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Getting Through a Divorce - How to Survive the Five Stages of 'EX'

It is time now to build a new life, shape a new career, make new friends, and even fall in love again. Don't worry if you fall along the way. Now, it's time to be fearless. Build courage one step at a time. Life is short.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She was one of the first people to define the stages that a patient and their family deal with when facing death. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Many women going through a divorce see it in the same way and go through some or all of these five stages on the road to re-invention. They experience what I call an "Ex" Rated Divorce Recovery. I hope that my explanation of what I consider the five stages of "EX" - EXile, EXpress, EXorcize, EXplore and EXhale - will help other women going through a separation to put things into perspective and know that they are living through a somewhat predictable and manageable process. Each of these stages can be approached and worked through creatively and hopefully with a positive outcome.

Stage 1 - EXile. This is Not Happening to Me.

Trust is often the first thing to go after a divorce. As the painful reality sinks in, you feel that the only way to protect yourself and heal is to be alone. There is a certain element of denial as you deal with so many complex concerns - personal, family, financial, and shifts in self-image. You beat yourself up for every misstep and often have trouble making the simplest decisions. You tend to cry a lot and deep, raw emotions are only a memory away. You dream of escaping to exotic places like Panama or Tahiti or consider joining volunteer groups in anywhere but where you are. In fact, just about any and every escape option is considered. This however has to wait until reach the state of EXplore.

In your EXile handbag you will need things like tissues, dark sunglasses, and small indulgences that make you feel pampered and valued. Most importantly, and this does not fit into even a large bag, you need someone to talk to. Consider working with a counselor, or join a divorce support group. This stage of EX is where the quote by Winston Churchill comes in handy - "If you are going through hell, keep going". And even though it's true that you have to start designing a new single you from the inside out, you need to start trusting others again. At some point you start to realize that there are things in the world you love and people who care. This is when you want to face your emotions and start connecting again.

Stage 2 - EXpress. It's ok to Lose Control.

After time in solitary, hiding out behind dark glasses and talking only to imaginary friends, you stop feeling so depressed and start to feel the twinges of anger and frustration. Yes, you have moved from denial to anger. This is where the fun starts. You are feeling again and begin to obsess about what actually went wrong and start assigning blame and responsibility - outward and inward. You remember all the things that you didn't say or do in your relationship and this can obviously take you spinning into a cycle of anger, guilt and sadness. Feelings of frustration and pain dominate your life. You ask 'why me' and spend countless hours analyzing your ex's flaws and feel it your obligation to contact him and explain your point of view. Don't. Even if it makes you feel better, it doesn't matter anymore.

In the stage of EXpress, you are allowed to lose your composure and scream, moan and generally release your anger! It's ok to lose control. It will be healthier in the long run to let the emotions take shape and be released. Only then will you able to create a sensible roadmap to your new future - a roadmap which, by the way, may be a total blank sheet. But this is the stage to try to define a destination, and take each day, one at a time. The "Makeover Kit" for the EXpress phase of divorce might include work out gear (exercise is a great release) or perhaps for the more sedentary, a journal or set of paints. Only when you are clear of toxic energy, clear headed and physically ready, you can start the next phase.

Stage 3 - EXorcize. Release Past Demons and Let Your Ex Go!

It was in year two that I personally got tired of 'crying' and 'thinking' about reinventing myself and 'talking' about how I would do it one day. A friend who happened to be an actor saved my indecisiveness with a simple plan. One morning over coffee, he said - Let's produce a Broadway Show. First figure out who the lead character is...hint that would be YOU! Then describe this beautiful and talented actress in celebrity style. What does she look like, what are her colors, her style, and her personality? Say out loud five words that describe her in a press release or in lights above the theatre! Mine were "creative, intelligent, loving, sexy and passionate". Then he instructed me to go away for a month and live these values every day. I loved this game! Next, my job was to create a new image for this amazing woman - new hair, makeup, a stunning wardrobe. Finding the right place to perform was next - this could involve thinking about a move to a new city or apartment. Finally, I started to select my supporting cast. Only loving and trusting people were allowed to audition. My ex was definitely not in that special group of supporters and not even in the audience - not even in the very last row standing. He was outside in the rain watching my picture shimmer in the star-lights.

You can't just let everyone go, so you will of course need an agent to help you with lawyers and finances. Always have the business card of a good attorney is in your bag. You're going to need someone to help you to make sure that emotion does not cloud good sense. Finally it's show time! You may find yourself in a new place, with new friends and new connections and that is then the time to start choosing - time to EXplore new options!

Stage 4 - EXplore. Dream. Live.

Once you have gone through the stages of loneliness, anger and renewal, you can now go deeper inside yourself and build a solid new future. If you have saved a little money, you can start examining your purpose in life and what you need to do to make your dreams come true. If not, dig in and enjoy your new role as an independent woman. Perhaps you want to change careers and try something completely different work-wise. Or consider going back to school or reading books that can help shape a new direction - all those things you ignored when you were healing those emotional bruises. Travel is one of the most positive and liberating ways to gain confidence and to get precious perspective on life - alone or with other women.

This is also a time for redefining your sexuality which re-emerges when you are finally able to let the memory of your ex go. After spending so long with a partner, the thought of another man in one's new life can be scary. However, the benefit of having shed the old you is that you find a deeper confidence and willingness to adapt, but not compromise. You know what you want and who you are. Now you can enjoy your EX-appeal. In your much bigger world, it's time to upgrade to a larger makeover bag - buy a suitcase in the color of your choice and fill it with the books, maps, guidebooks, new clothes, show tickets, passes to gardens, museums - a new wild color of lipstick. You are exploring a whole new world of your own creation.

Stage 5 - EXhale. Breathe Out and Move Forward!

Once you get to the stage of EXhale, you know that you are truly a survivor. You've discovered strength you did not know you had. There was a time when you felt like you were gasping for air and only your friends and family kept you going. Now, thankfully, you have worked through your despair, dismissed your demons and find yourself ready to truly move on. You can breathe out - towards your future - on your own two feet.

You can still expect the odd turbulence along the way as you shape a new life. You may live in a state of EXplore for years! You may still be several thousand meters and many sad tears from resolution, and you might even circle back through EXile or EXpress again. But remember what it feels like to breathe on your own. You made it; you've paid a high emotional price for your freedom.

It is time now to build a new life, shape a new career, make new friends, and even fall in love again. Don't worry if you fall along the way. Now, it's time to be fearless. Build courage one step at a time. Life is short. Try to be thankful for what you learned in those "dark nights of the soul" and realize how much a precious gift it was to have had the opportunity to learn so much about yourself and how to manage your attitude and response to those tough stages of life, not death. Trust in the knowledge you earned and the people who stood by your side. Believe in yourself.

Have you been through a divorce of break-up of a long-term relationship? Which stage was the hardest? What advice would you give to other women who are going through a separation now?

This article was adapted from a post that originally appeared on

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