04/18/2013 12:01 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2013

The New Comfort Zone


I was talking to some divorced friends recently about life after divorce. We found that we shared common experiences in our new single lives, including having to learn new dating rules and create new life routines. We agreed that everything after divorce was entirely unfamiliar, especially when compared to how comfortable marriage had been.

It wasn't that we wanted to be with our ex-spouses again, but there was a comfort in knowing who you were within a marriage. There was the familiarity of in-laws, plans with long-term couple friends and private jokes and experiences that a couple shares. We missed the comfort zone of marriage.

Out of curiosity, I informally polled some divorced friends and asked what they missed most about being married and what they did to cope with those awkward feelings while rebuilding their new lives.

One woman shared that she missed the quiet things from her marriage -- planting a garden together, sitting on the patio with a beer, enjoying the fruits of their outdoor labor together. She missed someone making her martini just the way she liked it. She missed being teased in the morning about her bed head and propensity to drink out of the faucet rather than dirty a glass. And she missed being called a special nickname no one else used. She dealt with losing her comfort zone by cleaning her house -- often-- or singing at the top of her lungs. She bought a new house, two new cats, and moved on with her life. When I asked if she would go back to her ex-husband, she replied, "No!" And she acknowledged that there were many happy times in her marriage, but there were many unhappy times, too. The divorce was a good thing and her new comfort zone, while different and strange, was a happier place for her.

One man shared he never thought he'd be that guy -- the one who got a divorce after twenty-three years of marriage. He thought the problems he and his wife were encountering were just bumps in the road and would pass in time; he believed they would live comfortably in their marriage until death did them part. After his wife left him and moved on with another man, he dealt with the loss by throwing himself into work which became his new comfort zone, a place where the divorce wasn't staring him in the face and he could forget about it for hours and pretend all was OK in his life.

Another friend deeply missed the family connections. She missed her in-laws. She had been very close to her ex's parents and extended family. Divorce was hard because she knew her relationships with those people would never be the same. And they weren't. She dealt with the uncomfortableness and unfamiliarity by crying when she needed to get it out of her system and then made decision not dwell on the negative for too long. She rebuilt her life, met a wonderful man, remarried and created a new comfort zone.

Many divorcees I spoke with were concerned about the impact of the split on the children. One stated it most eloquently: "My daughter's life and future changed overnight. She would never have her parents 'together' for the major holidays or her wedding. She tells me it is no big deal to her, but I know deep down it is". My friend worked very hard to maintain her relationships as she built a new family comfort zone with her children.

Then, I received an amazing response from another woman. Expecting a heart-wrenching story, I was surprised when it took a different direction. She wrote, "I have completely started over to the point where I built a new house so there really isn't anything there that reminds me of him. He was never one to fix my car or fix something wrong with the house, so I don't miss him if something falls apart. He never bought the groceries, cleaned the house, dropped the kids off at daycare, so I don't think of him when I'm in a pinch. He hated my friends, so I rarely saw them, and he never went with me when I visited. He had his own 'play' room at our house where he drank and played video games so he rarely would sit in the living room with the girls and me. I don't mean to sound cold, however, there really isn't anything I miss about being married. I'm so much happier without him, and it's nice to be happy without someone putting you down all the time." This woman moved into a new comfort zone only after she realized that she had no comfort zone at all in her marriage. She moved out of an unhappy situation into a much happier one.

These stories aren't new, and similar ones are detailed in divorce books. But until you go through the discomfort, unfamiliarity, and awkwardness of rebuilding a life after divorce and come out on the other side, it is helpful to know that others have felt the same way. So don't feel uncomfortable if you miss your old life. It's best to acknowledge it, grieve it and move on to rebuilding a new and happier comfort zone.

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