Poll: Self Improvement after Split
Women Use Divorce as Catalyst for Weight Loss, Job Change or Better Education
When Judith Wright’s marriage ended, she launched a quest to understand why it happened, and how she could mend herself to become a better partner in the future. “It’s really a time to do some deeper looking, and really look at what happened,” Wright said. ?What do I need to learn to have a satisfying relationship in future? How do I become a person who is whole and complete without a relationship? How do I become the person I would want to marry?”
Wright is now the co-founder of the Wright Leadership Institute in Chicago.The institute helps people improve themselves and their circumstances to find more meaning and fulfillment in their lives.Wright is also the author of the “Soft-Addiction Solution: Break Free of the Seemingly Harmless Habits that Keep You from the Life You Want,” and “The One Decision: Make the Single Choice That Will Lead to a Life of More.”
Wright said that after the end of her first marriage, which she describes as “less like a marriage and more like a long date,” she decided to use the time to improve herself and the way she participated in relationships. “I mean, I really did some work. What a difference it made,” Wright said. “Had I not turned toward it, I would have kept repeating that same pattern again. I might have gotten a new dress, or gotten my hair highlighted, but I wouldn’t have understood about my man issues.”
Wright’s experience after a marriage ends is a common one. Most people take on some sort of self-improvement journey after a divorce.According to results from a recent poll from GFK Roper Custom Research, women are more likely than men to modify some segment of their lives after divorce. The poll, commissioned by Wevorce.com, also showed that the most common form of self-improvement for both men and women is weight loss.
Other than weight loss, people are also likely to change jobs, buy a car or furniture or a place to live. Women are more likely than men to get a new job, change their appearances or go back to school. The poll was conducted by phone. More than 1,500 people participated in the study, and the margin of error is plus or minus-2.6 percent.
Wright’s self-improvement journey to understand her relationship issues brought her directly to her current husband. She attributes her positive experience to the fact that she made a commitment to herself to explore her relationship issues and repair them. “It can help guide you, define you, so you are not being guided by your relationships and instead by your values,” Wright said.
Her book, “The One Decision,” is a 30-day guide that leads the reader through understanding and acting upon one choice that will help bring more satisfaction and meaning to life, it is about making a commitment to a quality-of-life improvement. Wright said the time after a divorce is an apt time for such an undertaking. “The end of marriage can be the beginning of a new life. There is a real need for a fresh start because you can’t define yourself the same way that you did when you were married,” Wright said.
There may be practical reasons for life changes: for example, a spouse needs to begin supporting himself or herself, so the person needs to finish a college degree or get a new job. Sometimes the changes are more natural, the person is no longer defined by being part of a married couple, and a new identity needs to arise. It’s really an identity shift, not just change in circumstances,”Wright said. “You have to accept that there is a change, and that it is right to do something positive about it.”
She said she often sees clients at the Wright Institute who are divorcing and recognizing the need to change some patterns in their lives. “The end of the marriage stirs them to wake up and re-evaluate the way they live their lives”, Wright said. “Then, it becomes a metamorphosis, or a transformation of sorts that really brings something positive out,” Wright said. “That’s really when the phoenix starts rising out of the ashes.”
She said the experience can be a positive one, and often her clients question why they didn’t focus on improving their lives earlier. “Everybody, at a level, is going to get that new life needs to be formed,” Wright said.
MANY FOCUS ON APPEARANCES
Many kinds of life events force people, especially women, to improve their health and circumstances, said Beth Battaglino Cahill, the executive vice president of the National Women’s Health Resource Center. The NWHRC also recently conducted a study that found that major life events, such as divorce, childbirth, or significant weight loss, inspire women to improve their health and appearance. Cahill said the results were logical.
“I wasn’t that surprised. I really wasn’t,” Cahill said. “You can just really relate to women in their late 30s, or even 40s, 50s and 60s, when they go through a a major life event, they tend to improve their life from where they were before.”
She said the events encourage positive life changes. “What we’re finding, divorce is definitely a huge catalyst, so are some other events, childbirth, weight loss, or the last child leaving for college,” Cahill said. “That is when women say ‘This is about me now.’ They are becoming more confident.”
“The benefits of study results like Wevorce.com’s and the NWHRC’s are that it educates women on the things they can do to improve themselves in the most healthy ways”, Cahill said. “For example, if a woman feels she is overweight, she can take make her health a priority but losing weight in a moderate way”, Cahill said. “We are all about small steps in making a healthy lifestyle change,” Cahill said. “Do you have to run a marathon? No, but walking a little each day can make a huge improvement.”
START THE IMPROVEMENT SLOWLY
After a divorce, people should take the self-improvement journey slowly, said Leah Klungness, Ph.D., a psychologist who often helps people making the transition from part of a couple to single parenthood.Klungness is the author of “The Complete Single Mother,” a book that helps single parents adjust to raising children on their own. “Accomplishing change is one of life’s greatest challenges. And when you are coping with divorce, you are coping with a significant life challenge,” Klungness said. “The healthiest response to that challenge is not to see how many other changes you can add to your life at the same time.”
She said often her clients focus on improving their appearances because they have neglected that area of their lives. “They take greater care with grooming because often as a marriage is dissolving, there’s a loss of interest in putting your best face forward, looking your best. It’s a very stressful time,” Klungness said.
“The one thing people have control over is their images, she said, so they tend to make that their focus. They also have a renewed interest in entering the social scene, and they want to look their best”, Klungness said. “Women also tend to buy new clothes because they form sentimental attachments to articles of clothing. And not just with what you would expect: the wedding dress,” Klungness said. “It might be the sweater she wore on weekends, the jacket that was bought for a special occasion, a coat bought on a vacation.”
Suddenly those items of clothing are too fraught with memories, so women need to start anew. When Klungness’s clients begin their post-divorce improvements, she said she typically guides them to take the process slowly. “Let’s take some little steps,”she tells them. “Maybe you would look good as a redhead, but let’s get those split ends cut off first. How about baby steps and nothing drastic for now. We’ve all bought articles of clothing we’ve come to regret, but things that are not as easily undone, a drastic haircut or hair color.”
“This is a time in which women also begin to consider plastic surgery”, Klungness said. “It’s no longer the young bride in the mirror, but an older, more tired woman,” Klungness said.
“Women think that getting their eyes done or their breasts augmented with improve their lives”, she said. “Reality shows have made it seem as if plastic surgery is as easy as a 30-minute television segment”, she said. She cautions her clients that such surgery is costly and requires lengthy recuperation time. She tells her clients to speak personally with someone who has undergone a particular procedure so that they have a realistic idea of what it would involve.
“Self-improvement after divorce is extremely common among her clients”, Klungness said. “Divorce is a life-altering experience. It is so common that the degree to which every aspect of an individual’s life is changed is often ignored,” Klungness said. “Even if it has been a childless marriage, which some see as just a bad break-up, it is a death and a grief following a loss of dearly-held dreams. So many people respond to this by doing the self-help thing and taking a positive action.”
Klungness said the newly divorced recognize the dramatic changes in their livesand are determined to respond in a positive way. “They want to be seen as desirable and attractive. But those changes should not focuses solely on anesthetics”, Klungness said. “Attempting your own extreme makeover may actually work against the emotional healing that needs to be accomplished before you can move forward to the next phase of your life,” Klungness said.
About the author: Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law. She has spentalmost 15 years in the field of journalism and teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work.