After divorce, the most important thing you can do is to move forward sensibly. Here are ten steps to help you on your way back to a fulfilling life.
1. Think single. As obvious as it may seem, you're no longer one half of a couple and that can take some getting used to. After all, life as a single woman is very different to the life you've been leading for a major part of your life. Take time to understand the changes that are happening in your life and don't expect it to be easy.
2. Remind yourself that it's ok to be single. In a society where single women are often looked down at by their married peers, they can easily find themselves believing that they're failures; that "real" women are involved in loving, lasting relationships. That simply isn't true. More and more women are choosing to remain single, or to break out of unfulfilling relationships, something which shows strength rather than weakness. Surviving means believing in yourself and your capabilities as a single woman.
3. Don't try to get even. No matter how angry you are at your partner, even if he's been unfaithful to you, don't try to get your own back. You'll just end up exhausting your personal energy on something that isn't going to be the least bit fruitful. It certainly won't get him back but the bitterness will most likely stop you from moving on. You don't deserve that, so don't do it! Try to approach your anger in a sensible manner, one that will constructive in helping you back to a healthy, emotional state of mind. Writing down exactly what is making you angry and why can often help you to understand and deal with your feelings. Find a friend who'll listen and tell her how you feel. Anger needs an outlet, but revenge isn't a healthy way of venting it.
4. Accept that the relationship is over. When you're living alone and your partner has moved on, it should be easy to accept that it's over. Unfortunately, this is something that a lot of women have problems with. You may find yourself making excuses to visit him by forgetting things at his place or needing to discuss something trivial regarding the children. Don't crowd him. Talk to him when you need to, visit if you must, but be polite, keep your distance emotionally, and accept that you now lead separate lives. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will be able to find happiness again.
5. Don't live in the past. No doubt you've got some great memories from your time together, you would never have stayed together as long as you did if there were never any good times. Remember them by all means, but don't dwell on them. If you find yourself wishing that everything could be "like that" again, give yourself a mental slap and remind yourself that there are some fantastic moments waiting for you in the future and that the past is nothing but a memory. You can learn from it but you can't change it or return to it. It's over. Gone. The future is what you should be thinking about now!
6. Don't drown yourself in guilt. You've probably said a few things that you didn't mean and now regret but you can't change that now. By all means apologise to your ex if it'll make you feel better, but don't expect your apology to change anything. Forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes.
7. Re-discover yourself! How much of yourself did you give up during your relationship? Did you find yourself bending over backwards to satisfy your partner? Now is the time to start living for you! Doing the things that make YOU happy will increase your self-confidence. Get a new hair-cut, re-arrange the furniture, enrol on a course. Do anything you like, but do it for YOU.
8. Sort out your finances. Your financial situation is bound to have changed and it's important that you know exactly how much you have coming in. It's easy to start over-spending while you're wallowing in your self-pity. A little extra indulgence here and another there; it's easy to fall into the trap so don't be tempted. Getting yourself into debt will just make your life as a single woman unnecessarily difficult. If your income is low (or non-existent) contact Social Services Benefits Advice Service or your local Citizens Advice Bureau. They will have somebody available to assess your needs and help you claim any benefits that you may be eligible for.
9. Don't become lonely. You may have found that your "couple friends" no longer invite you over or that your married friends don't have the time to do the things you suggest. Don't panic. This is perfectly normal and as time passes you will gradually find new friends. Whatever you do, be positive when you are with others as positive people always attract more friends. When you meet new people, they don't want to listen to "doom and gloom". They don't know you yet and will probably find it difficult to be sympathetic to a complete stranger. Be cheery and make them smile, people will remember and like you for that.
10. Don't get involved on the rebound! We've all heard it, but when you meet "that" guy, it's so easy to forget. Keep your dates light and remember that there is a broad line between getting to know a person and bonding a close, intimate relationship. Don't try to jump that line, it's there to be crossed slowly. When you try to cross it too quickly you'll be forcing the relationship and forced relationships rarely last. Yes, I know there are some whirlwind romances that have survived the test of time, but those are the exception, rather than the rule.
I've been married, single and a live-in partner. All sorts of relationships have their good and bad sides. When you're single you might yearn for the stability of marriage; when you're married you may envy the freedom of your single friends. Whatever happens, whether you choose to remain single or forge a new relationship, don't keep comparing your life with that of your friends. You're unique - your life is exceptional! Enjoy it!
Sharon grew up in East London but moved to Norway at the age of 19, returning to England in 1998. She now lives in Cheshire with her partner and two of her three children. Besides writing, she is currently studying Social Science with The Open University, runs a web site where women in the UK can meet other women for platonic friendship (www.friendsyourway.co.uk), potters in her garden, knits and reads everything she comes over.