Unfortunately, divorce isn't like a stubbed toe that hurts intensely at the time but fades away after a while with -- hopefully -- no scar; instead, divorce can act more like a gluten allergy --always there, lurking and waiting to be triggered, then arriving uninvited to wreak havoc on our lives at any time. When it comes to your relationships with friends, family and the grandchildren, the after- effects of divorce can be felt for a long, long time. You should, ideally, prepare now and think about how your divorce might continue to affect you in the years to come.
Here's what you need to think about in order to survive those after-divorce complications:
What About Your Friends?
Since your divorce, have you developed a new social network and your own support system? Have you been able to look at the friends you had while you were married without wondering whose side they are (or were) on? If you are continuing to question friends' loyalties, then perhaps the friendship isn't quite working for you... at least not now. As challenging as it might be, consider letting go of your old life, including your old structures and your old identity. Finding new interests, cultivating new friendships and acquaintances and having new adventures (through your church, school, adult education, sports, neighbors, etc) could bring some helpful and welcome additions to your new life.
What About "His" or "Her" Family?
Even if you were very close to your spouse's family members previously, divorce may upset each of those relationships, too. Perhaps your sister-in-law had become a good friend, your spouse's cousin was a walking buddy, or your in-laws served as childcare providers. Must you "divorce" these relationships too? Not necessarily, particularly if you are willing to talk about it. Consider having some honest conversations about how you feel about the relationship as well as your concerns for the future. For conversation openers try, "Could we go out for coffee sometime in the near future and talk about what the divorce means to you and me?" or, "I'd really like to keep taking our morning walks together -- what do you think?". If any of these conversations seem impossible now, consider merely asking permission to contact this relative or friend once the divorce process has concluded.
If you and your spouse did proceed with your divorce in a respectful and dignified way, treating each other well and encouraging your divorce professionals (attorneys, coaches, mediators, etc.) to treat each other well too, then the chances of preserving important relationships will increase. Family members of the spouse you are divorcing can most definitely continue to play a healthy and enjoyable role in your life, though the relationship will, undoubtedly, be transformed and (hopefully) evolved.
What About Those Grandkids?
Perhaps in the future, you and your ex will become grandparents. If each of you is in a new and healthy relationship (remarried or not) at that time, the issues may be minimal, but if one of you is and the other isn't, things might get complicated as some of the old divorce feelings may rear their ugly little heads. Especially if you and your ex have not had many reasons to interact since the divorce, now that you have a grandchild you may have a whole new set of experiences to share. Suddenly, you may find yourselves sitting together at religious ceremonies, in school auditoriums and on the ball field. How are you going to navigate those waters? You could learn and try new communication tools and techniques to handle this emotionally complicated situation; after all, it has probably been a while since you have had to have a civilized and polite conversation with each other over an important topic.
If any of these situations ring a bell, do the best that you can to prepare yourself. Think of it the same way you would think about going to a high school or college reunion, and prepare yourself for these after-divorce issues in the same way you would prepare for your 5th or 15th or 50th reunion; take time to think it through and make a plan.
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