How to survive divorce after 25 years of marriage

Coping with a divorce after having been married or together for more than 25 years

Since you’ve landed here, you probably didn’t see the: “I’m divorcing you.” coming!

The two of you have been married for long enough to have waved off your adult children to lives of their own. Left with an empty nest, you’d started considering the rest of your lives together. You may have relinquished many of your own needs and wants over the last couple of decades for the sake of your family, particularly if you’re a woman.

This was meant to be the time that you and your spouse were free to finally bring some of your own dreams to life. Perhaps you anticipated finally being able to spend more quality time together. Maybe you were even hoping that that would help you rekindle some of the love you used to feel for each other.

Then – BOOM!

Out of the blue, your spouse told you that they want a divorce. Talk about a shock!

It seems your spouse has clearly been planning their departure for some time, probably while you were busy thinking about plans for your future together.

And now you’re left floundering. I soooo understand how you’re feeling, and I’ve got your back with this article right here.

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How to survive divorce when you’ve been together for more than 25 years

Had the children still been dependent on you, you would at least have had to drag yourself out of bed in time to tend to their needs. But now that they’re adults, they don’t need you as much as you may feel you need them right now.

They probably have a thing or two to say about the divorce too, which might just add to your distress.

Doubtless, you’re mourning the fact that your family will never be complete again. You’ve worked hard to hold it all together, but it seems to no avail. You’d never have wanted this – not for you and not for your children (or grandchildren).

Stick with me, here. I’m going to give you some purposeful direction in the midst of all this chaos.

We’ll start by talking about what to do and say when you open your front door, get questions at work or answer that call…

Coping with divorce: how to steel yourself against other people’s reactions

Let me help you prepare for some of the unhelpful reactions you may be exposed to, particularly as you’ve been together so long, e.g:

“Well, it did seem a bit like you weren’t ínto each other anymore.”

“Oh, I didn’t think that would ever happen to you.”

“Perhaps you should have….”

“If only you had…”

“Have you been to couples counselling?”

“I’ve always wondered what you saw in him/her.”

“I heard (s)he was being unfaithful.”

“You’re better off without him/her.”

And we haven’t even touched on the lengthy comparisons they’ll probably offer you about what happened to them, their auntie, their children or their neighbour!

There also tends to be a fear that divorce is somehow contagious. So it’s wise to prepare yourself for the platitudes when people don’t really know what to say…

“You’ll just have to let it go now.”
Great, but you’re nowhere near ready yet, and nor should you be.

“He or she’s an idiot.”
Well, maybe so, but you haven’t stopped loving them and this just isn’t helpful in any way.

“You’re such a lovely person, there’s bound to be someone waiting for you.”
As if that’s what you’re waiting for.

Your action plan

Be sure to be ready with a neutral response, and practise it.

You’ll be pleased you’ve done so when somebody you don’t care for wants to know how you’re feeling – however well-intended. Something like:
“Thank you for your concern. I appreciate it.”

You might want to add something like: 
“I’m not prepared to talk about it, I’m sure you’ll understand, but thank you for your interest.” 

Then change the subject.

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How are you trying to cope with the ending of your marriage?

How do you fend off that sense of having failed? That blow to your self-esteem and those depressive feeling lurking around the corner?

Let me reassure you straight away: all of the following are normal feelings and behaviours.

Trying hard but feeling like you’re failing to cope

If you’ve been together for much of your adult life, you may not be able to even begin to imagine what life might look like without your ‘other half’. That can be true whether or not you were fairly independent and separate as people throughout your marriage.

And even if you perhaps weren’t all that happy, that might feel irrelevant to you now.

It just might not have occurred to you that you’d ever separate, and certainly not after 25 years of seeing it through! You were a couple and as far as you were concerned, that was meant to be for life. And now you’re on your own. You’re likely to be feeling rejected, humiliated, angry, hurt, betrayed and a multitude of other emotions and feelings.

Your action plan

  1. Expect to be able to cope with not coping at first. Believe me when I say that this too will pass.
  2. Be kind to yourself, be patient and forgiving of your perceived failings (if you have any, that is). Give yourself time to adjust to your new reality. Know that you will get through this.
  3. Cry, wail, shout, holler as much as you want for the time being. It’s normal! Over a period of time (your period of time) those raw emotions will slowly subside if you let them.

Pretending all is well

“I’ve got this, I’m moving on with my life – it is what it is,” you might say. 

But on the inside, you’re nursing a broken heart.

Your action plan

  1. Carry on pretending in the right places
    People can say some daft things even if they mean well. You’re probably well aware that almost all of us have to deal with some tough times. Some people just don’t know that yet!
  2. Be sure you offload and seek support
    But, do it only from people you trust. I’ve developed a worksheet for you to help you sort through who can support you and who you’d better keep at arm’s length. Alternatively, connect with Better Help to get some online counselling (click the link for further information).
  3. Keep nursing that broken heart
    It’s precisely what you need to do. Don’t let anyone tell you you should be over it after a month or two, or even a year. You’ll heal and take steps forward in your own time.
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Searching for clues

“How could this have happened?” “What have I missed?” These kinds of questions are common.

You may feel crushed beyond belief, desperately trying to make sense of it all. Your soon-to-be-ex is unlikely to be any help, and will probably be reluctant to hang on to the past (as they may see it). That rejection no doubt feels like physical pain.

Your action plan

  1. Realise that your spouse has moved on
    Don’t set yourself up for more pain by expecting your husband, wife or partner to answer all or even any of your questions. They moved on, sadly without your knowledge, probably quite some time ago.
  2. Ask your close friends
    They may know more than you suspect. What did they see that you may not have been aware of? Or, if you were aware, did your spouse see it differently? Did they have someone else? And if so, how long for?
  3. Dig out that stack of letters
    cards, emails and texts in your own time. Why? Because going through them will help you – in part – to slowly come to terms with your new reality.

Dealing with friends and family

You’ll find that some friends just disappear altogether. After all, you were a couple and part of their circle as such. But they may not have the wish, capacity, patience or know-how to support and reintegrate a singleton, not least one who appears to have fallen apart.

You do need the support of friends, though, who’ll love you regardless of how and when you show up.

Your action plan

  1. Ask for what you need
    – friends and family can’t read your mind.
    Some will be able to offer you a listening ear and some will happily cook for you. There’ll be those who can offer practical support or make you laugh, but they might not want you to shed a tear in their presence. 
  2. Be prepared for the holier than thou attitude
    some married couples might emit.
    They may be unaware of it, they may not mean it, or they may be doing it deliberately to fend off their own feelings of insecurity. Regardless of their reason, they probably have no idea of how very painful it is to you. But remember, just because they’re still married doesn’t mean they’re any better than you!
  3. Have a spiel at the ready here too
    ready to use as soon as you detect someone is a little too keen to show you how close they are as a couple.
    Say something like:
    “Few people marry with the expectation that their marriage will end in divorce, and all too many couples think it simply won’t happen to them.”
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You’ve been a couple for such a long time that it may be difficult to imagine a life on your own at first. Know that once you’re through the worst, there’s a whole new world open to you.

Factors that’ll affect how you survive a divorce

There’ll be much you have absolutely no control over. So to speed up your recovery, focus instead on the things that you do have control over.

Concentrate on the aspects where your input and the way in which you raise a subject or your concerns can potentially affect the outcome.

Go through this list slowly and think about how you can react and/or behave to pave the way for the best possible route forward. Realise and accept, though, that there are losses lurking around almost every corner. Be prepared for it, but also fight fairly to rescue what you can.

14 things you potentially do have a measure of control over

  1. How cooperative the two of you are with regards to the divorce proceedings (I recommend divorce mediation).
  2. How insistent your divorce lawyer is to get you the best deal by protecting your rights. Not bad in principle, of course. But it may come at a cost in terms of your and your family’s overall well-being, including your finances. So, choose wisely – see how to find the best divorce lawyer.
  3. How you manage the division of your property and/or possessions. See my article Breaking up with someone you live with.
  4. How well you behave towards each other generally. See my article on the signs of emotional abuse.
  5. Whether there are other stresses in your life. See: How to deal with depression without medication.
  6. How much understanding and support you’re getting at work (if you go to work).
  7. The attitude and level of support of your probably now-adult children.
  8. Whether or not you and your spouse have/had a business together.
  9. Your finances.
  10. Whether or not you need to move; where and what your new home is likely to be.
  11. If you’re required to work now after having been a stay-at-home mum or dad. Or, if you’re required to work full-time after having previously worked part-time.
  12. Whether or not you have to say goodbye to much-loved family pets (perhaps someone can at least temporarily adopt one if necessary).
  13. How supportive your family and friends are. Be sure to avoid those that drain you as much as you possibly can.
  14. Your physical and mental well-being before your spouse told you they want out.

You can perhaps see that you can influence some of these points, but there’s much that you have very little choice about. So…

Your action plan

  1. Think through each of these points very carefully:
    What can you do?
    How will you do it?
    When will you do it?
  2. Write down all of your answers.
  3. Discuss them with a good friend or (online) counsellor, and make a plan to give yourself clear structure and direction. Taking ownership of your action steps will help you to feel more capable and in control.
Penzu screenshot

Moving on when you’re ready

There is no right time to do this, that or the other. You’re as unique as any star in the night sky. You come with your own history, your own way of getting through tough times, and your own thoughts and feelings. Your spouse may have helped you through tough times in the past. But, regardless of the level of their support, advice and help, it’s understandable if you’re now feeling totally alone with it all.

Your action plan

  1. When you’re ready, pluck up the courage to look critically at your own role. There’s absolutely no need to judge, blame or shame yourself. But there is a need to take some responsibility for aspects of the situation you now find yourself in. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it! But read on…I know you’re terribly sore at the moment, so this is only for when you’re beginning to see the light again. Why? Because it’s the only part of the whole process you have total control over. And, it has the greatest potential to speed up your healing.
  2. Ask yourself: “Is there any possible scenario in which this development in my life could turn out to be a good thing someday?” [1]
  3. Then ask: “What can I do to make this scenario come about? How can I turn this event into a good thing that I (and my family) can celebrate someday in the future?”

The latter box is for when you’re a little way on the road to recovery. In the meantime, I’d like you to make sure you’re really looking after yourself.

Here’s a free worksheet to help you do just that…

Free printable worksheet

Worksheet cover: Taking Care of Yourself. You're worth it!

Finally

Divorce is always heart-wrenching, difficult and often traumatic, but a divorce after 25 years or more can make you feel as though the sky is falling down. 

Remember, 25 years is a quarter of a century, so if you do only one thing today let it be this: go easy on yourself. Recovery will take plenty of time and involve plenty of tears, plenty of questions and a fair share of setbacks too. And, it’s a sign of strength to get some professional help.

But there’s no rush, and I promise you this: the sky is still where it should be. So take your time, lean on those that love you, be kind to yourself, and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You didn’t see this coming, but that doesn’t mean it won’t lead to something beautiful in the long run, whatever that might look like for you.

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