Almost half of South African marriages end up in the divorce courts. So when the confetti is strewn, the wedding pics taken and the wedding cake cut, no one can assume that the couple concerned will live happily ever after. But at least they do have a 50% stab at making things work.
So what are the things that you shouldn't do if you have recently been divorced? Here are some ideas from users off the Divorce Support Forum over the years. (I recommend that Joost and Amor should take a look at these.)
Don't isolate yourself. If you're not feeling very good, it is a great temptation to isolate yourself from other people. It takes energy to maintain a social life, but then also, we get a lot of energy from people who mean a lot to us. So, don't hide from the world or curl up in a ball of misery for more than a few days at the most. Pick up that phone, go out for a pizza or a salad, go and see that movie – with a friend.
Don't think obsessively about your ex. Easier said than done. But obsessing about your ex, where he/she might be and with whom, isn't going to make life any easier for you. It's time to focus on yourself, your own life, your own interests and enjoyment. It's difficult to stop thinking about your ex if you feel seriously hard done by, but why spend more energy in that direction? Shouldn't you take the energy you have and use it on yourself, and on your nearest and dearest?
Don' try and get the children to choose sides. It is only human to try and do this. After all, if your spouse left you for someone else, behaved terribly, or left you all destitute, you have every reason to feel bitter. But just remember that your relationship to your spouse is different to those of your children. They are related – it's their father or mother, and nothing can change that. Children are not stupid and if someone has behaved abominably, they will see that by themselves in time – without your having to prod them. Forcing them to choose sides will only serve to alienate them from you.
Don't go on a spending spree. This is tempting. You don't feel very good about yourself right after having gone through a divorce (OK, there may be a few ecstatic people out there, but they are few and far between) and the temptation to succumb to retail therapy is very great indeed. But be careful, as money could become tight in the not-too-distant future, even if you have recently received a not-inconsiderable divorce settlement. By all means go out and buy a new pair of running shoes or lipstick, but put the golf clubs or the Italian shoes on hold.
Don't neglect your health. Taking care of your health takes effort and concentration. And right after a divorce, energy is in short supply. You may feel anxious, at sea, disinclined to get exercise, and least of all feel like cooking. But remember that you do need to get lots of sleep, to steer clear of heaps of junk food, to take a multivitamin every day, steer clear of excessive drinking or smoking and try and get some exercise. If you look after yourself, you are more likely to get over all of this more quickly.
Don't spread poison about your ex. If you are telling everyone you see about what a terrible person your ex is, you are actually doing your own cause more harm than that of the other person. You may have been treated very badly, but keep the discussions on this limited to your mother, your best friend and possibly a therapist. Venting to strangers at the bus stop, to colleagues or to people on the edges of your social circle will not make you feel better – you will only be revisiting all that bitterness.
Don't go into strings of rebound relationships. OK, this is tempting, because your ego has probably taken a serious denting, but you need to lick your wounds first. On your own. You need to come to terms with what has happened and to redefine your goals and values. This cannot be done if you're juggling three new relationships. If there is an element of indecent haste to the new liaison you're embroiled in, it could be that you are running away from yourself and your own issues. Give yourself time to get to terms with what has happened.
Don't neglect your appearance. By looking terrible, you are not doing yourself any favours. How we look, often determines how we feel. Just see what a bath or a new hairstyle or a nice new piece of clothing can do for our state of mind. Get some exercise, lose weight if you need to – just remember you are single again. And who knows what interesting new people may be just round the corner?
Don't make radical job changes. The temptation is great to make radical changes in many areas of your life. After all, you've just been through one. But, do remember that this is not the time for radical changes. Any change is a shock to the system and trying to deal with two or three at the same time will be no mean feat. Stick to the familiar things in your life for the time being. Stay in your job, don't move if you can help it and don't relocate to another town or city immediately. Unless you live in a small town and your ex-spouse and new partner seem to be everywhere.
Don't expect mutual friends to choose sides. Once again, this is a very normal thing to do. But do remember that friends you had as a couple were friends to both of you. And may remain so. There will be those who do choose your side, but don't expect it of everyone. And rest assured, that if your ex is really as grim as you make him/her out to be, the friends are sure to find it out sooner or later.
Don't try and find out about his/her new life. We are all naturally curious, but driving past your ex's house, phoning him/her constantly, trying to fish out details from mutual friends or even worse, following him/her around, will not bring you any happiness. On the contrary, obsessing about your ex's doings will only stop you from focusing on your own life and getting on with things. If there are things you need to know, you will find out without your having to ferret them out.
Don't avoid counselling. Getting divorced is a huge shock to the system. Everyone in these circumstances can benefit from a few sessions with a counsellor. If you feel you've been hard-done-by, you'll need to get it off your chest. If you're the one who instigated the divorce, there could be all sorts of unresolved feelings surrounding that. Go and speak to someone about the partners you choose and how you conduct relationships. Sort this out while you can, otherwise you might just be heading for a second divorce.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated January 2011)