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What to Do When Your Husband Walks Out the Door (Without Warning and Without You!)

03/31/2015 03:03 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

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On Christmas Eve 2002, the same year my father died and my mother hovered on the brink of a coma, my husband of 22 years looked across the living room at me and unceremoniously announced that he had he lost every single penny of our savings, retirement and investment funds on an ill-conceived business venture and that he was leaving me to move to across the country to live with his old girlfriend and her five children. Boom, Merry Christmas! I hope you never have to experience a divorce at all, and certainly not one as brutal as mine, but, just in case, here are some tips about what to do when your husband walks out the door without you.

1. Change the locks, ha, ha! Actually, I am not joking here. Changing the locks is a powerful symbolic gesture and serves a practical purpose as well. Changing the locks--locking your ex out of your life--sets metaphorical boundaries around you. Your ex can no longer come and go in and out of your life as he chooses. This is now your space and you decide who gets to enter and who is denied admission. From a pragmatic standpoint, you do not want him coming in when you are not there, riffling through your drawers or removing things without your knowledge.

2. Let it all out...or not. Everyone reacts differently or at different times. Remember that you are grieving a loss every bit as real as a death. At first, you may want to variously scream, cry, curl up in a ball on your bed, eat ice cream, escape into mindless TV shows or stay up all night talking to your best girlfriends. Or you may do none of these things. You may walk zombie-like through the first few days or weeks, numb with shock. All of that is perfectly normal. Be prepared for any of the early emotions to loop back around from time to time--you hear a song or smell a cologne and you are right back there. But you will not stay there.

3. Care for yourself as you would a friend. Do all the things for yourself that you would urge a friend to do when experiencing a crisis. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, lean on friends, treat yourself to a new haircut or makeover. And don't be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed. A very hard thing has happened to you, and when hard things happen, we ask for help from many sources.

4. Get to know yourself all over again. No matter how great any marriage is, there are always compromises and sacrifices to be made. Guess what? You don't have to please anyone but yourself now. Reacquaint yourself with who you were before you became one-half of a couple. Maybe he hated dancing and you have been sitting out every toe-tapping tune for 20 years. Now is the time to put on your dancing shoes again. He hated foreign films? Well, he's not here now, so fire up the subtitles. Whatever interest, hobby or just plain way of being you had to submerge for the greater good can re-emerge now. Try new things too. There is no one to judge or question your choices now, so go for it!

5. Look at the plus column. And look at it as often as necessary to remind yourself of all of the things you still have going for you--first and foremost, yourself and your survivor spirit. I don't care how insignificant the positives seem now and how overwhelming the negatives are at the moment, write down every good little thing you can think of. If you're going to need a new job, think of all your skills and experience; if you feel abandoned, think of friends and family who are there for you; if you feel one-upped by his new squeeze, remember all the beautifully unique things about yourself.

6. Laugh. Seriously, you must remember to laugh. Laugh at the absurdity of the situations you find yourself in. Laugh through your tears. Laugh at a goofy Facebook post. But, laugh. And here's a special trick when the grins seem hard to come by--remember a time your ex acted or looked like a fool. Like when he butchered the name of the wine at that snooty restaurant or when he tried out that unfortunate buzz-cut-and-earring look at 45. See, doesn't it feel good to laugh out loud?

7. Appreciate the Power of Enough. My ex ran out the door just before the destruction he had set in motion became apparent. I lost my house, my savings, my retirement and my health insurance among many other things, and I gained nearly $100,000 worth of debt, from taxes he'd left unpaid to charges he'd made on my credit cards. I certainly didn't appear to have "enough" of anything, not money, love or security. And yet, in the worst moments, there were still quiet little signs of hope that got me through. I learned to appreciate every drop of mercy that came my way and not to focus on or bemoan the big rescue that never came, but rather to savor the small moments of grace that sustained me, sometimes minute by minute. The lens of gratitude has a magical way of magnifying the smallest bit of goodness until it is enough to cover your need.

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but I hope it gives you a place to start. Certainly, none of us would choose to be the one left behind, watching in disbelief as our spouse walks out the door, but we can survive and even learn to thrive once, as corny as it sounds, we let go of "what was" and learn to embrace "what can be."

Photo: AlphaBaby via depositphotos