01/16/2012 02:12 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2012

After Separation and Divorce: Who Am I? Where Are My People?

After years of being in an unhappy marriage and several attempts at couples counseling , you and your partner decide to go your own ways. There is often relief in a separation or divorce after sometimes many years of indecision and emotional pain.

You worry about the children, but in your heart you know that staying in a bad marriage of constant conflict, or worse yet, total disconnect ultimately will do more damage than good for them.

The biggest shock often happens after the separation, when suddenly you find yourself alone in your house or apartment with no children or partner. Suddenly the house feels disturbingly quiet and lonely, and you may even question your decision to call it quits. The silence can be terrifying.

For some, the biggest change happens on a social level when suddenly your coupled friends don't reach out to you any more. For many, this sudden change hurts a lot. It's as if you have contracted some rare form of social leprosy. I have developed several theories about this phenomenon. To begin, in most hetero-based marriages it is the woman that sets the social calendar. Married women typically want to hang out with other women, and they like to have the balance of another man to keep their husbands happy. The second theory is that marriage is challenging, and many unions are fragile at best. Many people don't want to socialize with a happy single parent because they are a threat to an already tenuous marriage. Conversely, nobody wants to socialize with a depressed single parent, because they can frighten anyone thinking about leaving their partners. Socially this leaves many single parents as the scary and dangerous third wheel, a symbol of potential destruction and loss.

Whether you initiate your divorce/separation or not, it involves a lot of loss and change. As a psychotherapist I encourage those of you who are newly separated or divorced to allow yourself to feel the loss and hurt that goes along with your new status. The challenge is not to allow your vulnerable feelings to be at the helm of your ship. Treat these parts of you like children in need of love and acceptance, but just like you wouldn't allow your children to make major life decisions for you, keep your own inner kids from doing the same.

Your identity has changed. It's time you learned to change with it. Before it was about the couple and the children. Now, it is likely that you will have time for yourself and by yourself. If you are the co-parent of a child under the age of 6, this can come as a shock. It's time you asked yourself a few questions. What makes me happy? Where are my people? As much as this is a time of loss, it is also a new chapter of your life to be written, a time to discover parts of you that were shelved with marriage and children, or perhaps a part of you that has yet to be discovered. You have an opportunity to be the author of your own life! Take a yoga class, attend a tennis clinic, or find a single parents' group in your area. It is easy to feel alone, but there are many people in your shoes. Everyone needs to find their tribe, their people. My challenge to you is to face your fears and throw yourself into new situations where you can make new friends. If you are not sure what to do or where to go, take a little time and think back to some of the things that brought you happiness as a child, as a student, and as a foot loose and fancy free single person. Are you still doing them? If your answer is "no", there's no day like today to rediscover what brings you joy. It will make you a better parent to feed your soul, and who knows, perhaps you will find your soul-mate in that cooking class you've been thinking about taking.

Dr. Steinberg is a couples therapist and individual psychotherapist with offices in Philadelphia and New York City. To learn more about his work and connect with him go to