“My attorney keeps telling me to keep my emotions in check — but how does one go about doing that during an emotionally charged event like divorce? Do you have any tips?”
Your attorney is absolutely right. Keeping your emotions in check, as hard as that may seem for you or anyone else who is going through a divorce, is crucial. When your emotions are out of control it is hard to make sound and rational decisions. And don’t forget: the decisions you make during the divorce process are ones that are likely to affect you every single day of your life as you go forward. This is especially true when it comes to finances and children.
Here are some of the tips I give my clients and tips to keep their emotions in check, many of which are included in my book, Divorce: It’s All About Control – How To Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars.
Find a good attorney, one who is known to show compassion and understanding. Naturally, this person must be someone who is adroit at handling your divorce business, but you also want to select someone with a “heartbeat.”
Allow your attorney to do his/her job. When you become emotional, whether you have just argued with your ex or given in to a demand as a result of letting him/her manipulate you, you often live to regret it. Such giving in as a result of your emotions (as opposed to business objective analysis) will also frustrate your attorney who is trying to keep you out of the fray.
When you feel that your emotions are trumping your emotional equilibrium, take a deep breath, center yourself, and try to observe the situation (argument, heart-tugging memory, encounter with your ex’s new partner, something the children just said to you to make you feel bad about the divorce) from a detached point of view. Be your own best friend and ask yourself: “What advice would I give myself if I were trying to comfort or calm down a friend.” Oft times, writing this practical advice down helps to clarify your thoughts and minimize the height of emotion.
Try to stay out of the “Emotional Wars,” no matter how tempting they may become (e.g. getting caught up in the ‘tit-for-tat’ game). Indeed, you will like yourself a whole lot better for it. Don’t let your ex (or the children or others affected by the divorce) pull you into an emotional war. You may say or do things you will come to regret.
Don’t react, respond. Remember that reacting is often accompanied by some impulsive act, whether it is telling your ex to buzz off (or worse!) or slashing his/her tires. Rather than reacting, simply respond to the words, actions or your thoughts. To respond means exactly that: to reply. There is a vast difference between reacting and responding!
Give yourself permission to experience your emotions, but rather than do so in the presence of your ex, your children, or anyone else that could make you feel uncomfortable about it later, carve out some alone time. Once you close the door to your office, your bedroom, your car, let those emotions go—feel them fully. Here’s one trick I like very much: Decide how much time you will devote to that “emotional moment.” When the timer goes off, tell yourself to get back to business, whatever that might be.
Distract yourself. Turn on the television, read a good book, put on some upbeat music, exercise—or engage in some other type of positive activity or distraction (not over-eating or any type of substance abuse, please!) and escape from the emotional pain or grief. Generally, after a reasonable time out, most people will look at the crisis situation that evoked that emotional response in the first place and have a more level-headed perspective about it.
Meditate. Close your eyes, breath deeply and go to your “happy place” (picture yourself sitting on a beautiful beach taking in a warm breeze; enjoying a soothing massage; hiking leisurely up your favorite trail…) and as you open your eyes, tell yourself you are in control, your emotions are not in control!
Also, find a good therapist, one with whom you are comfortable and can share your good days and bad. A therapist’s office is the perfect place to vent your emotions and find solace and helpful suggestions in handling your emotional issues.
Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is co-chair of the Women’s Political Committee and a member of Divorce Magazine’s North American Advisory Board. She can be reached at (310) 277-7117. View her firm’s Divorce Magazine profile here.