Many people I talk to want to know how to best manage the psychology of divorce. Perhaps they have known for sometime that their marriage is ending, or perhaps it has already come to an end. In either case, the tendency is to remain stuck and what keeps them stuck is fear. Fear of the unknown; fear they will make a mistake; fear they will not adequately cope; fear they will screw up their children; fear there is no future to feel good about.
The hardest part about coming to terms with divorce is managing the painful rollercoaster of emotions that typically ensue. It can be so overwhelming, even when it is not a surprise, that a person may lose track with what's important. Like a lighthouse in the dark of night, when you are overcome with paralyzing despair, shine your light on these four key areas. The point is not to be perfect, but push yourself to direct your attention each day to what's ultimately going to liberate.
1. Financially: Strategize--Most people see their financial situation change when they divorce. The quicker you look into the facts of your situation, then the sooner you can begin acclimating to a new reality. And too, whatever your situation is, once you look at it head on you can start maneuvering and strategizing to make it work for you. Changes will have to be made. Accepting this fact means you are not continually living in an angry and hurt state of mind. No sense in crying over spilled milk. Accept it. I have seen in my work that those who more quickly accept the new reality recover faster. Remind yourself that you have the power to make new opportunities to grow your financial resources all on your own. But for now, get organized, know the facts, and start making necessary changes so that you begin living and stop hurting.
2. Parentally: Tune In (Not Out)--Perhaps the most agonizing aspect of divorce for parents is the gut wrenching fear of emotionally scaring the children. This particular fear, more than any other, keeps many stuck in unhappy marriages. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If a relationship is consistently unhappy, filled with chronic anger and/or anxiety, kids are often better off when divorce provides greater stability. As parents emotionally adjust to their divorce, they typically beat themselves up for not being more perfect for their kids. As you come to terms with all that is changing in your life, it's impossible to be a perfect parent. The single best thing you can do is to emotionally tune in and be empathic. If your children express upset over something unrelated to your divorce, be extra kind and validate --"I understand, I can see why that makes you angry." Make room for their feelings about the divorce, directly ask and offer empathy for their concerns. Acknowledge that you understand what they are experiencing and that they are not alone. Try hard to avoid talking critically about your ex.
3. Emotionally: Grieve--You hear it so often but what does it mean... "You have to grieve..." After hearing this or reading this phrase a number of times, it starts to sound like a surgery or treatment that you can no longer avoid. Healthy grieving doesn't mean you have to sit around and cry all of the time, alone, in a dark room. But it does mean you accept that with divorce comes a healing process. Recognize where you are in this process from time to time. The stages include: Denial--"This can't be happening." Anger--"I don't deserve this!" Bargaining--"Maybe if I change something about myself I can get my ex back." Depression--"What's the point of life anymore." And eventually Acceptance--"I can still be happy despite this loss." People go in and out of these stages. There is no set order. Develop awareness for where you are at any given moment. Accept that it does take time but, eventually, if you allow it to, peace will come.
4. Socially: Seek Support--It can be tempting, particularly at the beginning stages of a divorce, to want to hide. At the end of the day you are likely drained by attending to your children's emotional health, you own emotional health and your legal situation. After all of this, you may have few resources left and be tempted to isolate and hold up for hours or days at a time. A little of this from time to time is appropriate and healthy. But do force yourself to regularly socialize with others. Tell them what you are going through. Ask for help. Talking with trusted others will help you to feel less alone and open up your perspective--reminding you that there is a better future out there and you are getting closer and closer to it each day.
If there was one lesson that I came away with as I developed a workbook, Breaking Up and Divorce, for people confronting a painful split, it is that no two people are exactly the same, but some basic approaches can help anyone.