A crisis like COVID-19 reveals something to each of us by magnifying certain aspects of our lives that we may have been able to hide or push to the background during easier times. If you were lonely or isolated before the pandemic, sheltering in place has likely exacerbated those feelings.
In contrast, if you were on a hamster wheel of non-stop cycle of work, chauffeuring kids to activities, and managing multiple priorities, you might realize that you prefer a slower pace (even if you don’t like the reason things are slowed down).
For many marriages on the brink of divorce, the additional stress of the outbreak may have led you to hit a breaking point. If this resonates with you, read on for some tips moving forward.
Tips On How to Move Forward After Sheltering in Place
First, evaluate your desire to end your marriage to understand if it is stemming from long-standing problems you have been trying to minimize or if it is due specifically to this crisis. The COVID-19 situation is hard on everyone and many of our usual coping strategies are not available. Don’t assume that you need a divorce if you are feeling annoyed with your spouse at the moment. You might need some space and/or some marital therapy. Many therapists are seeing clients virtually right now, or you can start in-person therapy when the world opens back up. Discernment counseling, which is a short-term, focused therapy for couples to determine if they want to stay in the marriage or separate, is also an option for couples on the brink of divorce.
If you conclude that it is time for a divorce, think through your timeline. What is your sheltering in place situation? Do you need to find a way to tolerate this time and then take steps to divorce when the world is a bit more stable? If so, build on your strengths and try to minimize the conflict. Maybe you and your spouse are a good team with the kids; if so, focus on that during the crisis and minimize couple time. Another key factor in coping with difficult situations is to maintain self-care. Many of us are reinventing our self-care routines to address social distancing: yoga at home, “gathering” with friends on Zoom, or carving out some quiet time/space by getting outside.
Some people have concluded that their situation is urgent and are moving forward with divorce within the limits of their current situation. My advice to people is to research their options before calling a lawyer. Think about the kind of divorce you want. There is the traditional litigated model, but there are also alternatives (Collaborative Divorce and Mediation) that allow you to maintain more control in shaping your outcomes and create a plan that works for your unique situation.
Consider Your Children
Whatever timeline you choose, put your children first. What does that mean? We know that kids do best in divorces when the conflict is minimized, they are not put in the middle and they continue to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. Also, your children may be experiencing their own stress from the pandemic (missing friends, school and activities). They may need additional support at this time and many therapists are accepting referrals to see clients virtually. While it is not the same as being in the room with a therapist, it is a good short-term option if needed.
The pandemic has forced all of us to take stock of things. For some people, their thoughts have turned to their marriage. If you are considering divorce, slow down, and examine your options. Allow yourself the time and space to make a decision with confidence and clarity. Finally, get the support, both personal and professional, that you need during this time. Support and self-care are vital foundations for moving through a divorce in a healthy way.