Six Essential Ingredients to Transform Your Divorce: Healing, Empowerment, and Growth

By Lisa Gabardi, Ph.D.

The degree of stress you experience related to your divorce may range from mild to moderately stressful to utterly devastating and traumatic. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stressful Events Scale, divorce is one of the top five most stressful life events there is. The magnitude of loss and stress is so great that it requires a great deal of effort and time to repair and rebuild yourself, your family, and your future.

As with many difficult life challenges, the broken heart and exploded life created by divorce provides you with the opportunity to fill those painful holes with new learning, self-discovery, and growth. Challenges help us grow and successfully meeting challenges helps us feel confident. Of course, HOW to remain open to the opportunities in the pain, instead of shutting yourself down in inactivity and self-protection, is the big question. I’d like to share my recipe for the six essential ingredients that turn divorce lemons into soothing and delicious lemonade.

Ingredient #1: A Plan with Purpose

Common feelings during divorce are confusion and overwhelm. What to do first? What’s involved in this process? How to make all the decisions? Getting organized and clear about what’s important to you can really help you. That involves creating a plan, a direction, a team, and a purpose-driven way to make decisions. I suggest you begin with getting clear about your values and what’s most important to you in this process. Beginning with your values will help you develop your guiding principles and high-end goals for the process. Who do you want to be in this process? What do you want your children to remember about how you walked through this process? With your overarching values as a guide, you have purpose for the decisions you make and how you conduct yourself moving forward. Choosing a settlement process (such as mediation, collaborative divorce, or a two-attorney model) will also impact the course of your divorce. With your values clear and a settlement process chosen, you can then create your support team and gather the information needed to work on a settlement. Create a team that involves professionals (mediator, attorney, financial, counseling, coaching) as well personal (friends, family, clergy, childcare) supports. Don’t bootstrap your divorce! It takes a village. During the darkest times in my own life was when I also felt the greatest sense of awe and grace from the support and kindness offered to me. Remain open to those who will show up for you if you allow them. You may find that as one very important relationship in your life is ending, that other relationships in your life are growing. Creating a support team opens up the opportunity for some of your relationships to grow.

Ingredient #2: Your Mindset

Once your values and your team are helping guide you through this process, you need to consider what frame of mind and perspective you want to have as you walk through your divorce. What?? That’s right, I’m saying you can CHOOSE your perspective and mindset about the divorce. Everyone has a story about their divorce and their role in the divorce. Are you the victim? The bad guy? The story you tell yourself about your divorce will impact how you move through the divorce process as well as your healing and learning from it. If you adopt a mindset of blame, unfairness, and rigid perceptions of right and wrong, you will give up some of your personal power and flexibility to grow and change. Life’s complicated. People are complicated. Flexible thinking and personal responsibility offer you degrees of freedom to heal and change within the challenges of divorce. A mindset that you intend to make lemonade from the divorce lemons is hopeful and empowering. You refuse to remain stuck in pain and resentment. You will emerge, just like the phoenix bird, out of the ashes of fire, stronger and more beautiful!

Ingredient #3: Emotion Management

So many strong emotions! So many losses and changes. Your ability to effectively manage your feelings during and after the divorce is essential to your ability to heal and manage conflicts. Poorly controlled emotions contributes to escalating conflict and legal fees during divorce. It contributes to damaged relationships and inability to move on. Coping well with your feelings will help you process your grief, come to a reasonable settlement, effectively co-parent, and ultimately heal your heart and move on.

Ingredient #4: Quality Information

Many people will spend more time researching their next automobile purchase than they will gathering good information that could help them cope with their divorce. Find out about your settlement options and which is best suited for your specific divorce situation. Know what a possible settlement proposal would mean for you financially in the short and long term. There is good research about the effects of divorce on children and the factors affecting child adjustment to divorce. Get the information you need and work with professionals that can give you quality information regarding the law, your finances, your children, parenting, and your healing.

Ingredient #5: Essential Skill Set

As I said earlier, life challenges give us opportunities (whether we want them or not) to learn and grow. During a divorce, the more you are able to work on the following skills, the more effective you will be. I already mentioned the importance of managing your emotions. There are many skills you can develop to help you soothe and comfort yourself, help you sleep and develop self-care routines, and help you grieve. Communication and negotiation skills will also serve you well during the settlement process and after your divorce with your co-parent, your children, and in a variety of other workplace and personal relationships.

Ingredient #6: Time

Healing takes time. Learning new skills takes time, and practice. Divorce is a process not a single event. Our feelings and attachments don’t turn on and off like a light switch. The process of healing from divorce is a marathon, not a sprint. There are no prizes for finishing first. Slow and steady wins this race. In cooking terms; this recipe needs to simmer on low for a long, long time. You will be tempted to cut the process short. You will want the painful feelings and discomfort to go away as quickly as possible. Staying true to your values and practicing new skills will be hard and you will be tested. Unfortunately, in my experience, whatever you don’t deal with now will be waiting for you to deal with later. There are no free passes. It is only in accepting and addressing all of the messy pieces of your experience that you will be free to move on, unencumbered by “baggage.” Time alone will not heal divorce wounds. But all of the other ingredients require time for full effectiveness.

Goals informed by your deeply held values, a hopeful, self-determined mindset, coping with emotions, quality information, a village of support, and practice with personal and interpersonal skill sets over time. With a focus on these ingredients and a deep desire to make something meaningful and beneficial for yourself and your future from your divorce; you will emerge stronger and better from the pain and the challenge. You will emerge healed and with a greater awareness of yourself, relationships, your amazing capabilities during times of great challenge. With these ingredients, the worst in life will help you rise to the best in yourself! Ahh, that lemonade tastes sweet.

If you would like to learn more about these ingredients and other quality information related to divorce, resilience, well-being, and healthy relationships, head on over to my website at and sign up for my newsletter. You will receive a Quick Guide to Managing Your Emotions; one of the key ingredients in rising to the challenge of divorce, healing, and emerging empowered. You will also be the first to hear about other information I’ll be sharing to help you effectively cope with your divorce.

Lisa Gabardi, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist with over twenty-five years of experience helping

people with their relationships, marriages, and divorces. Dr. Gabardi maintains a private

practice in Beaverton, Oregon providing psychotherapy, mediation, and divorce coaching.

She is also author of The Quick Guide to Co-Parenting After Divorce: Three Steps to Your

Children’s Healthy Adjustment. Dr. Gabardi summarizes research, professional, and personal

experience in this quick guide for the parent overwhelmed by the divorce, but still wanting to

help their children adjust to this major family change.

The Quick Guide to Co-Parenting After Divorce



Twitter: @lisagabardiphd