Most people have backup options for every endeavor as they go through life.
For example, we don’t send out a single resume when job hunting, but apply for several positions at once in case the preferred one doesn’t pan out.
The same goes for university applications, house hunting, travel plans, and so on.
When we get married, however, there’s rarely a backup plan in place.
As we take our vows, we assume we’re going to spend the rest of our lives walking side-by-side with the person we love; navigating obstacles, and working as a team no matter what life throws at us.
As a result, we’re blindsided when divorce occurs, especially if it seemingly came out of nowhere.
The expectations we had of lifetime security and companionship are obliterated, leaving us feeling lost, alone, and quite frankly, terrified.
This experience can be especially awful in our 40s, as there’s less time left to start over, and less energy to devote to doing so.
In this article, we look at how to navigate the devastating derailment that divorce in your 40s can entail, along with techniques to help you pick up the pieces and uncover your true self from among the rubble.
The Death Of One Thing And The Birth Of Another
Divorce is harrowing on many levels because it marks the end of something you’ve been building for a significant amount of time.
Like all deaths, it’ll be associated with shock, anger, denial, and depression, but also acceptance, hope, and reconstruction.
I experienced all these things when my marriage ended, even though it had been declining for years. Even though I was the one who initiated the separation.
Fortunately, the time I had spent in nature helped to remind me that there is never a vacuum, and the end of one thing inevitably means the birth of another.
This was really driven home to me when one day I found an oak sapling in the woods that was growing upwards through the remains of a ribcage. A raccoon, fox, or even a large feral cat must have expired there, and its remnants fed and nurtured this young oak tree as it grew.
There’s sorrow associated with death, of course, but there is always the opportunity for joy and fulfillment in the new stage that will unfold from it.
The death of self-identity in relation to divorce.
People change when they get into relationships—that’s pretty much a given.
We all grow and evolve over the years, and when you spend every day with another person, the two of you will end up evolving together. As such, huge parts of your identity will be intertwined with at least one other person’s.
Think of parents whose names aren’t known by others in the neighborhood and are only referred to as “Bella’s dad” or “Timmy’s mom”. The parent’s identity is so enmeshed with the child’s that they often lose their sense of self.
Similarly, married people might take their spouse’s surnames (or create new ones together), and spend years being referred to as “___’s wife/husband”.
As a result, divorce doesn’t just spell the end of a long-term partnership—it often tears a person’s self-identity asunder.
This is one of the most difficult things about divorce in your 40s: by this age, most people have a solid idea of the person they see in the mirror… but when upheaval tears our foundation away, we’re left fragmented, trying to figure out who we are with massive sections missing.
There’s a silver lining to this dark cloud, however, and that is the opportunity to figure out who you really are as an individual without having to perform to or accommodate another’s needs and expectations.
We’ll get more into this later, but it’s a positive, healthy thing to focus on amid chaos and grief.
8 Tips To Help You Bounce Back From Divorce And Uncover Your True Self
It’s normal to feel lost when you first get divorced, especially if you and your now ex-spouse spent many years together before the split.
You’ll have to deal with a rollercoaster of intense emotion and numb disassociation, but also immense growth and personal development.
Hopefully, the tips below can help you through these difficult first steps.
1. Take your time.
There’s often an enormous pressure to “get over” difficult situations quickly—as though the emotions associated with divorce (e.g. grief, loss, anger, loneliness, fear, to name a few) are self-indulgent silliness that should simply be swept away.
This is immensely invalidating to the person who is feeling these emotions and can also hamper the healing process.
You don’t have a timer ticking over your head letting you know that you have X amount of time to deal with this mess.
People heal at different rates, and their healing process will often be determined by what their marriage was like before the divorce happened.
For example, someone who thought everything was fine until the divorce papers were slapped down in front of them will likely take longer to recover than someone who was in a tense, abusive marriage and feels relief that it’s finally over.
At this point in time, try to nourish and replenish yourself in the manner that suits you best.
Healing looks different for every person, so there’s no “one-size” solution to follow here.
I do best in silence and solitude, so I made a point of spending a lot of time by myself—especially in nature. I meditated, did a lot of reading and journaling, spent days (weeks!) without speaking to another person, and enjoyed quiet time with my pets.
Someone else may want to lean heavily on their circle of friends or family members, discussing everything that happened and getting their supportive input and encouragement.
Do what’s best for your own heart and soul, and take whatever time you need. You’re on a journey here, and there’s no finish line to spring towards.
2. Don’t make rash decisions you may regret later.
A lot of people “find their true selves” after divorce, but this takes time and patience rather than hasty action.
Think of archaeologists who spend weeks (or even months) freeing specimens from sediment, using delicate implements that won’t damage the fragile pieces within.
This is the approach that you should be taking with uncovering your true, authentic self, rather than using brute force.
When I first got divorced, my well-meaning best friend tried to encourage me to create a “whole new me!” persona that looked and behaved completely differently from how I had been whilst married.
I’ve always been reserved and dress quite modestly, so she dragged me around various boutiques, trying to coax me into wearing mini dresses and stiletto heels, all for the sake of becoming something “completely different”.
This is not the way, trust me.
It’s simply donning a costume that won’t suit you properly because you’re overcompensating for the hurt and loss you’re experiencing.
You may feel a temporary rush of euphoria at revealing the “new you” after you’ve chopped off all your hair and dyed it a different color, got a massive throat tattoo, or jumped into bed with the first gorgeous creature that catches your eye, but that euphoria will be short-lived.
You’ll still feel the same loss and grief inside, but also a measure of self-loathing and despair at the spur-of-the-moment decision that now can’t be undone. And possibly bunions from those stilettos.
3. Get to know yourself properly.
One of the best ways to uncover your authentic self among the rubble that was your marriage is to truly get to know yourself, not the version of yourself that you created and maintained throughout your past relationship.
Many of us adapt ourselves to suit our spouses’ preferences, even on a subtle level. We might pretend to take an interest in a hobby of theirs that we don’t actually care about to be supportive of their endeavors. Hell, we may even take part in them.
I remember my mother-in-law telling me she took up mountain biking and cross-country skiing to make her husband happy because she knew that if she didn’t, and if she couldn’t keep up, he would have divorced her.
It wasn’t until she was in her 60s that she stopped and went back to her own interests (fiber crafts and gardening) because her husband couldn’t physically do his hobbies anymore.
Now, suddenly, she felt that she was “allowed” to pursue her pastimes without the threat of divorce hanging over her.
Take an honest look at the activities you partake in, the foods you eat, the music you listen to, the clothing styles you wear, and so on. As you do so, ask yourself if you truly enjoy what you’re doing, or if you’re simply accustomed to doing it.
My ex used to have the TV on 24/7 whenever he was home because he found the background noise comforting, and I found myself doing the same simply because of the ingrained habit.
After we split up, I spent most of my days in blissful silence, which I preferred.
Consider filling out some of those “Get to Know Yourself” question-and-answer books or online quizzes. Be as honest as you can with the questions posed to you, even if it takes you a while to answer them.
You may discover that you don’t really like the default breakfast you’ve been eating for years and would prefer something completely different, or that the aesthetic you feel most comfortable wearing is the same one you always have, but with some minor tweaks to suit your tastes—not those of someone else.
4. Change the scenery.
One of the best and most healing things you can do after divorce is bless yourself with a change of scenery.
If you stay in the same location you lived in whilst married, most of the things around you will keep reminding you of the past.
This can wear away at you over time, and can also delay the healing process significantly.
Unless you’re required to remain in a particular location because of shared child custody or other commitments, plan a move somewhere else.
In my case, I had to remain in the same city for a few years because of work, so I moved to the opposite end of it. Instead of being surrounded by downtown noise, I moved to a quiet suburb within walking distance of the beach, and it was glorious.
Should the option be open to you, and you don’t have any intense commitments or obligations where you are, pick up and move somewhere far more appealing to you. Change the neighborhood, city, state/province, or even country, if that’s an option.
You’ll be amazed to discover how healing it can be to look out on a different landscape each day.
5. Enjoy things that you couldn’t partake in while you were married.
The day after my friend’s 14-year marriage ended, she made tandoori chicken for dinner.
For years, her now ex-husband’s limited palate had held her back from cooking (or even eating) many of her favorite meals because he couldn’t stand the taste or smell of most Indian seasonings.
So, after a decade and a half of boiled hotdogs, meatloaf with ketchup, pork chops, and potatoes, she reveled in the glory of the flavors she loved.
And now her pantry is overflowing with all the seasonings and sauces she was never “allowed” to cook with while married, and she never has to eat plain pasta with butter again.
Similarly, another friend has been taking part in all the activities that his ex-wife had no interest in. Her interests revolved around watching TV and ordering takeout and she would complain bitterly about feeling lonely if he went out with friends.
Since they divorced, he’s taken up snowboarding, gone on backpacking trips with his friends, started a band, and got a dog—all of which he was never permitted to do while married.
Just about all of us give up things for the sake of familial harmony, but that doesn’t have to be the case anymore. So go ahead and diffuse the essential oils your ex hated and listen to the music they disliked. And whilst you’re at it, sing along at the top of your voice.
6. Go on an adventure.
One of the greatest things I did for myself after my divorce was taking a solo trip to another country for a couple of weeks. I didn’t know anybody there and was able to focus entirely on my interests without being held hostage to conversations or outings that didn’t hold my interest.
Instead, I explored the city I traveled to, checked out great museums, ate spectacular food, journaled more than I ever thought possible, and reveled in the joy of independence and freedom.
I won’t lie and say there weren’t pangs of grief now and then, especially when I saw things my ex would have enjoyed as well, but there was far more happiness and satisfaction than moping.
What’s something you always wanted to do when you were married, but never had the opportunity to?
Have you been aching to bask on sunny beaches, but your ex hated the heat? Or maybe you’ve wanted to go on a tour of Scotland to see all the castles and haunted pubs, but your ex found the idea ridiculous?
Well, guess what? Now’s your chance!
Go do the things your heart aches for, with full freedom and permission to do so. You’ll have a ton of fun and won’t have to put up with anyone griping along the way.
7. Make your own long-term plans.
Although divorce in your 40s can certainly derail your long-term plans, it also offers opportunities for you to make new ones.
What’s more, those plans can be entirely determined by your preferences instead of having to compromise and negotiate with another person (unless of course, you have children, in which case you’ll have to take into account some of their preferences).
Take some time to consider how you’d like the rest of your life to proceed. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What type of surroundings make me happiest?
- How much time do I want to spend with friends and family members?
- Do I prefer peace and quiet or boisterous activity?
- Would I rather spend time walking in nature or seeing films and shows?
- Am I more comfortable in warm climates or cooler ones?
- How important to me is it to have a wide range of cultural foods available?
- Do I prefer the company of like-minded individuals with similar cultural backgrounds? Or people of many cultures and leanings?
The answers you give to questions like these can help you determine where to start building your new life.
If you think that you’d like to move to a place that’s quite different from your current surroundings, take some trips to that location beforehand.
As tempting (and exciting) as a drastic relocation can be, it’s a huge hassle to start anew somewhere else only to find that you can’t stand the temperature or you’re allergic to local plants or insects, etc.
It’s also important to consider the support that you may need as you get older. Although you may be healthy and able-bodied now, that might not be the case in 20-30 years.
As such, take your future needs into consideration before you leap into action.
You may love the idea of having a ranch house in the middle of nowhere so you can raise goats alone in peace, but that may be difficult to keep running solo once arthritis or other health issues kick in.
8. Get to know yourself before you dive into a new relationship.
For some people, the best way for them to get over someone is to get under someone else.
While this may be cathartic—especially if you’ve been stuck in a celibate or platonic marriage for several years—it may be damaging to you in the long run. Moreso if you end up having to deal with a nasty STI or an unexpected pregnancy.
A person who’s been starving for a long time will often gorge when they finally have access to food. But rather than fulfilling them, this gorging makes them sick.
The same goes for getting involved with someone who isn’t right for you for the sake of satiating a need that has been neglected.
We absorb other people’s energy, especially through sexual intimacy, so it’s important to choose lovers who you truly want to connect with.
So be sure to get to know yourself and what you really want from a relationship before starting something with anyone—even if you think it’s just going to be a casual “friends with benefits” situation.
Things always end up more complicated than you think they will.
Divorce in your 40s isn’t a fun situation to contend with, so make sure you have the support you need to get through it.
Find a good therapist, allow yourself time to grieve, and make friends with yourself.
You’re taking the first steps on a new journey that may be more fulfilling than you could have imagined… but for now, try to stay present, and take things one day at a time.