:56 am

    Today was a hot mess day. I’m heading into month 3, and despite getting a job and setting up my new dwelling, I am not feeling very successful. Thanks for writing about what I’ve been feeling!

  2. Anne on February 27, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    Well that wasn’t me. At least the first 8 months. I guess I was in total denial. Survival mode. It s starting to hit me now and it’s scary.

  3. Lisa Monreal on December 3, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    As much as i wish i could have, i was unable to. I had separated from my husband and then spent a year taking on the care of 3 of my sisters kids which left me with 7 kids on my own. Had to keep my head straight for them.

  4. How to heal from heartbreak and get stronger sooner – Combat Domestic Violence and Abuse on September 23, 2019 at 7:32 am

    […] Simultaneously I was determined to push past my cynicism and hopelessness. With this in mind, I began reading as many inspiring books as I could – looking for helpful research studies and motivational stories on how others had bounced back from challenging events. […]

  5. Rachel on May 23, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Not me! I got divorced, moved out, and got my shit together. My apartment is bright & clean! And decorated cute af. HE, on the other hand, is a mess. Giant. Mess. Sometimes I help clean up when I visit. I feel bad for him but wish he would at least clean more, for our kids sake. If I let myself be a hot mess, I would spiral into a deep depression. For me though, divorce has been so nice! I got out! I have my own place, my own space.

  6. Fanci on May 17, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    After me and my ex-husband deside to divorce i ended up “dating” this guy for a few weeks. Till i found out i was pregnant. Mind you i was living in my RV in my friends driveway still waiting on divorce paperwork so i could buy a house! And now i have another tiny human im gonna have to take care of! I had also just bought a motorcycle, was enjoying my new found freedom. Needless to say, i became really depressed and stayed that way till i had my baby. But everything is working out really well. I have my own home, and great job, and started college. Not to mention i have one of the bast babies in the world. Never cries, and sleeps all night. Lets mommy do ger homework, and clean the house.

  7. JJ on April 20, 2019 at 11:14 am

    Year one was tough! The breakup was mercifully violent and irrational that I didn’t feel the need to ask my partner to change their mind and take me back – but not seeing our kids or knowing where they were taken to live was hell….a hell that went for 2 years and 10 months before finding and holding them again. I regrouped, found work, found a lawyer, took stock and did all I could to keep the communication channels open with the ex so as to speak to our two kids on the phone. The court process is rolling into its second year and the only solid thing I know for sure is that our children are healthy, love each other and their parents and that to have them and lose them is better than to not have had them at all. I have been blessed….twice.

  8. maureen on February 21, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    It’s only been 9months and I must say it’s tuff but I know i’ll get through this.I thank God I found out about you Emma and your books, you’ve made this journey easier.God bless you.

  9. phoenix men on May 25, 2018 at 1:01 am

    My marriage is probably not going to last much longer. We’ve only been married a couple of years, and have no children. My wife wants to separate temporarily and work toward getting back together.

  10. Michelle on April 9, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    I agree with Wendy. I think it’s unhealthy to shave and wax pubic hair; it increases chances of STDs and ingrown hair. I didn’t appreciate the image being associated with a woman’s responsibility / mental health.

    • Stephanie on July 24, 2018 at 4:19 pm

      Some people can’t help focusing on minutia and completely miss the big picture message, which wasn’t about pubic hair, it was about friendship. Get past it.

  11. Sparks on October 23, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    If you actually CARE about someone, you notice when they aren’t acting like themselves. The only one being judgemental here is you.

  12. Carol on September 28, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    I did everything you described Emma! Definitely a very hard year to get through. 3 years in and I’m loving life and feel happy again. It’s so good to let every woman know that it’s 100% normal but that you do need to set a time limit on how long you can let it all go.

    • Emma on September 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Wonderful report! Thanks for chiming in :) xxx

  13. Beth on September 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Yes. This resonated so deeply. I just hit the official year-since-he-moved-out mark in June and a year since I filed on the 26th of September. I was such a mess. My daughter ate a lot of canned soup while I lived on Triscuits and Mozzerella. I was so numb to my own emotional health that I took a stress test to see how I was feeling. I’m liberated now, my life is my own and I am working with my ex to coparent. We’re not perfect, but we’re much happier apart and after dating several of the very wrong guys, I’m finding out that I’m pretty damn happy by myself! Of course the second I decided that I met someone outstanding. I didn’t realize that I could be this emotionally healthy after what a mess I was last year.

    • Emma on September 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Thanks for owning it – and sharing your good news. Inspiring !

    • Jenn on September 30, 2016 at 9:02 am

      Yes I was letting the kids have extra sweets when I normally wouldn’t. And I wasn’t even eating. And when I did I was taste testing food I had made for the kids. I think my love off of food for the most part was bagged popcorn.

  14. Brittany on September 28, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I was a hot mess that first year. I dated like a little hurricane but was NOT taking care of myself. I was an emotional wreck, consuming more calories in wine than anything else. I lost a ton of weight and was weak in all ways; couldn’t eat, emaciated, couldn’t be alone, couldn’t put down the wine glass. I finally got sick of myself and knew I needed to change. I sat down and picked three areas to change, found one thing to do in each area to make the improvement, and set to work. It’s been 3 years now and I’m doing awesome! It’s a tough road but so worth every painful step.

    • Emma on September 29, 2016 at 9:33 am

      A lot of women can relate to your story. Thanks for sharing, and wonderful to hear where you landed!

  15. Paige on September 16, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    The first paragraph made me laugh. Oh man I remember my first year. What a mess. I remember serving macaroni and cheese to my son right on the dining room table because there wasn’t a clean bowl or plate or even Tupperware lid in the house. I also spent my last $100 on a clearanced cashmere sweater one month instead of paying my phone bill. No room to judge here.

    • Emma on September 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      lol! Priorities!

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