It’s easy to be hard on yourself when going through divorce in your 20s. While all your friends are busy planning their weddings on Pinterest, you’re planning a new life without your spouse and dealing with mounting legal bills.
To make the process a little easier, we asked experts ― divorce lawyers, psychologists and financial advisors ― to offer their best advice. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Chalk the divorce up to a lapse in judgment.
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like a failure for splitting up in your 20s. Forgive yourself and remember that you were young and maybe a little naive when you said “I do,” said Andra Brosh, a Los Angeles-based psychologist.
“The truth is that you probably landed here because of a lapse in judgment and unrealistic expectations of the relationship,” she said. “Blame it on your brain; some research has suggested that the brain is not fully mature or developed until well into your 20s.”
2. Learn from the mistakes you made in your marriage.
You’re only allowed to sulk about splitting up for so long. Eventually, you need to reframe your thinking and see the divorce as a stepping stone to personal growth, said Antonio Borrello, a Detroit-based psychologist. Ultimately, divorce should teach you what you need to do differently in order to have a healthier, longer lasting relationship the next time around, he explained.
“You’ll still need to work on whatever it was that killed your marriage even after you get out,” he said. “If you don’t, you’ll drag that junk into your next relationship. Develop some insight and take ownership of the part you played in the downfall of your marriage.”
3. Be wary of rebounding.
Yes, you’re still young and Tinder is very tempting, but for your own well-being, it might be best to take a dating and relationship hiatus, said dating coach Neely Steinberg.
“Spend time developing your independence and discovering who you are outside of a relationship,” she said. “Understand that your existence is not validated by you being in a relationship or by another person. You validate you. Once you are good by yourself and you love who you are on your own, then maybe take a small, smart step to move forward again in your dating life.”
4. Consider mediation as an alternative to litigation.
There’s one advantage young divorcés have over those who go through the process later in life: You likely have less marital assets to divvy up (property, retirement accounts, etc.) and no children to shield from ugly custody battles. Given that, you may want to forgo traditional litigation and consider meeting with a mediator to work out the terms of your divorce, said divorce coach Laura Miolla.
“It’s faster, cheaper and gives you far more control over the process and the agreement you end up with,” she explained. “With less to negotiate, mediation is your best path to divorce without the huge bite out of your bank account in legal fees.”
5. Shared debt may complicate the process.
You might not have much property to divide but you may have shared debt. If you split your joint debt (“I’ll be responsible for this credit card, if you’re responsible for that one”), know that complications could arise later, said certified divorce financial analyst Donna Cheswick.
“Where I see problems occur is when one spouse fails to make monthly payments or files for bankruptcy,” Cheswick said. “If this occurs, the creditors can, and will, go after either party to recoup the full amount of the debt, plus interest and penalties. Lenders don’t care what the couple agreed to in their divorce agreement. They see the credit as a legal obligation of both parties and will enforce the debt obligation, regardless of marital status.”
6. Don’t rant about your divorce on social media.
The drama between you and your ex may be as juicy and compelling as an episode of “Empire,” but your Facebook friends really don’t need to hear about it. What’s more, ranting about your ex could cost you big time in court, said Adam Kielich, a family law attorney based in Dallas.
“Social media creates all sorts of problems in litigation,” he said. “It might be satisfying to skewer your spouse in front of friends and family on Facebook but the satisfaction will quickly dissipate if it gets back to your spouse and becomes a conflict in the divorce. You never know what seemingly innocent post or picture might become important evidence in your divorce.”
7. Take comfort in your friends.
When you do need to rant, call up your closest friends and family and bare your heart to them, suggested psychologist Borrello. That said, keep in mind that since your friends are ultimately #TeamYou, their advice may be a little one-sided.
“Your friends and family will instinctually blame your ex,” he said. “Don’t allow that to get in the way of you investigating the dynamics of the failed relationship and the factors that you contributed to the breakup.”
8. See your divorce as a gift, not a failure.
Once you’ve taken accountability for the part you played in your marriage’s downfall, stop obsessing over why it didn’t last and task yourself with moving on, said Miolla.
“There’s no power in endless obsessing, only judgment and shame ― two things that will never serve you well,” she said. “Focus instead on what you are learning from this experience ― about yourself, about relationships, about love.”
While you’re at it, remind yourself that you shared some really good times with your ex, too.
“Celebrate that you did love. And you will again,” Miolla said. “Use this experience to define what you want for yourself, what you insist on and what you won’t allow in your life anymore. Divorce can be a gift if it teaches you.”
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