Life after divorce: 5 things you should do to move on (and 6 things to avoid)

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Divorce is just one life experience. It is so common, so commonplace, and there are so many success stories about life after divorce, that I need you to know right now:

You will be fine.

There is trauma, yes.

Pain and suffering.

But you will get through it!

Life after divorce: What the stats say

A study of nearly 9,000 divorced men and women in Spain found that divorced moms are less likely to remarry that single dads, and single parents who live primarily with their kids are less likely to repartner with childless individuals, so single fathers more frequently form two‐parent stepfamilies than do mothers.

Life after divorce for men

The common narrative is that after divorce, men make tons of money, are free to date, travel and work, and women are straddled with children and no earning potential.

The story is a lot more complex than that — and there is a lot of bad info out there. To start, a study by a Stanford University Dr. Lenore J. Weitzman showing that women's standards of living decrease by an average of 73% in the year after divorce while men's increase by an average of 42% — findings based on a 1977 research and published in her 1985 book, The Divorce Revolution. These stats have been cited by hundreds of media outlets, influenced court cases and state and national policy.

A decade later, a study replicating Weitzman's method found that the study was flawed and women have an average 27% decline in standard of living vs men with an average 10% increase — figures consistent with similar studies. Weitzman has conceded that her research was inaccurate, yet her original figures, to this day, are cited. Bad science has influenced popular perception, policy and law.

In fact, single fathers and divorced men fare worse than women overall in many regards.

Single fathers suffer suicide at twice the rate of single mothers or partnered parents, and are more prone to alcoholism, weight gain, unemployment, and mental health issues than women overall. Some researchers connect the high male suicide rate overall to a low father-child bond (both adult men who did not have close relationships with their own fathers, as well as men who are separated from their children after divorce — and/or never made a tight bond with them i the first place).

Life after divorce for women

Single moms are poorer than single dads, and moms overall. Mothers overall suffer a pay gap of 29%, earning an average of 71 cents for every $1 earned by a dad — or an average of $16,000 less per year, according to the National Women’s Law Center. 

According to Pew Research, single moms with a household of three earn just $26,000 per year on average, compared with $40,000 per year for single dads — a 35% difference. However, these figures are misleading as they do not account for child support (the payor is taxed on that income, while the recipient is not), nor any of the public assistance for food, housing, utilities, child care subsidies and other resources that are much more available to parents with primary custody. 

While studies like this Pew report measure income earned from work only, the net result of income distribution overall is devestatingly harsher on men: 70% of the U.S. homeless population is male. 

My survey of 2,279 single moms found that those with more equality in time-sharing correlates with higher income and more reports of feeling proud of their parenting.

A few survey highlights include:

  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad). 
  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100% time with their kids.
  • Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are more than twice as likely to earn $65,000+ than those with majority time, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100% parenting time.

Is life better after divorce?

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. 

You will likely have to consider selling your home. Read: How to sell your house for cash with Offerpad

Keeping the house after divorce? You may have to refinance your house. 

Downsizing your property and possessions can be cathartic.

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.

Is life better after divorce? There are four post-divorce experiences:

  1. Life is so fucking better after that asshole leaves!
  2. Meh. At first it seemed great but after a while I realized he was not so bad and I was just bored.
  3. Whew! At first I was devastated that he wanted to leave, but with time I realized what a horrible relationship it was and that he did me the biggest favor!
  4. It is 27 years later and every day I am angry/bitter/remorseful.

Here’s how to improve your life after divorce and help you move on regardless of your post-divorce experience.

Life after divorce: 5 things you should do to move on

Self-improvement, getting laid or dating, and taking care of your physical self, and surround yourself with positive people are all critical to moving into this new phase of life in a healthy way.

1. Get therapy — or at least try some self-help books and courses.

Divorce can do a number on your mind, body and soul. Take charge.

If your insurance includes coverage for therapy, get yourself a counselor. It is so freeing to talk with someone with absolutely zero stake in your personal life. Relatives and friends can be judgy about your breakup; a counselor just wants to help you move past it.

(And if your insurance coverage doesn’t include therapy? Look for affordable – and maybe even free – help through online counseling services.)

Therapy has been proven to help people struggling with all kinds of life transitions, and divorce definitely qualifies as a big-ass, major life transition! Therapy can help you understand why your marriage didn’t work out, process any grief, anger and loneliness, and help navigate co-parenting, and caring for your kids during their own difficult time.

Online therapy site BetterHelp takes quality, PhD or Masters degree level therapists, and makes them accessible by video or phone sessions, for fees starting at $60/week.

Here are workbooks you could try to DIY self-care:

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook

Retrain Your Brain (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety)

Do you feel guilty for divorcing a nice guy?

Udemy has some free and inexpensive online courses that can help transition to life after divorce:

Life 101 Considering that stress levels and poor lifestyle choices in college students are increasing at an alarmingly fast pace, this course may serve as an effective educational tool to teach healthy lifestyle choices, promote students’ well-being and help them to recognize and manage their stress.

Life 101 is taught through a combination of lectures, multimedia videos, workshops and group discussions that would foster active learning. This course will encourage, challenge, motivate, and inspire students to make positive changes in their lifestyle and the way they interact with others and their environment.

The Science of Well-Being In this course you will engage in a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits.

As preparation for these tasks, Professor Laurie Santos reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change. You will ultimately be prepared to successfully incorporate a specific wellness activity into your life.

Finding Purpose and Meaning: Living for What Matters Most! Learn how science, philosophy and practice all play a role in both finding your purpose and living a purposeful life. You will hear from historical figures and individuals about their journeys to finding and living a purposeful life, and will walk through different exercises to help you find out what matters most to you so you can live a purposeful life.

By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Understand that having a strong purpose in life is an essential element of human well-being.
  2. Know how self-transcending purpose positively affects well-being.
  3. Be able to create a purpose for your life (don't be intimidated, this is different from creating “the purpose” for your life).
  4. Apply personal approaches and skills to self-change and become and stay connected to your purpose every day.

2. Get a physical, and maybe a makeover.

Next, talk to your primary care physician. Explain what’s been going on in your life and get a full physical. It could turn out that your exhaustion is due to an underactive thyroid rather than breakup-related stress. Talk with the doc about any issues that concern you – weight, cholesterol, disease risk – and ask for help mapping out a healthy lifestyle.

Weight loss after breakup isn’t always an issue, of course. Some people are just naturally slim. Others have already lost weight due to the “relationship breakup diet” of stress and worry. But if you do decide to drop those extra pounds, the divorce weight loss transformation could do wonders for your self-confidence – and for your overall health, since you’ll be doing it through better eating and regular exercise.

Bonus: When you’re ready to date again, you’ll feel totally up to the challenge. The comedian Elayne Boosler once referred to post-breakup food and exercise as the “new people are going to see me naked diet.” She’s not wrong.

Nothing wrong with cultivating a “revenge body.” Let’s be honest: Doesn’t part of you really want your ex to hear about (or see) how great you’re doing – and how great you look?

3. Co-parent like a Paltrow

It can also help to focus on positive co-parenting with your now-ex. This focuses on this new relationship, and visualize what the future looks like for your whole family. Read my tips in: Rules for co-parenting with even the most toxic ex.

4. Date, when you’re ready.

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.

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.

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

Then, it’s time to move on.

Post-divorce dating can be exhilarating — when you’re ready. The joys of connecting as a mature adult with other evolved people, dating and sex without the pressures of marriage or commitment, are some of the great surprises at this time of your life.

Eventually, if you want and when you are ready, you will join the countless other formerly heartbroken women and find love after divorce.

Word of warning: The pain that comes with the first breakup after divorce is a phenomenon that few talk about. Wealthysinglemommy founder Emma Johnson wrote about her first post-divorce breakup — and how she got over it.

Here are positive reasons single moms should date:

Good times. Laughs with a fun, smart guy – why not? I mean, you spend a couple hours at a rom-com and aren’t disappointed that it fails to text the next morning.

Company. Life is lonely. Sometimes I hang out with friends who are annoying because I don’t have anything better to do. Sometimes I go out on dates with men who are annoying because I don’t have anything better to do.

Sex. All about friends with benefits and our recs for best hookup sites.

Business. Once on OKCupid I was contacted by a gorgeous British plumber who lived in New Jersey at the exact same time I was trying to find a plumber to unclog my toilet.  He thought I was joking when I shared the coincidence. The situation resolved itself before he could come to my rescue (but not without producing plenty of porn-quality fantasies between my ears), but had that worked out it would not have been the first or last professional contact I made through dating.

Friendship. You know Marc I mentioned above? We went on an OKCupid date when we decided to be friends.

In other words, I can find compatibility of all sorts with many different kinds of men. So when something really special comes along, it is easier to discern him from a guy who was valuable for a fun evening or replacing a flush valve. Which brings me to another reason I date:

5 friends that every single mom needs

Looking for love. Duh.

Looking for a husband. Absolutely.

In essence: Dating is life. Parenting is life. Stop making such a big deal out of the former, and the latter becomes far less complicated.

Rebound relationships: How to recognize signs and stages

5. Get your finances together, and make sure your kids are protected.

Whether he was the breadwinner and you had your head in the sand, or you are very financially astute, chances are, divorce did a number on your income, debt, credit and savings. Our 52-Week Money Challenge will help you earn more, save more, spend less and feel joyful about your funds. Sign up for the weekly FREE emails:

Ready to revolutionize your finances? Save more, earn more, spend less? Sign up:

Divorce, breakup, job change or a new baby are all times to revisit your life insurance policy. Learn more about the specific reasons single moms need life insurance — and the best policies that don't cost a lot.

6 things not to do when rebuilding after a divorce:

  • Encourage your kids to take sides
  • Go on a spending spree
  • Wallow too long in sadness
  • Share too much about your divorce on social media
  • Try to turn your friends and family against your ex
  • Avoid social gatherings because your ex might be there

Real moms on 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

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

Whether you just got served divorce papers or you’ve been separated for years, happily separated, or still grieving the relationship — it’s time to take steps to cleanse your ex from your life and recover from your divorce!

Look at these changes as a divorce makeover.

Think of it: Now you can turn your bedroom into a cozy, overstuffed refuge rather than the minimalist grotto your now-ex insisted on. You can join (or quit!) a book club, cook the foods that you like, binge-watch your favorite Netflix shows —— all in the comforts of home that you now easily afford, and gleefully decorated yourself. #recovery

Post-divorce counseling of course can help — whether this means working with your regular therapist, joining a post-divorce support group, or seeking out services like online therapy — sometimes just an objective, patient ear to listen can change your life.

Support groups for divorce can be powerful. I had an incredible experience with group therapy around the time of my own divorce, and connecting with other women going through a similar situation, as well as those who are both ahead of you, and following you in their divorce journeys, can be informative, healing and humbling.

I run a 100% Millionaire Single Moms support group for women on Facebook, where women share about all the joys, traumas and realities of parenting solo.

The bottom line: Life isn’t over after divorce.

The best way to move on after breakup?

Time. Patience with yourself. Self-reflection. Focus on thriving as a single woman while also being open to fun, dating, partnership, and being a good co-parent.

But to get there, you have to get rid of stuff: furniture, dishes, old photos, and sell that engagement ring already.

Another self-care option: going for a dramatic new look after divorce. Dye your hair! Sell that engagement ring, anniversary ring, diamond necklace, or push-present earrings and use the proceeds to get your nose pierced! Purge the super-basic wardrobe you somehow accumulated in the past decade! (Hint: Moms don’t have to wear mom jeans.)

A divorce makeover won’t happen overnight, unless you’re financially secure enough just to dump everything and start over. Take your time, make thoughtful decisions about what you will get rid of as you can afford them. Give yourself the time and permission to discover – and to meet – your own needs and desires, now.

FAQs: How to start a new life after divorce

Is life over after divorce?

Oh god, no.

Are people happier after divorce?

Women and men thrive after their marriages end — build communities, careers and find love, and raise great kids. For more, check out my bestselling book The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), which the New York Post called a “Smart, must-read.”

How hard is life after divorce? How bad is it?

The answer to this question is entirely personal, and can be measured by many factors, including emotional pain, financial stress, romantic loneliness and of course the stress and pain of your kids. A few factors that help women thrive after divorce:

  • Aim for a low-conflict, uncontested divorce. This will set you up for a healthy co-parenting arrangement and create fewer things for you to be pissed about long-term.
  • Aim to be financially independent of him. Say no to alimony and child support and find a fair way to split out-of-pocket expenses for the kids (insurance, child care, sports, school supplies). Instead, build your career, start a business or find ways to work at home.
  • Insist on 50/50 time-sharing. Moms who don’t end up resentful, and poorer, according to my survey of 2,279 moms.

What should I do with my life after divorce?

Here are just some of the million things that women do with their happy post-divorce lives:

Is life better after divorce?

It depends.

Is life over after divorce?

Oh god, no.

Are people happier after divorce?

Women and men thrive after their marriages end; they build communities, careers and find love, and raise great kids.

How hard is life after divorce?

The answer to this question is entirely personal, and can be measured by many factors, including emotional pain, financial stress, romantic loneliness and of course the stress and pain of your kids.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, 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. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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