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Dealing With Firsts: Grieving Your Divorce Through Important Dates

June 08, 2021
Originally published February 2020
Updated June 2021

The year of and the year after your divorce will bring many firsts in your new life: your first birthday, Valentine's Day, and holiday season spent without your spouse, for example.

If you are among the lucky few for whom these days feel celebratory in the wake of divorce, read no further.

But if you are like most people, some or all of these days may be difficult or emotionally charged.

This edition of Graceful Exits will outline some of the things you can do to help prepare for and cope with these important days.

If you're short of time you can get a summary of this post in the video below. If you've got about five minutes, read on.

Listen to Your Heart

Moving past your divorce is really just a grieving process.

And grieving can take longer than you expect.

As you move through the first months and first year or so, listen carefully to your heart.

If you are feeling down or out of sorts, is there a milestone you forgot about?

I left my own marriage in February 2017.

In 2018, I was still too distracted by my ongoing case to notice the passage of the anniversary - but in 2019 I struggled during the anniversary week.

It took several days of unspecified anxiety and poor sleep for me to key in on what was bothering me.

Once I figured it out, I was able to find ways to cope instead of passively accepting my discomfort.

Naming the source of my distress gave me power to overcome it.

Connect With Your Tribe

Hopefully during the divorce process, you found your tribe - the group of friends and family members you can lean on when you are struggling to deal.

These are the people you call when you realize that it's Valentine's Day...and while everyone else seems to be blissfully paired up, you are not.

These are the people who are there to listen and offer encouragement when you need a little nudge to get through a challenging day.

Some people find great comfort and support in their faith community.

Even if you've been away from services from some time, you'll often be welcomed back with open arms by a group of like-minded people who can offer community and fellowship - especially on holidays.

Some houses of worship even offer a program called DivorceCare, which can be a powerful coping tool.

A tribe is important, but in some cases you may need to call on a professional.

Not everyone needs the services of a therapist; however, if you find yourself struggling more often than not or you're unable to find ways to cope, a therapist can play an integral role in your recovery and ability to build a happier future.

Make a Plan

Grief can have a way of taking you by surprise, and it may take a while for you to figure out what triggers negative feelings for you.

Once you know what those triggers are - certain dates, holidays, or events - you can plan ahead to deal.

I once knew a client who was sensitive about being alone on her birthday, and about getting older in general.

Once she figured out that being alone on her birthday was an issue, she starting making plans to celebrate with friends or family.

For her next milestone birthday, she decided to buy herself a wonderful travel experience that she could look forward to.

Planning ahead can allow you to turn a potentially sad day into a day that you're excited about. Your finances will play a key role in making sure you can celebrate responsibly though.

Read: Vital Signs: Checking Your Post-Divorce Financial Health

Treat Yourself

Often, an intimate partner (husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend) is responsible for spoiling us on special days.

Part of learning to be single for the time being is learning how to spoil yourself.

Buy yourself the flowers, take yourself to that restaurant you've been dying to try, go on that trip you've always wanted to take, see that movie with the great reviews - buy popcorn and a soda while you are at it!

The caveat is that you can't (and shouldn't) use consumption to heal a broken heart.

There is no sense racking up debt, spending down limited assets, or accumulating junk to avoid your feelings.

Read: The (Almost) Magical Power of Budgeting

Just don't wait for someone to come into your life before you feel you can enjoy a treat.

"Time heals all wounds."

Over time, your grief will fade, and days that felt difficult last year won't be as hard in the coming year.

One day you may look at your calendar, realize it's your old wedding anniversary, shrug, and move on with your day just like any other.