Sixteen years and three children into her marriage, Nancy Michaels' husband
dealt her the blow of a lifetime. Out of the blue, he told her he wanted a divorce -- but he wouldn't tell
her or their kids why he was leaving. Months later, a sudden and unexpected
medical problem found Michaels close to death.
Unable to take care of her children while she was hospitalized, she risked
losing custody of them permanently.
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Now, less than four years later, with her health back, Michaels has risen
from the depths of emotional despair brought on by the blow of an unexpected
divorce, regained primary custody of her children, bought a house of her own,
and begun a web site exclusively for women over 40 going through
Without question, coping with divorce can be one of the most difficult
challenges a person faces in a lifetime. Mental health experts say the pain it causes rivals grieving the death of a loved one. But as Michaels'
story illustrates, surviving divorce is possible.
WebMD spoke with the pros -- adults who have been through a divorce, as well
as counselors who help people survive the effects of divorce -- to learn what
coping strategies work to help people through this trying time.
1. Seek Out a Support Network
No single strategy will ease the pain and loss that divorce brings. But time
and time again, when asked how best to weather the effects of divorce,
respondents say this: lean on a support network.
"Recognize your support network. If it's not strong enough, build it
up," says Jennifer Coleman, EdS, NCC, a life transition coach who works
with divorce clients of the Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina.
For Michaels, her support network while surviving divorce initially
consisted of one good friend. "She has a great sense of humor,"
Michaels tells WebMD, recalling how she went from crying alone in a movie
theater as she watched a romantic love story to laughing out loud afterward
when her friend insisted they go to dinner together.
At the suggestion of the judge who oversaw her divorce case, Michaels then
expanded her circle of support to include the group Women with Controlling
Partners. She's glad she took him up on it. "When you get divorced, most of
your old friends run. They're no longer thrilled to have you in their house;
there's a dynamic that shifts considerably," she tells WebMD. That hasn't
been the case with women in the support group. "We have Friday night pizza
with our kids. We'll give each other a ride to the airport if we need it. It
really has saved my sanity," Michaels says.
Finding support is not just for women. While women tend to seek and find
support rather easily while coping with divorce, men are more likely to
hesitate to reach out to others, despite having equally strong emotional needs.
Consider David Wood, a handyman who recently went through a bitter divorce.
"I was embarrassed, even ashamed. I thought people would think less of
me," he says.