Article written by Fiona Sandiford
Published in Body + Soul, The Sunday Telegraph July 29, 2007
Divorce needn't be a dirty word. It's also a chance for growth and new beginnings.
No matter how many celebrity marriages seem to screech to a halt before you can say "pre-nup", for most of us, divorce still comes with a stigma.
There's that gnawing feeling of failure, the incessant questions ("What went wrong?"; "Was it my fault?"; "Will it screw up the kids?") and the fear that you'll never get another chance at love.
Amanda Ferguson, Sydney-based psychologist and author of Life Works (HarperCollins), says: "Divorce is painful and takes time to recover from, but it is also an opportunity to have a better relationship with yourself. If you learn from past choices and avoid repeating negative patterns, it can be a catalyst for change for the better."
Brisbane journalist Bronwyn Marquardt, 39, remembers feeling alone, sad and confused following her separation. "Then I realised that I had felt alone, sane and confused for a long time during my four-year marriage," she says. "Okay, so getting divorced wasn't going to be the highlight of my life. But it didn't have to ruin it either. Any change was going to be a positive step towards happiness."
Once you're on the right side of the heartache and lawyers, you'll find yourself in a kind of limbo somewhere between the old, married you and the new, single you. Here's how to make the most of the transition.
You no longer have to compromise for the sake of your ex-partner's culinary, musical or holiday destination preferences; indulge your own.
Sydney interior designer Jane Thomson, 44, says: "After moving out of the marital home last August, it was a huge relief to just be myself again. It wasn't just emotional - my body actually felt lighter."
And with more free time on weekends, Thomson took up ocean ski paddling. "It made me feel amazing," she says. "I used to be an actress, so I started dong some TV work. I thought, 'I only have one life. I'm going to do everything I've always wanted to do.'"
Psychologist Reima Pryor, clinical director of the Drummond Street Relationship Centre in Melbourne, says: "Sometimes we become apathetic in a team. We get caught up in a routine. But pushing your comfort zones and broadening your experiences shifts your priorities and values."
Divorce can even be the trigger for a career change. Mother-of-two Amy Botwinick, 41, says: "I was a chiropractor for 14 years. After my divorce, I became an author and motivational speaker. When you're backed up against a corner you can accomplish things you never expected. I now love what I do."
Who knew divorce was a one-way ticket to losing those love handles? It's a golden opportunity to tone up or overhaul your image. Even if at first it's by accident.
Adelaide photographer Mark Edwards, 35, was married for nearly two years.
"After my wife walked out on me it turned my world upside down," Edwards says. "At first, losing weight was just a by-product - the heartbreak diet, I suppose. For six months I had very little appetite, but since I'd been 25kg overweight, I thought I'd capitalise on it.
"Losing those kilos forced me to get a new wardrobe because my old clothes no longer fitted. But it was exactly what I needed. With the help of a female friend, I got out of my style rut and it was very cathartic. More than a year later, I barely recognised the person I saw in the mirror. And daily exercise helped keep the weight off and lifted my depression."
Edwards even trained for and ran a marathon. "I was also showing my ex-wife that I could not only survive without her, but become a better, more successful person on my own."
The thought of dating again can be daunting (especially if the last time you were doing it, bubble skirts were the height of fashion - for the first time). So only start again when you're feeling positive. Whether you're cruising the internet or being introduced by friends, a whole new world opens up.
"It's a wonderful time to hone in on your values," says Pryor. "You have a chance to make better choices and decide on the kind of future you want. But be realistic when assessing people's qualities. It's an opportunity to meet different people before settling down."
Botwinick says that when she met her second husband, he was the kind of person who would normally have made her "run for the hills".
"He's 12 years older than me and has four kids, but it ended up being a blessing," says the author of Congratulations On Your Divorce (Angus & Robertson). "Start looking at people you wouldn't have considered before. Like the guy at work who's attractive but his hair's thinning. If you feel good in his company, he's worth a second look."
You will probably feel a bit like a teenager again, and the advice isn't all that different.
Pryor suggests not jumping into bed with someone until you're sure you're ready. "It's valid to take your time and develop emotional and intellectual intimacy first," she says. "Of course there might be times when sex happens quickly and is liberating. Just tune into what's right for you rather than feeling obliged to fit in with the other person's readiness."
Botwinick says the risk of rejection makes it potentially devastating to go to bed with someone before you're ready. "But I felt good about myself," she says, "After a boring sex life, I was like a sex kitten, ready to pounce."
While the prospect of a new start might be positive. Everyone adjusts at different rates. Ferguson says children are surprisingly flexible.
"Most will heal, adjust and find a new form of security within two years," she says. "You need to maintain rituals such as reading to your kids, sharing meals and celebrations. One-on-one time is important too. Fathers, in particular, find it easier to communicate with their kids when they're doing fun activities."
If you get serious about a new partner, the best strategy is to be upfront with young children, Ferguson says. "You could say, 'Mum has a new friend called Jack. Maybe Jack will come over for lunch'. Do this a few months in advance. It's all about preparing them."
Teenagers may be older but they still need to know you're in charge. "Be firm, unemotional and practical," Ferguson says.
If you're children have concerns - for example, about a new partner staying overnight - she says you should "listen and negotiate suitable visiting times. You are the decision-maker, but it's important to be appropriate."
And never make your child a confidante. Keep gossip and gripes to adult friends - the true ones will have rallied round by now.