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Rebuilding life after divorce

Globally, there is a seeming spike in divorce rates. This trend affects married couples of varying financial and social status.  Data analysis of the marriage and divorce rate of Americans presented by a family and divorce law firm, Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, stated that in 2022, the divorce rate per 1,000 women was 16.9 per cent.

Data from Nigeria’s Demographic and Health Survey in 2018 revealed that three of every 100 men and women were either divorced or separated. Also, the 2006 National Population Census data recorded that 704,000 Nigerians were divorced with 230,000 males and 474,000 females.

Divorce, as defined by an American certified divorce coach and marriage educator, Cathy Meyer, is a legal action between married couples to terminate their marriage relationship before the death of either spouse.

High marital expectations, unwillingness to pay attention to one’s spouse, infidelity, domestic violence, irreconcilable differences and unfair fights, among others, are reasons for the rising divorce.

But a messy divorce can cause harm to couples and their loved ones. A study titled, ‘Divorce and Death’ indicated that the risk of dying among divorcees was 28 per cent higher than among married couples.

Studies further revealed that while divorce could save people from bad marriages, children from divorced homes experienced psychological and economic stress, health, behavioural and emotional problems and became victims of abuse. Divorce also hurt the emotional state, social circle and economic status of divorcees.

But divorce is the end of a marriage and not the end of life. Divorced couples can still thrive, live normal lives and co-parent healthy and sound children.

A family lawyer and divorce coach, Aronke Omame, also known as Sisi Lawyer, stated that divorce was not a death sentence or a life-threatening disease.

Sisi Lawyer, who stated that she had once been divorced, noted that a new life after divorce was possible and further dismissed the claims that divorce was for impatient spouses.

The divorce coach said for divorcees to rebuild their lives, they needed to individually accept that they had a role in the breakup of the marriage.

She said, “Marriage is something that is cherished and not many people go into marriage with the mindset of spending few years. First of all, you need to accept that without any doubt you are part of the fault and that is a difficult thing to say especially while one is hurting. You may say that you have prayed but it is not just about acknowledging that the marriage went wrong and that it was the spouse’s fault that it went wrong. Maybe the blame might not be equally distributed but many times, it is the fault of both of you. You must get clarity about where the fault truly lies.

“Two, get clarity about what you want to do with your life going forward. What do I need to do? What would I like my future self to be? These are the questions to ask though you are going through the grieving process. You need to start getting ready for life.”

The family lawyer further advised divorcees to seek the help of a divorce coach who would help them work out the financial, emotional and other intricacies of navigating their new life.

For his part, a lawyer and marriage counsellor, Mr Samuel Umesi, said divorce might be due to issues caused by both or either spouse or as a result of irreconcilable differences.

The counsellor noted that before divorced people could rebuild their lives and adjust to the new situation, they needed to acknowledge the situation and forgive themselves for their mistakes.

Umesi said, “You have to forgive yourself and make yourself understand that you have made a mistake that caused the failure of the marriage or maybe the marriage was a mistake at first. But whatever might be the case, forgive yourself and try to be in the right frame of mind so that you can move on from being stuck at that stage. You also have to forgive your partner and let go of the past.”

He emphasised that relinquishing the hurts and grievances of the past was the first step towards rebuilding a happy life.

Once the individual overcame the hurt and pains of the past, Umesi advised them to be engaged in gainful and positive activities to avoid wallowing in guilt and depression.

The marriage counsellor added, “If there are children from the marriage, you can then focus your attention on how to take care of them to ensure that they get the best out of life. Most times, the children might give you respite from whatever may have gone wrong in the marriage.”

He further noted that divorced couples should individually reflect on themselves and through the help of a counsellor, highlight mistakes of the past that affected the marriage and the trauma they might face after then.

Divorce comes with psychological and emotional trauma. As such, divorcees experience loneliness and an emotional vacuum; they also carry the burden of single or co-parenting their children and providing income.

To this, mental health experts agree that divorce can fill the parties with regret, pain and the inability to continue with their lives.

A mental health physician, advocate and coach and the Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Pinnacle Medical Services, Dr Maymunah Kadiri, stated that the first step divorcees must take to rebuild their lives was to admit the situation they were in.

Kadiri said, “The amount of change that comes with divorce is immense and psychological, regardless of the potential benefit. It comes with a lot of crying at night, wetting the pillows and the feeling of loneliness. Divorce represents the end of a way of life and an opening to something new. It is a period of adjustments, especially when there are children in the union.”

She advised that during the transition period, divorcees should belong to a support group and had clear strategies to help create a clear plan to rebuild their lives.

The psychiatrist added, “It is common in the post-divorce adjustment period to begin to make important relationship decisions. This will ensure that there is the financial capability to take care of the basic things of life. This is important because the financial fallout of a divorce might leave the individual bereft of funds. Also, those in this situation, especially women, may see a drop in income after the divorce. As a result, you have to keep money down to help you build and chart a plan on how to achieve certain goals.”

To do this, Kadiri advised affected individuals to create a new monthly budget, “taking into account your post-divorce income and expenses, consider ways to save money such as downsizing to a less expensive goal or consolidating debts; work towards stabilising credit by paying monthly bills on time and reducing debts.”

“Another tip is to find ways to increase income by looking for higher paying jobs but if you don’t get one, you can ask for a raise or promotion if you are in a job or look for multiple streams of income,” she added.

The mental health advocate also said divorcees should retain their social lives but must not rush into romance.

She noted, “You can grieve your divorce but don’t isolate yourself from people. Nurture the support of friends who stuck with you during your trying times. Everybody psychologically has three best friends, so look for those three people that should be in your inner circle. They should be people who would keep you grounded and tell you the truth regardless of whatever it is.”

After a divorce, there might be the need to relocate to another city or country.

Kadiri counselled divorcees to build new and healthy friendships in their new locations without jumping into a romantic relationship.

The psychiatrist added, “There is a natural tendency of wanting to be with someone but you must learn how to be alone before considering another relationship. After a divorce, it is normal to feel physically and emotionally drained. People often go through a roller coaster of emotions when their marriage crashes.”

Life after divorce can seem to be daunting for children. She encouraged divorced couples to create a healthy and enabling environment for their children, adding that they should not be used as tools to get information from and spite each other.

Also, a clinical psychologist, Dr Abel Obosi, stated that after a divorce, the now unmarried couples had to deal with several emotional baggage such as pain, loneliness, emotional vacuum and in some cases, suicidal ideation or attempts.

He said, “It is important that the person sees a marriage counsellor or therapist who can guide them. Some persons have a justifiable reason for divorce but whether or not there was a justifiable reason, there is always emotional heartache and psychological imbalance after a divorce. Some try to cope by using drugs, being promiscuous, falling in love with someone else to spite the other party but deep down, they are going through pain.”

Obosi stated that the first line of action was for the parties to seek the help of certified experts.

He said, “Some relocate so they can reduce the number of times they see their ex-spouse or anything that reminds them of the marriage but it doesn’t change the fact that there is an unresolved conflict. They need to see a counsellor or therapist and be truthful to themselves about the painful experiences they are going through.

“Another thing they can do is to introspect and this means that they should look inwards and examine what they have done wrong or not done properly. They should not just move on and marry someone else when they haven’t done this. If they do, they are likely to end up making the same mistake and ending in another divorce. After this, they need to forgive their partner and themselves and move on with their individual lives in a healthy manner.”

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