Experts share their best advice for coping with transitions from marriage to moving so you can grow from—and not fear—these major milestones
The only constant in life is change. We’ve all heard this adage, but it’s true—and it can be scary. Humans like routine, and big changes, even welcome ones—getting pregnant or getting married, for example—can cause some kind of grief as you step away from the familiar into the unknown, says Cheryl Eckl, author of The LIGHT Process: Living on the Razor’s Edge of Change.
But since life is constantly full of these transitions, it’s in our best interest to learn how to adapt. After all, embracing change—instead of fighting it—will make you stronger. Here, eight of life’s biggest shake-ups, both happy and sad, and how to face each with poise.
“Our home symbolizes the past, memories, safety, and a sense of certainty. When we move, all this is shaken up,” says Ariane de Bonvoisin, speaker, coach, and author of The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier.
Her best tip: As you pack, give as much as possible away—don’t cling to your old stuff just for comfort. "When we let go of things from our past, we actually create room for new adventures, new experiences, new people, and even new things to come into our lives," she says. However, hold onto personal mementos, like journals, children's drawings, and familiy photos. Not only do these things have real meaning, but they can also help you turn your new house into a home.
When you make the move, make your new house as cozy and comfortable as soon as possible so you can feel grounded. It's the little details that help, de Bonvoisin says. And do a lot of walking around your new neighborhood—find a cute coffee shop, the gym, a new park, and try be open and friendly to everyone.
“The end of a marriage is a form of loss—you lose the title of spouse, your home, and your hopes and plans for a future with that person, so it definitely causes grief,” says Karen Finn, Ph.D., creator of the Functional Divorce Process. And even if you’ve already fallen out of the love with your ex, starting a new chapter without him can be difficult, sad, and lonely.
For a first step, Finn advises penning a “goodbye letter,” listing everything you’re sad about losing. This emotional exercise will help you acknowledge feelings of grief, Finn says. Then, write a “hello letter” and include everything you’re looking forward to doing in the future, which helps shift your focus from grief to acknowledgment of the good in your life.
Next up? Get to know yourself again. Revisit activities you did as a kid, like dancing or painting, says Finn. Or visit Meetup.com, a networking site of local groups who meet up to take part in different activities, from running, to dining, to book club. “When you’re hurting, you just want to hide, but simply seeing fun things you could be doing can give you inspiration,” says Finn. You never know what you may discover that you enjoy, or who you may meet in the process.
Sure, tying the knot can be one of the happiest moments of your life, but "getting married is one of the most tumultuous transitions we endure as humans," says Sheryl Paul, a counselor and author of Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes. In fact, Paul likens it to a "death experience," in the sense that we have to let go of the identity we had before as a non-married, single person.
If you're experiencing pre-wedding jitters, talk to your partner or write about it—the most important thing is to air those feelings out. "When people simply push them aside, they can experience depression or even affairs after the wedding day," Paul says. "The people who have the happiest wedding days are the ones who allow themselves to let feelings in and understand what they're letting go of."
What also helps: Trust that on the other side of your wedding day will be the comfort and stability of marriage, Paul says. This can serve as a launching pad for you to take new risks and explore new aspects of yourself.
You’ve heard it before: Relationships are far easier to maintain when two people are able to see each other on a regular and predictable basis. So when someone moves away, “you can’t help but feel a sense of loss and wonder if you’ll be able to maintain the same friendship long-distance,” says Irene S. Levine, psychologist and creator of TheFriendshipBlog.com.
If your BFF takes a job across the country (or even a couple hours away), rather than say, ‘We’ll stay in touch,’ make a concrete plan of when you’ll get together, Levine suggests. Create an annual or semi-annual girlfriend’s getaway so you can enjoy uninterrupted time together and create new memories. Meanwhile, use technology to your advantage: a Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout session can be the next best thing to catching up on the couch like you used to do.
As for readjusting to life without your pal, don’t make the mistake of thinking that everybody already has their friends; friendships are fluid and many people you meet will be just as eager to make friends as you are, Levine says. Enroll at a new yoga studio, take a writing class, or join a community-based organization that will enable you to pursue your passions and meet new people who share your interests.
“As adults, we spend about 75 percent of our waking hours at work, and we tend to identify ourselves in terms of what we do,” says Eckl. “When we lose a job, it's the loss of identity that really scares people.”
The saying “a burden shared is a burden halved” holds true when you've been let go, says Margie Warrell, a master executive coach and Forbes career columnist. Talking to a friend can be deeply therapeutic, especially if she’s been in a similar situation herself. “Feel free to take a week or two to ‘get your bearings’, but unless you’re wealthy enough to spend a year cruising the French Riviera, you’re probably best served by getting back on the horse and figuring out what’s next,” she says.
When you re-enter the job market, keep in mind that a proactive and positive mindset will help you stand out. “Employers are far more attracted to people who haven't let a setback crush them," Warrell says. Explain how the time off allowed you to reassess the direction of your career, enhance your professional skills, spend time volunteering, or even reconnect with family. What should you avoid in interviews? Any language that casts you as a victim or lays blame on your former employer or boss, she says. And don’t forget to take care of yourself: Keeping up your regular workouts will serve you well not just in the short-term, but it also helps you manage stress better and build confidence that will help set you apart in the long term, explains Warrell.
When the plus sign pops up on a pregnancy test, you realize that life as you know it is going to change. “The biggest shift that occurs with having a child is moving away from an essentially self-centered existence to serving a little human being,” says de Bonvoisin. Reading parenting books and articles can help you get a grasp on the practical things, but know that many won’t make sense until you’re actually holding a baby in your arms.
And if you feel nervous, know that it’s completely normal. Jill Smokler, mother of three and founder of ScaryMommy.com, was freaked out by her first (unplanned) pregnancy. “I was married, but kids were not on my radar at all,” she recalls. A simple thing that helped her adjust: Shopping for baby clothes at children’s boutiques. “I got so excited looking at the tiny little shoes!” she says. "Also, having a dog helped, as we had already learned to adjust our schedule around our pet’s needs—good practice for having a baby.”
Finally, spend time working on your relationship. Be as sweet and loving with your partner during the nine-month period as possible. “Even if it’s the best it’s ever been, it will take second place for a while when the baby comes,” says de Bonvoisin.
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“The hardest part about a loved one dealing with a serious illness or injury is the feeling of helplessness you have. Nothing you can do can make it okay,” says Eckl, who wrote about caring for her husband with cancer in A Beautiful Death: Facing the Future with Peace.
In the immediate aftermath, remember that it’s not about your advice, or what you think they should do, says de Bonvoisin. “Try to stay positive and make sure they know you will be there for anything they need, which will vary from day to day.” (If you’re the caregiver, don’t forget you need to take care of yourself too.) And treat the person as you did before: Laugh with them, involve them, and don’t see them as sick. “Their soul is not sick or touched in any way,” de Bonvoisin says.
Also, consider joining a support group for others dealing with the illness or talking to a counselor or therapist, says Eckl. “This can help normalize what feels completely abnormal to you and help you deal with frustrations inherent in taking care of someone you love who is sick.” National organizations for illnesses like MS, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s can provide emotional support, coping tips, advice on what you can expect at different stages, and relief from the feeling that you’re all alone. Another resource that Eckl recommends is Share the Care, which helps people set up a caregiving network to care for someone who’s seriously ill.
When someone you love passes away, it’s a huge change that no one can easily deal with, says Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute. Even for someone like Friedman, who works with grieving people as a career and knows more than most about grief, the death of his mother was incredibly emotional.
The first step: Find someone who will simply listen to you—and not try to fix you, Friedman says. “The person you talk to should be like a ‘heart with ears,’ listening without analyzing.” It’s incredibly important to recognize your feelings, and talking to someone can let you move out of your head, and into your heart.
Of course, there is no set period of time that will allow someone to “get over” the death of a loved one. “In fact, it is the most pernicious myth about grief that time heals all wounds,” says Friedman. “Time cannot fix a broken heart any more than it can repair a flat tire.” The earlier you understand that time is not going to heal your heart, the easier it will be to do the work on your own that will allow you to move forward, he says.