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Life After Divorce: 3 Survival Strategies

How ex-spouses and their kids can cope after divorce and move beyond the pain.

1. Seek Out a Support Network continued...

It wasn't until a neighbor started sharing his own story about a difficult divorce that Wood felt comfortable enough reciprocating with his own woes -- and finding it incredibly cathartic. "You've got to open up," he says.

While emotional support helps people navigate the initially painful hurdles of divorce, the importance of shoring up assistance for practical purposes post-divorce cannot be overstated. Even before the clouds of her divorce lifted, Susan Perrotta knew she had to be a strong presence for her children, who were barely school age at the time. She made immense sacrifices to be there for them, sometimes pulling all-nighters to complete art projects for clients, then seeing her children off to school in the morning.

A single mother with no family in town, Perrotta essentially raised her children on her own. But she strategically sought and took advantage of support resources available to her. "I made friends with teachers and administrators at my kids' schools. They were fantastic," she tells WebMD.

She also chose to move to a close-knit neighborhood where she could call on neighbors for help in a pinch. She used her pediatrician as a sounding board, recalling him as "a wonderful pediatrician who knew the kids well." And she looked beyond differences with her ex-husband to get him involved. "I pulled him in when I needed his help. I made him work with me," she says.

2. Redefine Yourself

Going through a divorce means no longer being part of a couple, a reality that can come as a relief or a frightening prospect. "For the person who sees him or herself as multifaceted, it's generally a lot easier. But if someone has been nothing but a spouse and saw that as the most important role, it can be pretty crushing," Coleman tells WebMD.

Looking at this time as a period of self-exploration is one way to overcome feelings of isolation and fear. "Take up new hobbies, activities, interests -- expand yourself. Stay busy in a constructive way," suggests Patricia Covalt, PhD, a Denver-based licensed marriage therapist.

Exploring untapped interests can be both a place to positively let go of the grief brought on by divorce and a way to redefine yourself. Wood, devastated by not seeing his children on a daily basis, threw himself into starting and cultivating a community garden. "It was a big help. I'd physically exhaust myself working there. It kept my mind from wandering," he says. Taking ownership of the garden also served as a productive hobby, in which Wood grew not only seasonal vegetables and fruits but also stronger friendships with other community members.

3. Minimize the Impact on Kids

While coping with divorce, pain is inevitable -- but soon-to-be ex-spouses have the power to minimize the pain their children feel by keeping things as amicable as possible.

"You're dealing with a lot of grief and personal feelings. But always avoid criticizing the other parent in front of the children," says Jennipher Cole, LPC-S, a marriage and family therapist with the DePelchin Children's Center in Houston.

She has seen the poor outcomes of clients who ignore this advice: in younger children, regressive behavior like bed-wetting; in older children and teenagers, low self-esteem and risky behavior.

Cole also warns against pulling children into any conflict with an ex-spouse, a scenario that provokes "taking sides."

Others echo her sentiments. "If you put your kids in the middle, it's a short gain with a long loss. I'm much more interested in maintaining a long-term relationship with my kids," Michaels says.

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Reviewed on February 15, 2008

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