Timeline of a Divorce

timeline divorce

I hesitated to share this. Not because it’s private. Or controversial. But I’m afraid people will misinterpret it as an absolute.

And if there’s one universal truth about divorce, it’s that there are no absolutes.

I’m sharing this because I see a need. A void. People reaching out and wondering if their feelings are okay for the place they’re in. We all want to know that we’re “normal” and we seek reassurances that we are while silently worrying that we’re not.

But worrying about if your feelings are normal doesn’t help you feel better.

In fact, it makes you feel worse.

Your feelings are what they at this moment.

And that’s okay.

And it’s also okay to want them to be different and then to work towards making them different (notice the intent is paired with action!).


I am sharing the rough outline of my emotions and mindset at different periods throughout and after my divorce. Please do not use this as a ruler to measure your own progress. Just because I reached a certain benchmark at month eight doesn’t mean you should too. In fact, ban the word “should” from your mind as you read this. What I hope you get from this timeline is an idea of how healing comes in slowly, even as you’re living. I want you to find comfort in the fact that it’s okay to still struggle after X amount of time has passed. My wish is that you don’t feel alone and that you have faith that you will be healed one day.

Also, keep in mind that all divorces are different. All of us have different coping skills and support systems. A divorce is not an isolated event; your entire life and genetic make-up come into play as you move on.

My Healing From Divorce Timeline

1 Day : I don’t think I felt anything other than shock and confusion at that point. My body rebelled along with my brain. Thoughts were not coherent or organized.

2 Days: I had two main emotions on the second day. First, I was scared. I came to the understanding that he was gone for good and I learned that my money was gone too. I was worried about my basic physical needs and concerned about what would happen to the dogs. I also started to get angry – disorganized anger, but frighteningly powerful.

3 Days: This is when the tears hit. Although “tears” doesn’t begin to describe it; they were great, wracking sobs that left me weak and drained. The dogs were concerned.

1 Week: I started making plans. I had a divorce attorney. I moved into a friend’s spare bedroom. The hunt for new homes for the dogs had begun. I alternated between paralyzing sadness and savage anger. I still had not slept or eaten more than a few bites. I had lost almost 20 pounds.

2 Weeks: I finally accepted that I could not do this on my own. I got on medication to help with the sleeping and eating. I started journaling at this time; the early entries are difficult to read. By this point, I had just learned of the bigamy and the energy spent with the police and criminal justice system was a welcome diversion.

1 Month: The new school year had started and work was a nice distraction. Plus, it was helpful to have the support of my teammates. At this point I had okay moments within bad days. Some days I wondered if I would make it out alive. I started to be scared that I would never be able to love or trust again. My friends took me out for a birthday dinner with a homemade gluten free cake. I cried tears of joy.

2 Months: My new life had a rhythm by this point. I drove the long way to my new P.O. box so that I could avoid seeing my old neighborhood. I spent my evenings at the gym so that I wouldn’t be alone in my room. The meds held the nights at bay; I passed out cold within minutes of my pills and slept through everything. But I had no help through the days. And they were hard. I still felt zombie-like much of the time and I was very sensitive to triggers from the past.

3 Months: My fingers would still try to text my ex when I saw something he would enjoy. I had to fight to talk about him in the past tense. I wished he had passed. For real. The drama of the bigamy had begun to fade along with its distraction. I found other ways to try to avoid feeling too much. I was afraid to face the pain. I went on my first date. Distraction. When I kissed him, I felt like I was cheating.

4 Months: I attended a three-day personal yoga and mediation retreat. I forced myself to slow down and feel. I didn’t die. I took a full breath for the first time since the text. I didn’t feel better but I started to believe that one day I would feel better. I didn’t yet love or trust but I met someone who gave me hope that one day I could. I felt the need to talk about what happened. With everyone. Sorry, guys. Of course, it helped that the story was entertaining and shocking!

5 Months: I still carried his mug shot in my purse to remind myself that this was real. I was focused on the legal proceedings and convinced that I needed favorable outcomes to be okay. It never clicked that I was placing my well-being in the laps of the law. Not smart. The tears came less frequently but the anger over the unfairness of it all would blind me with rage. I still avoided triggers but I also started to intentionally layer memories, visiting old haunts with new people.

6 Months: I signed up for Match.com, not with the intention of meeting someone but with the hope that I would learn how to date. I think I was motivated by the passing of what was supposed to be our 10 year anniversary. I “celebrated” with a Xanax and a psychiatrist’s appointment. I grew tired and weary of the never-ending legal nightmare and his continued attacks.

8 Months: The divorce was finalized. I didn’t recognize him in the courtroom hallway. Tears streamed silently down my cheeks as I stared at him in the courtroom. I was hopeful that the decree would be followed (after the criminal case turned out to be a joke) and I thought that I would feel significantly more healed after the decree was in hand. I was wrong. I stopped taking the meds (under doctor supervision) over the next several weeks. The mug shot and all the divorce paperwork got thrown into a big plastic tub. I closed the lid.

1 Year: I also had high hopes for this landmark. Too high. I was better than 11 months earlier, but I still had a long way to go. I had many good days, but I still carried that anger closely. Too closely. I moved into my own place after making the decision to stay in Atlanta to be near one of those guys I wasn’t supposed to meet through Match. I threw myself into my new home, my new relationship and my new job. I already spoke of my “former” life, but I still carried dangerous remnants inside.

2 Years: I moved in with the Match guy and brought some triggers with me. Learning to trust again was a challenging job. I no longer shared my story with everyone and I could tell it without tears, although the telltale signs of stress were apparent in my body. I learned to drive by my old neighborhood, although it was still difficult. Little financial time bombs kept landing and each one threw me back to square one. But I was getting better at getting out.

3 Years: I was secure in my new life. I had built much of what I had dreamed of. I wrote the book. There were many tears; I felt sad for the woman I was writing about but I already didn’t feel as though she were me or I was her. My story was making the rounds on TV and online. I was surprised and elated when I found out from Jeff Probst that there was a felony warrant out for my ex. I still wanted him punished. I had to start making payments on a credit card he maxed out. I felt sick every time I made a payment. I softened that with a note of gratitude every month.

4 Years: I was living at the intersection of divorced and engaged. I felt excited for my future and anxious and triggered about an upcoming home purchase (those damn triggers again). I saw my ex. I didn’t die and I didn’t kill him. I drove by my old neighborhood without a thought. I still dreaded anniversaries.

5 Years: I feel good. Damn good. The trauma is still part of my story and I can’t assume that it will never rear its ugly head again. But I feel stronger and more capable of dealing with it now.

Thank you for sharing!

40 thoughts on “Timeline of a Divorce

  1. Cindi at MomVersity – Los Angeles, CA – Devoted mom of 2; Real Estate Agent, Former Freelance TV Producer; Native New Yorker; Student at MomVersity; Believer in honesty, ambition, ethics, loyalty + laughter.
    Cindi at MomVersity says:

    Thank you for writing often about this…I feel like I need to censor myself so I neglect to share much, but this always helps me and your posts seem to come through at perfect moments. I’m at year three. I’m super proud of you. Again, thank you for sharing.

  2. I really appreciate you sharing this. People act like it’s not normal for me to still be grieving (my divorce was finalized in April), but I was with the man for 8 years. I can’t just move on overnight.

    1. People are often uncomfortable with emotion and the process of healing, thus the “get over it” mindset. It takes time and that’s okay.Just keep taking those baby steps forward.

      1. I thought I was doing really well moving on from my divorce, but then my suspicions that my ex was having an affair with a co-worker was confirmed, and it’s opened all of those wounds again.

        1. Ugh. I hate how those wounds reopen so easily. The good news – eventually the scars make you stronger and more resistant to the reopening. Hope they heal over soon.

  3. Michelle – I am a middle-aged mother of three young men. After an unexpected divorce and the natural progression of children leaving the nest, I decided to get my masters. I am a non-traditional grad student learning to love my new norm. These are just some of my thoughts.
    Michelle says:

    Reblogged this on Missives by Michelle and commented:
    The one thing I have learned through in life is that you can not out a time line on grieving!

  4. momfawn – Visalia, CA – I am a sixty-something baby-boomer -- daughter, mother, wife (twice), grandmother, aunt, Independent Consultant with Close To My Heart -- retired and celebrating a life thoroughly lived.
    momfawn says:

    Lisa, I am glad that at year 5 you are good — I know it has been a long, rocky path. I am now at year 4 since I left my husband (the best thing I ever did for either of us), and ready to file for divorce with a clear head. – Fawn

  5. reluctantmom – South Africa – I am closer to forty than thirty, which makes me break out into a cold sweat as somewhere in my deranged mind I still think I am twenty something. That ship has sailed, but I am in denial. I am mom to three children, my eldest is nearly eight and my youngest is on two months. Coming from someone who did not want children at all - and whose children are all planned endevours I find myself a tad shocked at my situation most days. Right now I am just trying to cope with my life, and the idea that soon I will be heading back to the salt mines and have to leave my baby with the nanny, which does not really fill me with any sense of jubilation. My hobbies (as if I have time for any) are mainly design, photography, love love reading, love eating chocolate and drinking wine more. Wine sort of trumps everything else in my world.
    reluctantmom says:

    Excellent post —- I keep thinking I am fine, then 3 hours later I am walking around dazed and confused. I kept nodding as I read it —- I have added it to my blog — http://reluctantmom.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/timeline-of-a-divorce/

  6. I’ll add to the voices of thanks: I just passed the one-year-since-asking-him-to-move-out, and what would have been our twentieth anniversary passed without comment (I made a new friend, since my old friends are gone, and went for a gluten-free burger. There were a couple of tears.). My divorce was final in September. Went on some dates in Oct., found I wasn’t ready, just now trying again. Spent most of the winter not feeling, not being; in shock. Waking, now, to a glorious summer, and so thankful for it. <3 it helps to see someone else's process, and to read these comments.

  7. Reblogged this on gratefulgill and commented:
    This is great. There are so many days, that I feel out of control of everything. I walk around in circles, cry, yell, whatever. The days are flying by quickly, in 5 days it will be our 18 year anniversary. We are not divorced yet, but he is gone. I am dreading it.

    Thank you for the great post.

  8. So helpful! I am at year 5, and I still struggle more than I am comfortable with. Everyone thinks I should be over it, no longer hurting, but that just isn’t MY timeline. My story is a shocker as well and I am the one who left, mostly to protect my children. But grief is a sneaky little weasel. She still sneaks up on me when I least expect it.

    1. “Not MY timeline” – love it! And you are so right, grief is sneaky. We can’t always avoid its attacks, but we can get better at spotting them and recovering from them.

  9. This is wonderfully well timed. I am discovering I started the timeline way back nearly three years ago, the first time he left. I never healed, never really let him come back though he was physically in my home he wasn’t here and I knew it. In my heart I knew it. My divorce, it was final in May but that was just the icing, it should have been far earlier.

  10. I really appreciated reading your timeline and related to it so much. It truly does take years to get back on your feet after a divorce and move beyond the ghosts of your past.

  11. Thank you for sharing, Lisa. It gives me hope to know that healing is possible, though I understand the scars will never completely fade. I just “celebrated” the 4 year wedding anniversary. I had a year of love-bombing and lies, with several overseas trips back and forth, plus 10 months of actually living together as husband and wife. Not yet divorced due to the international factor, and because I refuse to spend one more thin dime on her after all the scams and betrayals. 5 years out since I had the misfortune of meeting her, and the pain is only starting to wane a little as I’ve begun to share my story. Worse thing of all — she was involved in the death of my beloved 14 year old dog who I took to the UK with me.

    So thank you again for sharing. It’s sad, but it helps to know that one is no alone in this kind of experience.

    1. One of the main reasons that I share is that I felt so alone when all of this was happening. I felt like people were judging me – the whole “two sides to every story” and there must be some awful truth about me that was hidden under wraps.

      I hear you on the dog. Mine left the dogs and cat locked in the basement, not knowing if they would survive. They were without food and water for about 3 days. Luckily they okay, but then I had to fine new homes for them as I was not able to care for them anymore. Still brings tears…

      This will always be a defining part of your life but you can choose what it defines. Best to you,

  12. I’m at Month 2 and seem to be on track. The new reality is slowly becoming normal. She finally moved out so cleansing and refreshing the house has become a high priority. I’ve even gotten an extra short haircut which she never liked, but i do. Generally speaking the rebuild is in full swing. I’ve even started noticing other women in a way that I haven’t in over 6 years, which is still a little weird.

    Still, there are times when I unconsciously start to fiddle with the wedding ring that is no longer on my hand. I still sleep on “my side” of the now empty bed. I still have several little habits that I developed while we were learning to live together. And maybe most difficult of all; I catch myself as I’m about to tell a funny “married life story” or a great story from our wedding day. Stifling those little stories, forever tainted now, is more difficult than I thought it would be.

  13. Divorce is a grieving process. You have to accept that a part of you is dying. I don’t think it’s necessary to stifle any memories that once made you happy, just because it ended badly. (I am 7 years out of a divorce. Spent a year mourning/accepting the loss/ coming to terms with his affair. Dated on and off…short term relationships. 6 months ago finally met a man who was the first ever I introduced to my two young daughters.) http://resistthestatic.blogspot.com/2014/01/i-want-to-die-what-coping-is-like-when.html?spref=tw

  14. Interesting to read this…. I feel like in some ways I am having the opposite experience. Marriage ended in January but I realized within a day or two it had really been over for me for at least three or four years and I had been grieving it all that time. So I found that while there was a lot to deal with logistically, emotionally after we split up I felt very relieved and actually pretty happy. I feel bad watching my children figure out their relationship with their dad in this new landscape but in terms of my own heart, I feel better than I did in years. So people seem to think I am TOO over it. I am certainly open to whatever comes up for me and there are times I feel angry or sad but mostly just sad that I stayed as long as I did, or sad for my kids. I don’t miss him, I don’t love him, and I am thankful for a chance to start my life over. I am excited to meet new people and to reconnect with everyone I care about; I became so isolated in the past few years.

    1. And no one experience is right or wrong. Your grieving happened while you were still married whereas some people (I’m in this category) didn’t start the process until the marriage ended. I’m glad to hear you’re excited about starting your new life:) Make it a grand one!!!

  15. It’s been over 4 years for me, and I still am not much closer to ending this hellish nightmare that hubby had created so well.

    Married almost 30 yrs, was a good marriage, both always agreed and felt lucky. Our marriage wasn’t work… It worked. Or I thought.

    He wants the marriage back. We have lived separately for the past 4 yes. He just doesn’t get the marriage isn’t the same for me.

    I’ve been completely co dependent on him, never worked he did all monies.

    I am very trapped, as he has expressed over and over , he can’t imagine me ever with another man. It would kill him! I worry about $ and starting over at 62. Not a fun place…

  16. Thank you for sharing! October will be one year and the past two weeks for some reason has been quite challenging. It comes and goes in waves. But when it comes it hits hard and the pain feels unbearable. I’m holding so much anger and still questioning why. We have 3 children together and he has totally stepped out. I don’t recognize the man I was with for 15yrs. Every few months I text him to try so the kids can see him. Ends up the same way every time. Hurtful words and than poor him (narcissistic behavior). I should know better than to feed into it but continues to break my heart for my kids. Thank you so much for sharing your blog. It helps so much reading this and other people’s comments. This particular article gives me hope and makes me realize I’m not abnormal with all my thoughts and feelings.

    1. Not abnormal at all. And it’s totally normal to have a period of increased emotion around anniversaries of important sates. The good news – they get easier with each passing year. Give those kiddos a hug for me and let them know they’re loved.

  17. Thank you for writing this. My soon to be ex just went to work one day and didn’t come back. After 2 months of being seperated he finally decided he wanted a divorce with tears in his eyes. I am completely destroyed and somehow have to figure out how to navigate through this.

  18. Today would have been our 25th anniversary. I have lived alone ever since, never fell in love again. I’m 61. I still miss him, dream about him. Very tough day

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