You will love again, and you will be loved again. It can feel like that is just not possible, especially depending on what side of the split you were on. But humans were made for love, and your nature will surely show you that that is the case soon.
Life does go on! While going through a divorce may feel like forever, I promise, this is just temporary. Don’t look at divorce as a setback! See this as a chance to find what you have been longing for! Don’t consider yourself single! View it as your mind is open for business and you are the host/hostess at a restaurant who gets to meet everyone that comes through the front door and engage in conversation. Just remember the reasons why you left your marriage and use it as a “relationship detector” so you can spot the warning signs right away. Dr. Venus Nicolino, PhD is a relationship expert, former host of the TV series, “Marriage Bootcamp” and the #1 bestselling author of the book, “Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bullshit.”
Ilyssa Panitz: Does divorce affect men and women differently?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: When we are talking about heterosexual relationships, women tend to initiate divorce more than men because the hard truth is, marriage is an institution made by men for men. There is strongly supported data that shows a woman’s earning potential face-plants after they get married, while a man’s goes up. They did not cover that in the Disney movie, did they? A divorce means freedom in more ways than one for women, and that is going to be reflected in how their mental and physical health rebounds after a split. On the flip side, divorced men wind up experiencing worse physical and mental health than women after a divorce, because even though many men love to joke about what a nag their wife is to their buddies, men crave relationships as much, if not more, than woman. They sleep better, feel better and thrive more when they are coupled up. Even though the media would have you think otherwise, it is men that tend to be more heartbroken (literally) than women.
Ilyssa Panitz: What goes through a person’s mind when they realize they are dissolving their marriage?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Well, it is a major decision, or slap in the face if it is not mutual, so that realization comes a lot later than you would expect, as is the case with digesting pain, your brain is a procrastinator just like you are. When it does hit, there is a whole range of emotions that race through your mind such as: anger, grief, denial, pretty much all the stages you would experience when mourning a death because something is dying. There is really no way to sugarcoat that.
Ilyssa Panitz: When someone realizes they are getting divorced from their husband/wife, does their head play games, and get jammed up with all sort of images such as: the ex-dating and having a good time without them?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Are you kidding me? Of course! I would be concerned if it wasn’t. Just because you are ending a long-term relationship with someone, does not mean you do not still feel incredibly connected to them. You invested a lot into them, and vice versa. It is going to take your heartstrings some time to really detach and not feel a real sense of loss imagining them living their best life and their best life not including you. It hurts. Plus, the human brain tends to have a masochistic longing for pain in these moments. So, thanks for that, brain!
Ilyssa Panitz: Is it normal for people to be an emotional wreck during a divorce?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Is it normal for you to freak out when your house is on fire? Um, yes! I am going tell you this right now — do yourself the favor of not trying to go through this unphased! Divorces are one of the most stressful things you will ever go through, especially when you throw things like kids, friends, and family into the mix. Even though it is likely for the best, you cannot avoid the ups, downs, and loopdeloops of it all. It is like a roller-coaster that would never get approved by OSHA.
Ilyssa Panitz: Do these reactions escalate if cheating, stealing, and betrayal are the cause for the split?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Absolutely! Because in this scenario you are in a burning house, and this time you have got eyes on the arsonist. I would expect to feel everything tenfold because betrayal is one of the hardest emotions to process as a human. They were supposed to be there for you, ’til death do us part’, and now not only are they not there for you, instead, they are there for someone else. Security is the foundation of our hierarchy of needs as self-actualized individuals, and when that foundation is ripped from under our feet, some crumbling is in order. Do not forget we are stronger than we think we are, and you will build yourself back up. Because you are a boss!
Ilyssa Panitz: What suggestions do you have to help them stop feeling so sad and angry?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Feel sad and angry. Emotions are like stop signs. You can try to blow past them, but it is going to cost you. Not addressing emotions head on can result in things like insomnia, headaches, dissociation, or even bigger waves of sadness and anger down the line. Take the time you need to feel the pain; I guarantee that will bring peace to you sooner than any kind of “shortcut” could. Of course, things like socializing with friends, therapy and new hobbies can help, but they’ll never replace a good ole’ fashioned bucket of tears.
Ilyssa Panitz: What happens when someone is crying so hard, they become paralyzed from how powerful the feelings are?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: When this happens, your body is having an emotional wreck-oning. We all know this feeling. When your pain is so deep it is literally suffocating. It is a deep, deep pain that we hope to only feel a few times in our lives. What we need to remember is that these moments of emotional overload are a part of our body’s repair mechanisms. Researchers have theorized that psycho-emotional tears like these may even contain stress hormones and toxins, effectively flushing your system of the negative nancies that caused the episode in the first place. Crying like this also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that helps our body rest and process what has happened to it. These tear tsunamis release oxytocin and endogenous opioids, otherwise known as endorphins, so even though this all feels very intense and maybe even scary, try to remember that it is the body’s attempt at restoring some emotional harmony.
Ilyssa Panitz: How do you encourage someone to eat, go to work, take a walk, exercise, or watch their favorite TV show to keep their mind busy?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: It is just objectively true that doing those things puts your brain in a better place. MRI studies have uncovered a neural network in the brain that people use when their attention is not specifically focused on something like exercising, watching TV, socializing, etc. They call it the “default mode network,” and its engagement is heavily associated with people experiencing depression, dwelling, and anxiety. Seriously, I am telling you that watching the Food Network for hours can be a medicine. Take the prescription and run.
Ilyssa Panitz: Why should people stay off social media, especially if their “ex” is on some of these platforms?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Right now, you probably feel like your life is in shambles and social media is generally used for showing off how not-in-shambles your life is. News flash: everyone still is! You do not need to see that stuff right now especially if one of those people could be your ex. Just do yourself the favor of giving your brain a break from the comparison competition and especially give your brain a break from needing to think about your ex living their best life while you scroll Facebook with your Cheetos fingers.
Ilyssa Panitz: How do you spot lies and what are the red flags?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Anytime someone tries to get you to bypass emotions and skip right to the life-is-perfect stuff, I say call BS. Yes, it would be lovely if your relationship, and life were always perfect. But guess what? (I think you already know the answer). They stink sometimes. If you sense that anyone or anything is ever trying to get you to ignore the stuff your brain is flagging as a bummer. That is the real red flag. Get yourself someone who is ready to experience all of life with you. Not just the stuff Hallmark makes their money (and horrible, horrible movies) off of.
Ilyssa Panitz: How does someone come out swinging when they are in the middle of a bad divorce?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: If you are still in the middle of a bad divorce, trying to force yourself to come out swinging can feel like trying to force a tee-baller to hit a home run, you might just need a little more time, and that is okay. But if you are feeling ready to move on, remember that you are free now. You are free from the toxic environment that you felt stuck in before, and you are free to go out into the world having shed that skin. Do not feel guilty for searching for some happiness. That does not do a thing for anybody. You deserve to come out of this on the other side and reconnect with the version of you that once felt optimistic about love and life.
Ilyssa Panitz: Can a person still have a healthy relationship when they are ready to try again?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: Of course, and I cannot express enough how important it is for them to believe that this is true themselves. Your thoughts become your beliefs, and your beliefs become your actions. It may sound “woo-woo,” but it is backed by science. If you are going to go into this thinking you are tied to a toxic future, do not be surprised when you find yourself starring in a “Groundhog Day” sequel. You absolutely can have a healthy relationship after a divorce and guess what? You will have added a whole new chapter of knowledge to your book, “How To Not Get Stuck In Bad Relationships.”
Ilyssa Panitz: I dislike the word “baggage” especially when people refer to it when you are meeting someone for a potential relationship. But how do you slowly tell someone about your past, so it does not scare them away?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: People often hate their “baggage,” especially when starting to date again, but guess what is in there? All the stuff that makes up your life story. You cannot escape it, and you should not feel like you need to. You did not do anything wrong; you are just human. If the topic comes up, talk about it with a level head. There is no need to frantically try to over-explain why and how everything went down. Over 50% of marriages end in divorce. The fact that you were a part of the majority that goes through one is strangely comforting. Oh, and that also means chances are the person you are seeing is going through the same thing. I hope they are reading this, too!
Ilyssa Panitz: What is defined as fixable and what is defined as unfixable?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: When things enter toxic territory might be when they start to look unfixable and when one or both parties have zero empathy. If you are stuck in a relationship with someone who constantly denies your pain, struggles, and concerns, it is going to be hard to advance your position because you are not even playing on the same game board. As long as someone is willing to acknowledge that the problems do exist and is ready to genuinely try to fix them, I can confidently say you are in fixable territory. Everybody has differences, but assuming you were together this long because of a deep connection, you have probably got a solid chance of reining that sucker in with a dedication to good communication and some realness.
Ilyssa Panitz: What are 5 things someone needs to know to survive and thrive during and after a divorce?
Dr. Venus Nicolino: One: This will be over. I know it can feel like some bad person keeps moving the finish line, but just trust me, you will cross it.
Two: This does not define you. Divorce is not who you are. In fact, the nature of you being an individual is what partly caused it. You are still your uniquely wonderful self, and you deserve to move through the world post-divorce embodying that.
Three: It is going be hard, really, hard. Just own it and lean into your support systems as much as you can.
Four: This was for probably for the best. It can be tough to not second guess the decision to move forward with the split but going back and forth in your brain is just adding unnecessary self-torture. Trust that you did what you could, and you deserve to move on.
Five: You will love again, and you will be loved again. It can feel like that is just not possible, especially depending on what side of the split you were on. But humans were made for love, and your nature will surely show you that that is the case soon.