When her marriage of 15 years broke down, Maria (whose name has been changed to protect confidentiality) made it abundantly clear that she wanted to get her divorce over with as quickly as possible. She came in not caring what happened to the family home and other marital assets she and her husband owned; she just wanted out.
It didn't take much digging to get at the root of why Maria was in such a hurry. She had filed for divorce after making the shocking discovery that her husband had been engaged in a long-term affair with a woman from his work. Maria thought taking an approach to divorce similar to ripping off a bandaid with one quick pull would be the best way to end the emotional hell she had endured since finding out.
Maria's husband Tom, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue getting down to the nuts and bolts of who should get what in their divorce, especially when it came to asking for what was obviously more than his fair share of the couple's marital assets. When I informed Maria of the demands Tom's lawyer had sent over, her initial response was to sign off on the papers right then and there without even reading through them.
It is human nature to want to avoid pain, whether its physical pain, or it's the emotional pain of loss, betrayal and uncertainty. There is no way to get around the fact that divorce can be a painful process. A common coping mechanism I see is that people try to quickly resolve their matter by giving in. But quickly agreeing to something as crucial as the terms of a divorce settlement because you think doing so will stop the pain? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but this is an almost certain way to make sure you feel more pain, grief and frustration down the road.
When I work with clients like Maria, or clients on the opposite end of the spectrum who are dealing with their pain by trying to take their spouse "to the cleaners," I often encourage them to take a step back as a way to regain emotional clarity in their decision-making. Part of this stepping-back process can simply be time. Sleeping on it before making a hard and fast decision never hurts, and letting a little time pass to mull things over may be exactly what's needed to make sure you are signing off on something you won't later regret.
What else can work to keep you emotionally level-headed?
Put your ego aside: Taking on an "I don't care, I just want out" attitude is often a mask for some pretty deep-seated feelings of betrayal. Likewise, keeping up an angry front and disputing every last suggestion made by the other party during negotiations is usually a red flag of some really strong hurt simmering beneath the surface. Have you taken your own emotional temperature lately? Try keeping a journal, or talking to a friend you comfortably open up to about your emotions. Seeing these feelings for what they are is often the first step in not letting them rule you. Journaling and being around loved ones can also help to diffuse difficult feelings and help you get some perspective.
Recognize ways that things are better: Leading up to your divorce, you no doubt endured months, or even years, of anger, sadness and fear. If you have children, they may have listened to enough arguments to last them a lifetime. Most couples go through very dark days before they decide to divorce. But think of it this way -- those days are behind you now. With this in mind, try viewing your divorce as a chance to pave the way for a better future.
See a therapist: We often recommend that our clients seek therapy to deal with the emotional aspects of their divorce. You don't need to be clinically depressed or in need of anger management classes in order to benefit from a therapist or counselor. Did you know that many professional athletes see sports psychologists to help overcome doubts and anxiety that may be stopping them from performing at their best? Divorce isn't a sport, of course, but having "your head in the game" is to your benefit at this time.
Seek financial counseling: Sometimes keeping emotions in check is easier when you get a reality check of what it will take to stay on firm financial footing post-divorce. Seeing your accountant, or making an appointment with a financial planner, may help you better understand why you should care about the details of your financial settlement and they can also help you put a plan together for your post-divorce life.
Hire a divorce attorney: Lastly, do your homework to make sure you are hiring an attorney who truly has your best interest at heart. You need to trust that your attorney will go the extra mile for you and be there for you, even when you have those inevitable moments when you're not so level headed.
It took a frank conversation with Maria to help her see how her decision to shrug off her divorce could have potentially damaging effects on her children's futures. In the end, however, she was able to put aside the pain and focus on the divorce process.
And you know what? Today, thankfully, that pain is now just a distant memory.