The Stages of ‘EX’ – Dealing with Divorce After 60
Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote about the five stages of dealing with death and loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Like many women in their 60‘s I have lived through a divorce and can honestly say I went through more or less the same five stages on my road to recovery. I hope that my explanation of the five stages of “EX” – EXile, EXpress, EXorcize, EXplore and EXhale – will help other women in the community who may be going through a divorce after 60 to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
You are not alone. You are among friends. And you will thrive again. Here’s a quick video that I recorded on this topic, based on my own experiences. Please give it a watch. Then, join the conversation at the end of this article.
Stage 1 – EXile
I Want to be Alone
After the painful reality of the divorce or separation sinks in, you admit that you are about to embark on a terrifying transformation.
Your reinvention is complex. There are so many concerns, financial, personal, family, security, and shifts in self-image that have to be dealt with. You often live in a state of denial, have trouble making decisions, and beat yourself up for every misstep. You cry a lot. You dream of escaping to places like Bali or Brazil or Costa Rica or consider joining the Peace Corps. In fact, just about any and every escape opportunity is considered. This however has to wait until reach the state of EXplore.
In your EXile backpack you will need things like dark sunglasses, Kleenex and small indulgences that make you smile. Most importantly, and this does not fit into backpack, someone to talk to. Consider a counselor, or an online support group.
Ultimately, your reinvention starts from the inside, and sometimes that requires solitude. Go easy. Be gentle. Don’t beat yourself up. At some point you start to realize that there are things in the world you love, people who care, a future. This is when you want to scream and let your emotions out.
Stage 2 – EXpress
Scream, Cry, and Let it All Out
After a little while in solitary, you are still feeling wounded and depressed – and mad! Congratulations, you have moved from denial to anger. This is where the dialog starts. You start to obsess about things you didn’t say or do in your relationship, trying to understand what went wrong. It’s a mind numbing cycle of guilt and sadness. You want to share your personal tragedy with friends, family, hairdresser, and complete strangers.
Feelings of anger, despair, frustration and pain dominate your life. You ask ‘why me’ and spend countless hours analyzing your ex’s shortcomings and feel it your obligation to call him and explain your revelations in detail. Don’t. Even if it makes you feel better, it doesn’t matter anymore.
In the stage of EXpress, you are allowed to scream, moan and generally lose your composure! “ALL CAPS #@**!!+#” are definitely allowed in this space. It will be healthier for you and you’ll be able to create a roadmap to a new future. If you don’t do it now, you will have to live with the unexpressed guilt, remorse and a sense of utter abandonment. Then pull out the roadmap of your life – which may be a total blank sheet – and try to define a destination, but take each day, one at a time.
The “Makeover Kit” for the EXpress phase might include very big pillow to punch or perhaps a journal or set of paints. When you are emotionally and physically ready, you can start the next phase.
Stage 3 – EXorcize
Release the Demons of Your Past and Let Your Ex Go!
It took a good friend to suggest I stop crying and approach my new life as if I was producing a Broadway show. First identify the lead character…YOU! Then describe that lead character. What does she look like? What’s in her wardrobe? What are her values? Say out loud five words that describe her. Mine were “loving, creative, sexy, intelligent and passionate”. Live them every day.
Next, empower the new lead actress with a revamped image. Try a new haircut, or updated wardrobe. Then decide on your supporting cast. Be selective and include “A- List” friends only. This is hard and takes time. It does not involve your ex.
Next, define your audience and seating plan. Who is sitting in the front row? Who is up in the balcony? Invite only those you want – this is YOUR show!!! Then, think about the venue (where you want to live). You may want to leave town immediately. But remember, wherever you go there YOU are.
You will of course need an agent to help you with lawyers and finances. They will help you get your divorce settlement firmed up with all the terms clearly defined. Make sure you have your own bank account and a team of people to help you – accountant, lawyer, banker, and real-estate agent.
Finally it’s show time!! You have a new supporting cast and perhaps a whole new audience. There are so many exciting choices… but now it’s time to launch this new extraordinary production and explore life’s new options.
Stage 4 – EXplore
Time to Reinvent a New You
Money cannot buy happiness, but, it can buy choices. So, before you start exploring a new life, be sure you can afford it. This phase can take time, while you may know where you want to go, you may need time to collect the necessary resources to make your dreams come true. So, explore options that you can afford but most importantly try to do what you love.
For many, travel is a great way to reaffirm one’s individuality and experience the incredible world we ignored in the first three stages of EX. One site that you absolutely must visit is journeywoman.com. It is the best site for women traveling alone. Travel is one of the most liberating and energizing ways to reinvent yourself, alone or with other women.
This is also a time for redefining your sexuality which was probably a strong component of your past relationship. After spending so long with one man, the thought of another individual in one’s new life can be scary. However, there is attractiveness to being an ex. You are self-assured, confident and in a state of mind where you won’t compromise! Enjoy your EX-appeal. Explore your options and have fun!
It’s time to upgrade to a bigger “Makeover” bag. The world is expanding, and with it your choices- maps, guidebooks, new clothes, tickets to shows, gardens, museums – a new lipstick. You are flying in a new world.
There are some great online dating sites around these days. For example, howaboutwe.com allows you to suggest fun and creative date idea and find someone who enjoys doing the same thing. There is less pressure on finding a new mate as there is on just doing something fun together!
Stage 5 – EXhale
Breathe Deeply and Help Yourself First!
If you have arrived at the stage of EXhale, you know firsthand how life got very strange as you moved through the stages of EX. On the journey, you clutched any life support that you could find and just kept on breathing as normally as you could. Now, thankfully, you have worked through your despair, dismissed your demons and find yourself ready to truly move on. You can breathe.
You can still expect turbulence along the way as you shape a new life. You may still be several thousand miles and pools of tears from resolution, and you might even circle back through EXile or EXpress again. You may live in a state of EXplore for years! But remember what it feels like to breathe on your own. You made it; you’ve paid a high emotional price for your freedom.
Now, it’s time to be fearless. Life is short. It’s a time to take chances and to not worry if you fall down now and again. As you start building a new life, shaping a new career, and making new friends, take the time to remember and be thankful for what you learned in those ‘dark nights of the soul”.
It was a genuine gift to have had the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience of the end of a precious relationship. It may even be time to pick up the phone and without anger, bitterness or expectation – ask your ex just how they are doing. Now with anger and denial and that intense sense of loss, perhaps you are ready to be friends.
Have you been through a divorce of break-up of a long-term relationship? What did you learn from the experience? What advice would you give for other women in the community who are going through a separation now? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.