Your social, political, or professional identity, your education level, your age, or your role in marriage does not immunize you from the emotional impact of a divorce. I tell clients that divorce is 80 percent emotional, 10 percent legal, and 10 percent financial.
Yes, divorce sucks, and it is also an opportunity for transformational personal growth and development.
Many emotions come out fast and furious at the beginning of a divorce – jealousy, contempt, fear, anxiety, hatred, resentment, bitterness, anger, sadness, depression. These feelings are not easily brushed aside.
Consider how you can use those feelings to fuel your recovery from the effects of an unsatisfying marriage. Give yourself time to grieve your losses, take care of yourself, and find out who you really are, not who you thought you were in relation to your spouse.
Unmasking the divorce blame game
I see a lot of blame shifting in divorce. Clients routinely accuse their spouse of all sorts of things, often precisely what they themselves are doing or feeling. Granted, it is hard to look at yourself honestly when you are being rejected in the most public way by the very person who swore an oath to love and protect you, in sickness and in health, till death do you part. This is not easy stuff.
It is easy to delude yourself into thinking you had nothing to do with the circumstances of your divorce. It is a classic trick of the shocked mind to go to blame and projection. Rather than confronting our own shortcomings, we tend to cast them onto someone else. This is a coping strategy that helps us preserve some self-esteem and makes difficult emotions more tolerable.
Rediscovering your worth amidst divorce
If your life now feels like a mess, whatever it is you contributed to it, is something to uncover and own. It is time to get some perspective. It takes courage to use this time, when you already feel like you have been punched in the gut, to pull yourself up and get appropriate help.
If you find yourself repeating an old narrative (i.e., you hear yourself say the same things about your ex either in your head or out loud) and nothing is changing or getting better, I suggest you take the time to investigate what underlying belief is being challenged, what story are you telling yourself? Then, in the privacy of your quiet space, or with your therapist, or with your lawyer or mental health coach, ask yourself whether that story is even true. Remember, growth comes at your edge, not in your comfort zone.
The time has come to debunk some of the myths and stories you have been telling yourself about why you are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, rich enough, etc. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else, stop competing with your spouse, and stop feeling bad that you are getting divorced. It happens to the best of us.
In the collaborative divorce process, we create a safe environment for such conversations to take place. A collaborative divorce lawyer may ask you to assess, honestly, what you may have done to contribute to this breakup. Did you cheat? Did you think about cheating? Did you patronize or otherwise assert a sense of superiority? Did you abuse your spouse, verbally or emotionally? Did you lose your identity trying to please your spouse and “save the marriage” at the cost of your soul?
A time will come to make amends for your contribution to the ending of the marriage. A time will come for forgiveness. This is for you, not your spouse. It is the means to release guilt or shame. An authentic apology can set you free. You can’t rush this part. Prior to true acceptance of your reality, you may feel like you are locked in a bit of hell. The good news: You have the key.
Conquering divorce’s emotional storm
Feeling one’s feelings and accurately identifying them is hard, but it’s the only way through this emotional morass called divorce. The trick is to feel the pain in its most raw and unadulterated state. Do not fall for unproductive thoughts such as, “I shouldn’t feel this,” or “I don’t have time for this.”
Many of us can’t sit still with our pain long enough to let it go. The Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön notes that a feeling only lasts 90 seconds. When I read that, I thought, really? That’s it? The theory goes that if we can just sit still for 90 seconds and feel the pain or discomfort, it will pass, and we can move on without ruminating about it. Surely, we all can afford 90 seconds to feel some legitimate feelings about the ending of what has until now been the most important relationship of our lives. The hope is that by doing so, we will save countless hours of avoiding our feelings, brooding about our feelings, stuffing our feelings, or engaging in other acts of mental gymnastics or escapism to avoid feeling them. In the long run, not feeling all of our feelings will only hurt us and take time away from living our lives.
Remember, feelings are not facts; they are just feelings. It is important to feel your feelings, and it is equally important to let them go.
Judgement-free healing through collaboration
It takes a commitment to your own mental health to do the work I am talking about, and the collaborative divorce process is designed with this commitment in mind. It is intentionally a judgment-free zone.
Collaborative divorce, an interdisciplinary team approach to divorce, makes sense because emotions are running high, and we don’t want the outcome of this divorce to be determined by your current emotional state or that of your spouse. We want you both to feel relatively neutral about each other from an emotional point of view.
In a collaborative divorce, each person is expected to take responsibility for themself, their feelings, and their contributions to ending the marriage. There is no room for finger pointing, blaming, or shaming. With the help of the mental health coach or your collaborative divorce attorney, you will be encouraged to do the hard work of identifying your feelings and communicating them effectively so that you are psychologically ready to be divorced.
Including a mental health coach as part of your divorce puts you in touch with your authentic nature, skills, likes and dislikes, uninfluenced by your spouse. Moreover, it shows you how you fell into an unhealthy relationship dynamic, and you want to see this clearly, so you don’t repeat the same mistakes with your next relationship(s).
Investing time with the mental health coach on a collaborative team saves you time and money.
Unveiling hidden emotions during divorce
How are you really doing? Take a moment and give it an honest assessment. Before you sat down to read, what were you thinking and feeling? Are you able to focus? Scan your body, right now. See where you are holding tension. Can you tell where? If not, I suggest you start looking for it and get back in touch with your body. Start with your shoulders, are they up near your ears? How about your jaw, is it clenched? Feeling a pit in your stomach? These are all signs.
Divorce is the perfect time to try something you’ve never done before but thought would be fun. Your body needs care and attention, because it will carry you into the next phase of your life. You deserve to focus attention on yourself and get whatever professional help you need to do so, if you can.
Practicing positive behavior during divorce
Are you behaving in a way that comports with your values as a human being? Does your behavior (not your spouse’s) reflect your best self?
“Practicing” your thoughts, your words, or your actions means you recognize and admit that you have a choice about whether your attitude will be one of empowerment and compassion, or one of victimization and persecution. For one thing, if there are children involved, your attitude, speech, and behavior are critically important because how they see you handle adversity, strong emotions, massive life changes, and how you approach their other parent is what they will draw upon in their own life, now and going forward.
Second, you need to behave in conformity with your values because you are worth it. One’s self-esteem often takes a beating in a divorce, and often someone feels unworthy of love. The opportunities to practice being your “best self” despite the madness and chaos that appears to be surrounding you are abundant in the divorce process.
Mistakes are part of life, so expect to make some. You should not expect to be perfect at being kind to yourself or others all the time. Perfection is an illusion; striving for it can only set you up to fail and feel disappointed in yourself. Practice being your best self during your divorce. Own your mistakes so that you are not burdened by guilt. Next time your spouse expresses an opinion you don’t agree with, say, “You may be right.” Let your spouse speak his or her mind without interruption. Be radically honest about your needs and give your spouse the dignity to have his or her thoughts and ways of being.
As Martin Luther King Jr., said: “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”