When we first announce that we’re getting married or having a baby, everyone we come into contact with has an opinion. They tell us about their experiences, or share some of the horror stories they know of, and offer advice and opinions about what we should expect. In fact, sometimes the opinions are offered so freely and forcefully as if they were lessons straight from the burning bush itself. If we have never been married or had a baby, these opinions can shape the form and perspective of our expectations. Since we don’t know what to expect, we might believe what others tell us. Oftentimes, these expectations become our reality, precisely because we “expected” the outcome.
Take Care – Become Selective about who You’ll Listen to During Divorce
Similarly, when you embark on the journey called “Divorce,” everyone has opinions. Unfortunately, many of those opinions are negative. They often include phrases like: “Well, I hope you don’t get hosed like my cousin was” or “Oh, my sister went through a custody evaluation and it was horrible!” or “good luck trying to collect child support” or “since the feminist movement, women don’t get alimony anymore, so don’t even bother asking for it”. Statements like these don’t help us, even if they are given with the best of intentions. They keep us up in the middle of the night and make us brittle with fear and negativity. Become self-protective about who you listen to. Remember, this is a vulnerable time for you. You don’t need to allow others to frighten you by listening to someone else’s careless words. When you are given an opinion, jot it down to ask your family law attorney.
I will attempt to guide you away from living out other people’s negative expectations. After talking with thousands of divorce clients, I can guarantee you that very few divorces are exactly alike. There is no secret formula. However, there are some guidelines I can share with you that will help you make this divorce not only tolerable but something you can look back upon and say, “Yes, I did my best.” And knowing you did your best will help you to transcend this divorce to live a happier, more fulfilled life.
Why is it so important to take care of yourself? You can imagine that there are literally hundreds of things I want to say to you, and yet, if you don’t take care of yourself, nothing else really matters, does it? If you are in bed, dying of a broken heart, sick because you are not eating or sleeping, or taking on everyone else’s negativity, it does not matter what this article or any self-help guru tells you. It is imperative that you take extremely good care of yourself, now more than at any other time in your life – for certainly, your life does depend on this!
Listen to Your Intuition – Not Someone Else’s “Divorce from Hell” Stories
As stated above, everyone has his or her opinions on divorce. I grew up hearing my mother give her advice on divorce to everyone who would listen. Being divorced twice herself, she and her friends all considered her to be the expert on divorce. Although she had good intentions, she did divorce very poorly. It’s true that on her second divorce, she did end up with a very nice property settlement, including child support, alimony and the house, but money definitely did not buy us happiness. We were all miserable. Yet she gave her advice freely and her friends followed it.
I have numerous clients who come in and tell me the things (mostly terrible) they expect to happen during the divorce. They “know” all these “facts” because friends or family told them. Just like marriage, you want to create your own divorce. I am not going to give you the legal ABC’s of getting a divorce, just some general guidelines.
There is no right way to go through a divorce. And remember, you are not your divorce. Although you may be tempted to call the Divorce, “my divorce,” I ask you to separate yourself from it and not take it on like a body part. Divorce is a separate entity from yourself; it is a process and you get to decide what that process should look like.
To Take Care of Yourself, You Must Feel your Feelings
I spent a great deal of time at the beginning of my own divorce in a place of disbelief (shock) or ignoring my feelings. I thought: “I do not have time for this!” I had a business to run and kids to take care of. However, ignoring my feelings didn’t really work that well. What I notice is that people who not only acknowledge, but also feel the pain and hurt and anger and frustration and disappointment and heartache, heal faster, and move on sooner. Since I didn’t want to stay stuck where I was, I had to go ahead and feel those feelings. There are times when the pain is too much. This is when life feels unbearable; you cannot function and you may even feel suicidal, with no place to go. If that is the case, you may want to talk to your doctor or therapist about whether you have situational depression and whether you would benefit from treatment. But, again, be self-protective! Sometimes professionals push medication as a solution without looking at the whole picture. At the very least, you and your health-care professional should complete a written depression inventory and regularly monitor your progress. Also, in my experience with my legal and coaching clients, I saw that medication alone does little to move you forward; it works best when counseling or coaching is done simultaneously.
Why is it important to “feel” the feelings? Because when you are in a great deal of pain, hurt, anger, frustration, disappointment, and heartache for an extended period of time, these feelings stick to your body. The feelings become part of your external system and eventually cause disease. Disease (dis-ease) often stems from the negativity surrounding you, -the negativity in your thoughts, and in your heart. Get this out of you…you don’t need it and you don’t want it in you.
Dealing with Pain or Guilt During Divorce
Sometimes we get our needs met when we show our pain to the world. Some people (and I know you know who I’m talking about) walk around the world with a “victim” sign attached to them. I am definitely not asking you to walk around this way! I am asking you to take the time you need to acknowledge that you are going through a very difficult time in your life. This is especially true if you are not the one choosing divorce or its circumstances. How much time you need depends on the person and the situation. Crying and screaming and beating a pillow until you fall from exhaustion is not only perfectly OK, it is highly recommended!
If you are the one who is choosing to leave, you may not feel as much pain. Instead, you might be feeling a great deal of guilt. You may be telling yourself that it is your fault the marriage is ending, that your children are losing their stable home because of your choices. Here is what I know: most marriages end as a result of some dysfunction in the relationship. In some cases, it ends simply because the reason the couple was brought together is no longer necessary and they must now go out into the world to learn new life lessons. Even when the relationship seems normal and appropriate to the outside world, it often is not.
On the other hand, you may be in a place where you feel happy and want to move on with your life. You may also be projecting your happiness or freedom on your spouse, only to get slammed with anger or sorrow in return. It may pain you or frustrate you to deal with your spouse because he is not in the same place as you and it brings you down every time you deal with him. However, you still have to recognize and work through the feelings. If you loved this person at one time and do not deal with the pain you may have caused, that, too, will stick with you.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book Transcending Divorce: A Guide to Personal Growth and Transformation (copyright © 2007) with permission by Lori S. Rubenstein, Inc. If you’re willing to take a serious look at your life, and understand your part in the ending of you marriage, then this workbook can guide you through the bumpy terrain of divorce. A former divorce attorney, Lori is now a life-after-divorce coach, mediator, author, retreat leader, and teacher. Her mission is to help others heal from the hurts caused by relationships. www.TranscendingDivorce.com.