real life

"Don't wait for someone to buy you flowers": Mandy Nolan's advice for coping with life after separation.

Westpac
Thanks to our brand partner, Westpac

I remember the first time I left a major relationship – my first separation.

I packed everything I owned in a suitcase and rolled it down the road to my friend’s house where I knocked on the door and said “Can I move into your garage?”

A week later I’d met someone else, created a new social group and moved on. 

As I grew older these partings became more involved, it became tricky to extricate my life from the web I’d created with another, but nothing could prepare me for the complexities of divorce.

Creating a meaningful life full of purpose, regaining my self worth, captaining my boat (now stacked with children) and finding my direction in life’s turgid sea took time, and honestly there were times when I wondered how my little boat would stay afloat. How would I cope?

Me, feeling exhausted post-separation. Image. Supplied.

For a start I’d lost a sense of who I was. I knew I couldn’t find that person in my marriage, I needed to be alone to do that.

Saying the words "I want a divorce" is one thing, but actually stepping barefoot into the empty rooms of your new life is quite another. Who was this woman? How was I going to help her regain her self-worth, take control of her life and be the best the woman, mother and ex-wife that she could?  

I had forgotten what I enjoyed doing. That first night alone when the kids were with their dad was overwhelming. All those years I had yearned for quiet, for time to myself, and now here it was engulfing me in a grief that reminded me I had failed. This was not like the movies.

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Those first few months were the hardest. I hadn’t even thought how I was going to do this! You get so caught up in the struggle and angst of separation that you forget to plan what your life looks like after you actually are divorced.

That's the time when you're figuring what your support network looks like. It may be your friends, family members or even a professional advisor like a psychologist or a lawyer. Whoever it is, they're your rocks to help get you through. Good listeners and mood lifters!

The best advice I was given was by an older friend who said "It will take time, take care of yourself, go back and find the things you love to do, spend time with those friends that you stopped seeing but don’t just talk about your divorce, create new experiences, be present in every moment you have now with your kids, and for god’s sake learn to budget. You’re living a fuller life on less money."

Starting a new life is exciting, but it’s expensive.

I found that I didn't need the things I thought I needed in my marriage. I set a new furniture budget and trawled garage sales and secondhand shops. It was fun choosing something without consulting someone else for their opinion.  

I purposefully avoided the stores full of expensive designer furniture I usually aspired to. If I couldn’t afford it, there was no point torturing myself with the desire for something I couldn't have. Maybe down the track I’d be financially positioned for more indulgent purchases, but after my divorce I needed to be frugal.

I made it a challenge to stay within my budget, and weirdly it was fun! I had a huge sense of achievement that I had replaced household items I’d lost in the divorce and not got into debt. I also enjoyed the fact that the ‘new’ items didn’t carry any of my ‘old’ story. This was part of my new life.

And Me, feeling refreshed post-separation. Image. Supplied.
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I started to see friends. I realised that I’d let many of my friendships slip. I wanted to follow my friend’s advice and create new experiences, so instead of sitting in a café or a bar where the tendency was to turn the meet up into a counselling session I asked friends to join me on a forest walk, to accompany me to a yoga class, or a gin distillery tour! I was building my relationships and making deposits in my experience bank at the same time.

In my marriage I hadn’t been financially savvy. While I earned money, I had always let my husband take care of the bills. I didn’t want to just cope after my divorce - I wanted to flourish. So I had to lose this infantile approach I had to finance.

In my relationship, I had let my husband shoulder the responsibility for managing our outgoings, like car payments.  After talking to other women I discovered that this financial dependence and long-term deskilling was not uncommon and it often results in a lack of confidence in your own ability to manage financially. I would suggest that post separation is a good time to visit a financial expert to help navigate towards financial independence and create a long-term financial plan to set up your own financial stability. Being financially independent and moving from just surviving to actually thriving gave me a confidence and self-reliance I had never known before.

The first thing I did was sit down and do a budget. What did my life really cost? Westpac have this Budget Planner Calculator that makes the process really straightforward. I was shocked at how much incidental expenditure I had.

It wasn’t until I had written it down that I was able to see where to cut back. For instance, I had two takeaway coffees every day. That was almost $60 a week.

I decided to have coffee at home and allocate one day where I met a friend at my favourite coffee shop. When you think about it, there’s no real joy in a coffee drunk on the run, and it's bad for the environment!

Loving life. Image: Supplied.
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After I got my weekly in-goings and outgoings sorted I started to think long term. Sure I could cope week by week – but flourishing wasn’t about just scraping by, if I truly wanted to be independent I needed to build financial confidence and a solid financial future. I was flat out planning the evening meal, how was I going to manage that and plan for my kids schooling, owning my home, and build wealth for my retirement? They are often the bigger issues that keep us in toxic relationships, because doing it alone seems insurmountable.

According to Westpac's research, two thirds of Australians considering a separation were hesitant because of the fear of having start over financially.

I can tell you as someone who has been there, there is no greater sense of self-actualisation than taking steps to be the author of your financial future. I failed maths at school. Money isn’t my first language. So I had to bone up on some basics – I’d recommend the Davidson Institute – it’s a learning tool provided by Westpac that takes you through webinars and online training and provides downloadable tools and guides to get you into the driver's seat.

The best advice I would give someone to cope with life after divorce now would be, stop waiting to be rescued, princess! The handsome prince? He’s long gone.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it’s painful, but guess what, it’s you who’s the hero and you can make it your story.

Don’t wait for someone to buy you flowers. Surprise yourself. I remember the first bunch I sent to myself: "To Mandy, I love you. Love Mandy."

How did you cope - or flourish - during or after your split? Share your tips with us below.

Westpac

Negotiating the financial side of a separation can be complex, which is why Westpac has made available a range of checklists and resources to help support Australians through what can be an overwhelming and difficult time. If you or someone you love is going through a separation visit westpac.com.au/separation, call Westpac's Customer Assist line on 1800 067 497, or speak with your local branch staff.

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