6 Crazy Things We Do After a Divorce

broken heartThere aren't many life-changing upheavals as big as divorce. Even if yours is reasonably amicable and goes well, it can still leave you reeling, wondering who you are now, and grieving over your lost dream for a long, happy marriage. For a lot of us, the first impulse is to grab control of our lives. It feels good to pounce on that one thing we can get right -- and to do it over and over and over again. It keeps us from feeling grief and fear.

It's called avoidant or compulsive behavior. And it's what a lot of us do when we've internalized the turmoil and chaos of our split and are trying to get back on our feet. Here are 6 common examples of post-divorce compulsive behavior, and what you can do about them. 


1. Cleaning house: This was me. For a while I was constantly cleaning my house, and why not? Your home represents YOU, your internal state. But one day my therapist said, "you're a smart and educated women. Is that really the most interesting thing you could be doing with your time?" More importantly, what larger challenges was I avoiding with these menial tasks? Being messy has never felt so right.

2. Dieting: Can't control your life? Maybe you can control everything you eat. Or, maybe eating helps dull the pain. Either way, eating disorders aren't just for young women -- divorce can trigger an eating problem in midlife.

3. Extreme exercise: Similar to the eating disorder, some women work out obsessively after their split. Once again, this is all about control.

4. Super parenting: Women who feel they failed at marriage sometimes try to make up for it by trying to win Mother of the Year. The goal posts for that lofty award are only going to keep moving farther and farther away, and you're going to exhaust yourself.

5. Wild partying: On the other extreme, there are the people who try to bounce back with drinking, drugs, unsafe sex, and regressive behavior. I think we all know you can do a lot of damage that way.

6. Compulsive online dating: There's finding people to connect with IRL through an online dating site, which is healthy. And then there's spending all night looking for thrills and affirmation. That's self-destructive.

Did any of that feel familiar? There are healthy versions, says family therapist Stephanie Manes, "like taking charge of your health, healthy use of exercise to decrease anxiety, reconnecting with friends, and turning to new spiritual practices."

But if you're worried that a good habit is turning into a compulsion, there is something you can do find your equilibrium. Says Dr. Manes:

I have my own 'stop, drop and roll' version of self-directed compassion. If you catch yourself lurching into the deep-end of avoidant behavior, stop where you are and appreciate how much pain or fear or grief you are probably in.

Once you realize that, part of you "softens," she explains. "We really want to be heard, even by ourselves." The next step is to get help -- from a relative, friend, or therapist -- and have them see how you're really coping. Hopefully then you'll truly start taking care of yourself ... and start healing the right way.

Have you ever done anything obsessive or crazy after a breakup or divorce as a way of dealing with it?


Image via Jackie/Flickr

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