Life Satisfaction and Resilience After Divorce

By Mary K Best, Ph.D.

Are you satisfied with your life after divorce? How resilient are you? These are two key questions that divorcées should take the time to consider post-divorce. In processing these perhaps difficult questions, healing can take place on a deeper level. 

Divorce is an extremely difficult life event. During and after the process of divorce, a person who wants to be healthy and whole has to do a lot of uphill work in order to eventually gain life satisfaction and maintain resilience. Climbing the mountain of divorce is one of the most difficult things a person can undertake; it is not for the faint of heart. If one chooses to not work hard at healing after divorce, the outcomes can be very detrimental. 

What outcome do you want? 

In pondering the potential outcomes, it is important to think through who you want to be and where you want to be in a month, a year, or five years and beyond. What outcomes do you want for yourself? What outcomes do you want for your children? If you want to move past this difficult event, put on your hiking shoes, get a bottle of water, bring along a friend, and get started on this journey to wellness. 

Several years ago, I was finally in a time and place where I could work on and fulfill my 20-year dream: To earn my doctorate. Talk about an uphill battle! After much deliberation, I landed on a topic that summed-up what I wanted to study: Resilience. I had to practice what I was preaching, or rather learning, in the classes I was taking regarding resilience. It was not easy to maintain even a low level of life satisfaction during this brutal journey, much less a high level or well-being. Also, I had to remain resilient or else I knew I would never finish this terminal degree. 

The same holds true for life during and after divorce—one must go hard after life satisfaction and remain resilient. There have been, to date, only three studies worldwide that I know of that have been conducted on the topic of life satisfaction, resilience, and divorced women. Since I was divorced and divorce is a topic worthy of study, and life satisfaction and resilience are positive attributes that can help a person, the study I conducted virtually fell into my lap. 

What research about resilience after divorce reveals

After years of studying previous research, and conducting my own research, the results were undeniable. This mountain called divorce is a particularly brutal one to climb up and overcome. The women who participated in my study were split into two groups. One group was comprised of women who had been divorced for five years or less. The other group was composed of women who had been divorced for over five years. 

These women completed two widely utilized surveys and a demographic questionnaire. The first survey was the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985). The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (Conner & Davidson, 2003) was the second survey. After statistically analyzing the data, the results showed that the group of women who had been divorced for less than five years was no different from the group of women who had been divorced for more than five years in their levels of perceived life satisfaction and resilience. 

I expected the group who had been divorced for less than five years to not report being highly satisfied with life, and to not perceive themselves as very resilient since the divorces were still fresh. Sadly though, the group of women who had been divorced for more than five years had not found high levels of life satisfaction either, and they did not report feeling very resilient. Overall, both groups proved to be unsatisfied and not very resilient. 

I also studied how many children the women had, how long they had been married and divorced, what their income was, and how old they were at the time of the study. None of these other factors changed how the women felt. Women with or without children, high or low incomes, lengthy or short marriages and divorces, and women of all ages reported low life satisfaction and resilience after divorce. 

Beginning the healing journey

Resilience after Divorce Quote - Don't let yesterday take up too much of today.

Perhaps these results resonate with you and you are not surprised because you are not currently satisfied with your life, and you feel anything but resilient, regardless of how long you have been divorced. You are normal if your experience mirrors those of previous studies. 

Take heart. You can commit to this healing journey for your own betterment, and that of your children. Don’t wait. Whatever you are thinking of right now while you are reading this, that has been difficult for you to deal with, start there. Choose one of the many problems that come with being divorced that you know you must deal with. Perhaps begin with something easy or small. Or, start with your biggest challenge and conquer that so that you can begin to rebuild your life and feel victorious. 

Do what works for you. Start working in small baby steps and celebrate your victories and freedoms. Some days you may run, some days you may crawl; either way is fine. Whatever healthy ways you have to cope, keep going. Take breaks from the emotional work and pain but pick up the work when you are ready. 

Embrace various healing and coping mechanisms

Take good care of yourself. Give yourself grace. Surround yourself with a support network of people you trust and who will always be there for you. Lean on your faith. As you know, there are many ways to heal from the impact of divorce. The earlier you intervene and take charge of your healing journey, the sooner you will heal. Early intervention also prevents you from making mistakes with detrimental effects (like jumping into a rebound relationship too soon) that can potentially last for years, thus hurting your future. 

As you deal with these emotions and issues, please do not hesitate to reach out and obtain the support that you need. Utilize healthy coping mechanisms that work for you: Go for a walk, have lunch with a friend, spend time journaling. Take a class, create some art, tackle that closet, or go to counseling. We need these healthy outlets. 

What is inside of you needs to come out so that you can deal with the truth of your situation and not carry it around long- term. It is necessary for you to deal with the betrayal, fear, or anger that you may be feeling so that you can eventually let it go and walk in freedom. Remain resilient, and in this way, you can adapt, heal, and eventually gain life satisfaction. Your heart will beat again.

You control the outcome after your divorce

Do you want life satisfaction or misery? Would you like to be resilient, or inflexible? Would you like to lean on the support of a trusted circle of people, or go it on your own? Would you like to be bitter, or grateful? And what about your children? How do you want them to cope? They are watching you and may model your behaviors. I realize that these are difficult questions. 

I know that divorce is so hard. The losses and hurts run deep in our hearts, minds, and souls. But, I fully believe that although challenging, these questions, when approached with the right frame of mind and attitude, can help you dig deep, deal with any lingering issues, and propel you forward to the life you want for you and your children. 

As you process the pain, do not judge or criticize yourself, just spend time in healthy reflection. You will arrive! Don’t give up! The choice is yours. Start climbing. Or, sit in a safe place and get your spoon and start moving your mountain one spoonful at a time. No matter how difficult, my hope is that you too can reach the summit of that mountain and plant your flag of freedom and healing at the top! I encourage you to stay on your path to wellness. You can then help others climb their mountains. I wish you all the best in your healing journey.

*This is in no way comprehensive professional psychological, legal, or any other type of advice. It is simply the results for those of you who participated in my study, a challenge to continue healing, and an encouragement—you will be healthy and whole again.  For those of you who participated in my study, I offer my deepest thanks. 

Mary Best was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. She finished her undergraduate degrees at Arizona State University in Tempe in French and elementary education, English as a Second Language, and her graduate degree in counseling with children and families at the University of Oklahoma in Turkey. Mary just finished her doctorate in psychology, learning, technology, and instruction at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. In between getting all of this education, Mary has attended school and taught as a certified teacher around the world, including France, Germany, Turkey, California, Texas, and Alaska. She currently resides in Phoenix and is a high school teacher for English language learners. She also volunteers as a dissertation coach. When she is not busy, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, reading, hiking with her two beagles, and traveling. 

Her advice:
You only get one shot at life; this is not a dress rehearsal! Grab life and healing by the horns and go for it! Live! #noregrets