What should you do if you are in the middle of a divorce but feel at the end of your rope? When you're struggling for an equitable resolution but don't see any end in sight? When you simply can't take another day of nasty texts with your spouse or another day in mediation? As a divorce financial advisor, I've seen the strongest people crumble and succumb to less than favorable terms because they just wanted the pain and the fighting to stop.
Anyone who has gone through a divorce will tell you it can be one of the most challenging times in their lives and that each day is a struggle. Clients have described it as a boxing match but where their hands are tied behind their back. As a result, it's only natural to want to expedite a resolution as quickly as possible.
We are wired to desire pleasure and avoid pain. In divorce, we have both of these powerful motivators pushing us to settle. Most clients want to move on with their lives and experience peace and happiness again. But what happens when giving up means giving in? Will you feel immediate relief? Absolutely, but the problem is that the negative consequences of your choice to settle are not immediate -- only in the months or years after the divorce will the true impact of settling for too little be felt. And, of course, by then it is too late to re-negotiate.
Acquiescing to an unequitable settlement in order to avoid more pain and conflict is entirely understandable. Few among us enjoy the vitriol and incessant turmoil that is all too common in divorce. So while it is understandable, it can also be detrimental to your long-term financial health. The instant reprieve you experience can morph into long-term financial pain.
So how can you prevent this? How can you continue to hold your head high and go for what you deserve when you just want to bury your head in a pillow and make it all go away? There are no easy solutions, but here are a few ideas that others have found to keep them from giving up...
1. Expect a marathon. Go into the divorce hoping it is resolved amicably and quickly, but do not expect it. Sandy Voit, a financial counselor for couples in divorce, prepares his clients for mediation. Sandy explains, "I tell my clients that mediation sessions are usually very stressful and that stamina is important, as many women are already emotionally spent and the hours of mediation wears away at their resolve. I encourage wearing comfortable clothing (think sweats -- the mediator doesn't really care what they wear) and to bring comfort food."
2. Stay healthy. A divorce will wear on you emotionally and physically. If you are tired, undernourished, and just worn out, it will be difficult to remain intellectually and emotionally strong. Keep the basics in mind - get at least eight hours of sleep, minimize excessive drinking, try to get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, and eat healthfully.
3. Play "what if?" What's the difference between settling for $800,000 and $1.2 million? When emotions are high our analytical brain shuts down, making it nearly impossible to fully appreciate the impact of two different settlement agreements. Work with a divorce financial planner to help you see in black and white what your finances -- and life -- will look like under different scenarios. Donna Cheswick, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, tells clients, "There are no 'do-overs' in a divorce so thinking financially versus emotionally is critical."
4. Don't lose yourself. All too often "The Divorce" takes over client's lives. Seemingly every thought, phone call, and text revolves around the divorce. This can be incredibly suffocating. Instead, revisit those things that used to give you pleasure. Maybe it was a weekly hike, enjoying a morning coffee at your local park, or your weekly get together with the girls. Whatever it was that gave you joy and fulfillment, add it back to your schedule. The more you can create balance in your life the more likely you will remain strong and focused doing what it takes to reach a fair settlement.
5. Sleep on it. If you feel you are at the point of breaking and accepting a settlement you know is not equitable or financially tenable, sleep on the decision. Don't make it in the heat of the moment, but give yourself time to reflect and to make it after careful consideration.
6. Listen to your advisors. Tell your team how you are feeling and that you are close to throwing in the towel. They know the specifics of your case and can guide you best. They may be able to spare you from the day-to-day details -- giving you more breathing room.
7. Focus on the future. The most common complaint I've heard from divorcees is the loss of hope that tomorrow will be better than today. All too often the fear is that the future will be just as contentious as yesterday. They cannot see a resolution. Lani Baron, attorney and divorce mediator, suggests, "When dealing with a client who wants to abandon settlement, I always remind them to keep the big picture in mind. I also remind them that the pain they feel is temporary, but the decisions they make now will have long term, lasting consequences."
8. Get support. Make an effort to spend extra time with supportive friends. They can be your source of encouragement and grounding. If you find yourself doing nothing but talking/complaining about the divorce or your soon-to-be ex, set limits. If you're having dinner with friends, agree to only discuss the divorce for five minutes and then stop. If you need more support, talk to a therapist. If you can't afford one, most cities have non-profit organizations that provide counseling services at reduced fees based on what you can afford.
The respite from settling prematurely can come back to haunt you. Laurel Brauer, a family law attorney, "The sense of relief and closure is erased once the dust settles -- when they get their bearings back and life begins to heal. Then, they regret. And, this is commonplace. So, I ask clients to look long-term: where will they be in one year, two, five or 10 years?"
The process of divorcing is temporary. Accepting an unfair settlement that hurts you financially can be forever. Stick to the suggestions above to make your divorce less painful now and after it's settled.