7 Ways Separation and Divorce Can be a Springboard for Personal Growth

Here’s how the end of a long-term relationship prompted these people to broaden their horizons, better understand themselves, and take action on big life dreams

May 16, 2019

Major life events often show us that we’re made of tougher stuff than we thought.

Sustain an injury and find your determination over countless physiotherapy sessions. Have a baby and learn that you can function on torturously little sleep. Lose a loved one and discover that, in time, you’re able to carry on.  

And it’s the same with separation and divorce. The end of a long-term romantic relationship is no picnic. But those who can see their way through the hurt and disappointment — and are prepared to do the work — find it launches them into a period of incredible personal growth.

You could argue that divorce is uniquely positioned to catapult us into our most authentic lives.

When our life plan gets such a big shakeup, conditions become ripe for personal reinvention.

Any ruts we may have found ourselves in during the course of a relationship — because of expectations, perceived or otherwise — can be overcome. Old goals get dusted off and new ones set.

And in the work of earnestly examining our role in the relationship breakdown, we can come to know ourselves better than ever.

Here’s what people just like you have done to better their lives following separation and divorce:

1. They reach for big career goals

Divorced mom Elaine Mae used her increased financial obligations as motivation to achieve a big professional milestone. “The pressure of supporting myself and my three girls gave me the push I needed to finish my PhD, which I did in the first six months after the papers were signed,” said Elaine. “Then the sky was the limit with what I realized I was capable of.”

Also working on her doctoral degree, divorced mom Heather Andrews took on another empowering goal. “I whipped myself back in shape and earned a master trainer certification. I lost myself for awhile. I think I found me again and I like it.”

Jamie Berger achieved some big career goals herself in the wake of her split. “I began writing, published a book, am working on another, and went to grad school.”

2. They make time for hobbies and pastimes they love

When we’re in relationships, we tend to spend our times in ways that are compatible with our partners. We may find ourselves watching Netflix with our spouse instead of making it to a life- drawing class or pickup basketball game. Add the responsibilities of parenting to the mix, and our favourite activities can slip way down the priority list.

“There were lots of things that were important to me when I was single that went by the wayside when I got married because my husband wasn’t interested in them,” said Jennifer Amey. After her separation, “it took a few months before I realized I have my own time again! I can choose to do what I want to do! Long bike rides and hikes, going to the theatre as much as possible, volunteering… I have really enjoyed rediscovering the person I used to be.”

Although she’s a dentist in her day job, mom Sarah Bronte loves music. “I used to be a DJ before I got married and then got back into it when I was looking for things to give me a boost when I was so unhappy. Now I do it when I don’t have my kids and I love it.”

3. They develop new competencies at home

When we’re faced with managing a household with just our own two hands, it can be pretty daunting at first. But forced to step up and fill the roles once handled by two people, many separated and divorced folks are pleasantly surprised to find they can manage all kinds of tasks that fell outside their portfolio of responsibilities before.

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“I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished on my own,” said newly separated mom Heather Oliver-Hamilton. “I’ve leased a new house, set up a new home for my sons, fixed toilets, set up my garden, changed light fixtures and done other ‘home renos’ I’ve never done before.”

Although she was always fairly handy, Connie Butera said she took things to the “next level” after her marriage ended, learning to do things that her ex once handled: “Changing my car air filter, assembling IKEA furniture and renovating my ‘glamper’ to name a few.”

4. They uncover important truths through therapy

Perhaps most important to post-separation growth is the work we do on ourselves, very often with help from a therapist. “Therapy post separation was the most transformative, empowering experience imaginable for me,” said mom of two Alex Thom. “It gave me so much understanding of who I am, what my needs are, what to improve upon, and what to recognize as not my fault. It has been life changing. I am so far from the woman I was back then, and so proud of my continued personal growth.”

Amy Barrie said she was advised by her therapist not to date at all for the first year. “The reason for this was simple: we lose ourselves a bit in a relationship. The year was to get back to figuring out who I was as a single person and who I wanted to be.” Amy discovered that TV shows and hobbies that had occupied her time during her marriage were things she “‘liked’ because it was a couple thing.”

“I found new interests and world views. I found who I was as a mother, and who I was when the kids weren’t around. I grew into such a better person, and really learned how to appreciate everything. I also learned what I absolutely did and didn’t want in a relationship.”

Related: How to deal with other people’s grief about the end of your relationship

Prior to the work she did in therapy, Tessa Cahill said she “had no idea how to ask for what I need or want, let alone even know what that was before my divorce. I feel like I was a child struggling to find my place, my voice and my purpose then — and it was only about three years ago. This trauma has shown me my truest self, allowed me to embrace my wildness and humour in a way I never have in my life.”

Julie Alexandra also says therapy has helped her come a long way in the years following her split. “My personal boundaries are clearer. I don’t blame myself for the breakup anymore but understand what I brought to the relationship and know I will not bring that stuff to another one. I’ve lost my anger and resentment and in doing so have become a much more patient and loving parent. I enjoy my kids so much more because I enjoy me so much more. I laugh more readily and cry less often.”

Work he did on himself prior to the end of his marriage was what prompted Tyler McKee to see that he needed to make a change. His values today have really shifted. “Before I thought I was content having control, keeping up with the Joneses, and fearing judgement. Now letting that stuff go has made me more content.”

5. They develop incredible independence

For many people, divorce brings about the first period in their adult lives where they are truly on their own. Frightening as it can be initially, that newfound independence brings huge opportunity to tap into their personal strength.

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That’s certainly the case for Natasha Herring. “One of my biggest things that changed was not depending on anyone. I was married for 17 years and was taken care of. I now work full time and purchased my first car. I love the feeling that I’m okay without having to have someone. Yes, I have a very special man in my life now, but I know I could do it on my own now because I did after my separation.”

6. They blossom in their sexuality, or even find their true sexual identity

So many separated and divorced people speak of experiencing a kind of sexual and relationship renaissance after their long-term partnership ended. “My sexuality has developed and I feel so damn grateful for another chance to create a relationship that fuels and feeds me, and for my kids to witness it,” says Tessa Cahill.

Jacki Yovanoff says she’s “done a lot of introspection” since her separation. “I’m much more aligned with my sexuality, my sexual orientation, my relationship orientation. Had I stayed married I likely would not feel as aligned with myself as I do now. I would have continued to squeeze myself into a box that was never meant for me.”

7. They learn to like their own company and make the most of off-duty time

“I’m currently working on enjoying the solitude,” says Elaine Mae. “Having time to myself when the kids are away — when married, I never got that kind of break — allows me to recharge, explore hobbies, socialize and travel. And I’m a much better mother when they are with me as a result.”

Sarah Bronte says she’s embracing the single life and treasuring the time she gets to herself. “I enjoy my own company and love living alone. This is the longest time I have been single in my life and my self worth is the highest it has been in 41 years.”

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