Ten Lessons for Surviving and Thriving During and Beyond Your Divorce
When you first accept the reality that your marriage is ending and you are getting a divorce, it feels like the entire village of your life is imploding. The foundation crumbles and you grasp for some feeling of stability. Not a time when most think about thriving. Surviving, for sure, but not thriving. What’s so amazing though, is that, as difficult as it feels while first adjusting to this new normal, when you shift the question from “why is this happening to me” to “how is this happening for me,” you create room for an amazing, unexpected and intense period of growth and personal development.
Based on my personal and professional experience, I’ve developed ten lessons for surviving and thriving as you work through your divorce to put yourself in the best position to minimize the emotional impact on yourself, your spouse, and your family. This will help you enter the next phase of your life as unmarried, unattached, and as the best version of you.
1. Form your life panel
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This is sort of like the lyric in that Sesame Street song, “who are the people in your neighborhood?'“ Everyone, regardless of what they are going through, needs a tribe of supportive, uplifting people in their daily orbit. During a divorce, it is especially important to have a healthy group of people to help you unwind and process what you are experiencing.
One word of caution – membership on your life panel is by is by invitation only. You, and only you, get to select the participants. You may have to fend off some who badly want to turn your divorce into their personal crusade. You may also find that some who you thought would be a bedrock of support treat you like you’ve been infected by a highly contagious disease. Both of those types of people are focused on their own issues, not yours; simply move on and find new people.
One warning: NEVER INCLUDE YOUR CHILDREN on your life panel. EVER. Rather, surround yourself with supportive voices who will help you move toward common sense solutions and positive lifestyle choices.
2. Stay out of court (if you can)
I know, not everyone can resolve matters amicably outside of court, and not everyone should. But if you can, use judges and courts only to resolve issues that are truly incapable of being resolved together and/or to resolve a dispute over the facts. It is easy to imagine a fantasy world in which you go into court and prove how right you are and how wrong your spouse is. These fantasies should remain just that – they serve only to feed your fragile ego and won’t move you any closer to a final resolution or moving on with your life. Judges and court staff typically are bright, compassionate and patient human beings. But they are not likely to be able to devote the time and energy to create solutions that address your family’s needs.
3. Clarify your goals
Take time to get really clear about your goals. Get a journal and write them down. Review from time to time and revise as you see fit. Consider this your “Divorce Business Plan.” Some questions you may ask yourself:
a. What is my single most important goal? This may be your kids. It may be keeping a beloved pet, or item of personal property.
b. What are the next three most important goals or priorities?
c. What are the things that are truly important to me as I move through this process?
d. What is my budget to achieve these goals?
e. What is my time frame or, stated differently, how long am I willing to wait for this process to be over?
Regularly evaluate what you have been doing, and can do, to achieve these goals. But don’t ruminate – be careful not to get too fixated on smaller details. Keep everything in perspective and remember, your divorce should not cost more than your wedding!
4. Change your mind, not your spouse’s
You can only control yourself. Attempting to change your soon-to-be ex’s behavior and perception of what happened as you move through this transition is a fool’s errand, so don’t waste any emotional energy trying to do so. There are three truths in every marriage, yours, theirs, and what actually happened. Simply accept that you each have separate viewpoints that will likely never be changed. Divorce is not about reaching a common understanding of what has happened, that is called reconciliation. Divorce is about creating an agreement on what the details of your futures will be.
5. Slow and steady wins the race
In a divorce, just like the Hare in Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare, THE PERSON WHO IS IN A HURRY LOSES. Make decisions at a pace that is comfortable to you and/or your spouse, especially if you are struggling emotionally. This isn’t to suggest that you drag your feet on decisions, or tolerate the same by your spouse, but rushing through the decision-making will lead to rash decisions. From an emotional standpoint, divorce is said to be a three-year process, so accept your life just as it is in every moment and give yourself time to heal and process at whatever pace is needed.
6. This is not war
Divorce does not have to be a constant battle, although it may feel like it at times. At its essence, you are simply attempting to create two financially independent selves and redefine the nature of your family. Some may advise you not to show weakness, to be sure the kids are on ‘your side’ and/or to protect your assets. This will only drag out the process, inflate costs, increase hostility, and damage relationships, sometimes irreparably.
7. Let go
Anger is an easy and common reaction to divorce, but it can also be a deadly addiction. As Doctor Who says: “Anger is the shortest distance to a mistake.” It may feel good in the moment, but it can ruin your lives over time and cause extreme emotional distress for your children that could take years to repair. Bursts of emotional violence have never produced a positive result. Accept your situation as it is right now without wanting or wishing it to be any different and you will begin to heal, grow and live again. This isn’t to say it’s not OK to cry, or scream, or curse or whatever else you need to do to let your emotions out, but rather to suggest that you find healthy avenues to do so.
8. Don’t panic
One common stumbling block people going through a divorce often make is to escalate the conflict when triggered or provoked. If faced with this situation, take a time out and ask yourself whether you need to respond in this moment, or whether you can wait until emotions reach a healthy equilibrium before responding, if at all. As in war, in divorce it is so easy to escalate a conflict, but excruciatingly difficult to disarm. Without disarmament, however, any hope of a rational resolution is fleeting, at best.
9. Don’t involve your children
Your children are not getting divorced. You should not discuss the divorce with the children except in simple, brief and general terms. All they need to know is: this has nothing to do with them; it isn’t their fault; their parents will always love them no matter what; and that their schedules for when and how they spend time with their parents will change.
Saving the the best for last, take care of yourself first! Self care on its face, seems self-explanatory – the act of caring for one’s self. But when you really think about it, when was the last time you really did something just for you. Self-care is the foundation to having a happy and conscious life, relationships, and over-all well-being. This can be especially easy to forget when you are going through a divorce or other emotionally draining, life-changing event. Take yourself on a date once a week, just you. Go to an art museum, sign up for a fitness class, get a massage, meditate daily, try yoga. Do things that are quintessentially you and if you aren’t sure what those are any more, good – you now have a blank canvas to design your life in a way that is completely and totally by you, for you, and about you.
So that’s it, seems simple right? That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but as long as you practice as many of these as possible, you will emerge from this period of your life as the best version of yourself, unattached, and with as little emotional baggage as possible.
Tom Seeley is an attorney, holistic divorce mediator, and certified life coach based in the Finger Lakes region of New York state.