Ending a marriage is rarely pleasant, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Every rocky relationship can’t be repaired—and even relationship experts aren’t divorce-proof. These pros share what they learned after divorce, how that first-hand experience shaped the way they guide their clients, and what they’ll do differently the next time around.
It’s okay to seek help.
“Divorce sometimes seems easier than fixing your marriage, but it’s usually not. When my [second] husband and I were about to get married, we were both nervous because of past failures. So we made a deal: If we can’t solve a problem within 3 days, we’d go for a therapy session. We had several sessions in the first couple of years, which helped us see the issues more objectively. We haven’t had to go back in 25 years.”
— Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka “Dr. Romance”), a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together
Closure is up to you.
“The most important thing I learned was that you can get emotional closure without the other person’s participation. Neither of my exes were interested in sitting down and having a discussion about what had been right about our marriage and what had gone terribly wrong. I longed for that experience; I thought it was necessary for me to move on. I’ve discovered that it’s vital to realize your own healing isn’t dependent on your former partner’s agenda. I accepted my own mistakes, the shame decreased, and I moved on in my life.”
— Margaret Rutherford, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Arkansas
Don’t settle for “good enough.”
“I learned that I had become a person who was unwilling to settle for a half life. My marriage was good, but not great. Comfort and security stopped working for me—I needed to feel every ounce of myself again, and going through my divorce was the only way that could happen. The most important question I ask my clients considering divorce is: ‘Do you want to bet on certainty or possibility?’ For some people, the thought of starting over is too daunting, and they decide they’d rather live with the certainty of some disappointment in their life than take a chance that they might find something better. Personally, I almost always lean toward possibility.”
— Holly Richmond, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and AASECT certified sex therapist in Southern California
Don’t let others tell you how happy you are.
“If your relationship isn’t working, you will feel it in your gut. Don’t be influenced by other people’s views on how lucky you are. It is so important to trust your own experience. Nobody else can stand in your shoes—only you can know the level of unhappiness or suffering that you are experiencing.”
—Lara Ledsham, a love and empowerment coach in the UK
Respect is non-negotiable.
“After 17 years in an abusive situation, I finally found the courage to leave. When I walked away from that destructive relationship, it took time to heal and rebuild—and once I did, I realized I would never let anyone tear me down like that again. I later married a wonderful man who taught me what it was to be respected and to be treated as an equal. The first time we had a ‘fight,’ I literally didn’t know we were fighting—I thought we were having a good debate. There was no name-calling, no berating, no gaslighting, no screaming. It was extraordinary to me.”
— Kimberly Mishkin, a divorce coach and cofounder of SAS for Women, a divorce support service based in New York
Self-care is not selfish.
“I did not understand how to build intimacy before—and I mean emotionally, mostly. Knowing yourself enough to understand how you operate is key. The most important relationship I will ever have in life is with myself. Great love is not selfless in the way we think—healthy relationships require us to put our own needs first so that we maintain our boundaries and are true to ourselves. Loving ourselves first is the only way to truly love someone else.”
— Deb Besinger, a love and dating coach at Kiss of Perspective in Raleigh, NC
You’re stronger than you realize.
“Because my divorce was so contentious, I learned that I have an incredible amount of inner strength. I discovered a well of courage inside of me that I had not seen before. I fought for my rights and what was in the best interest of my children. I had repressed my own strength, courage, and power in an effort to build a dream family. When that illusion crumbled before my own eyes, I had to dig deep beyond the self-deluded fantasy family to become the strong woman I am today.”
— Theresa Vigarino, a transformational life coach and relationship expert based in California and Nevada
Hearing isn’t the same as listening.
“The biggest thing I learned after my divorce was that I didn’t know what communication truly was. When I was married, we would fight a lot about communication and I would constantly tell her that I heard her—but that was hearing with my ears, not listening with my head or my heart. That was me saying something but not being fully engaged with what she would say back. I am now remarried, and the most important thing I changed in my approach was to balance my head and my heart.”
— Chris Armstrong, a certified relationship coach at Maze of Love in Washington, DC
A solid support system is crucial.
“Surround yourself with positive, healthy, and supportive people. There’s a group of fortunate people who get divorced and do not have any difficulty with the adjustment—but for those who do, I suggest having and engaging a support system. Divorce is about grief. People who get divorced lose a lot: money, their home, time with their children, in-laws, friends, even social status. If your network is not strong, consider joining a support group or club.”
— Vivian Sierra, a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. Louis, MO