When will the stress stop? When will my life be normal again? And, by the way, what is normal now? Is there a new normal?
For most of us, even if we want the divorce, it’s a terrifying prospect. There are so many questions:
- How do I tell my spouse?
- What will happen to my kids?
- Will I have to move out of my home?
- How long will it take?
- How much will it cost?
- Do I have to have a lawyer?
- Will all my personal information be public?
- Do I have to go to court?
If we believe that the best of all possible worlds is that nothing will change – that everything is perfect just as it is – we will be very disappointed. Change is the only constant – kids grow up, we grow old, our health declines, people die, our memories fade – life is one big change – and we are always in a state of transition – adapting to the current reality. The stress you feel might be caused, in part, by your struggle with accepting this simple fact!
Divorce is change, let there be no doubt. It is a well-known fact that divorce is one of the biggest stresses one can suffer in a lifetime. And this death of a long-term relationship, your marriage, is often compounded by another one of the biggies, moving out of your home.
Even if all you want is to get rid of your spouse, that particular change will never happen in a vacuum.
So here are my best tips to help you deal with the stress of the change that is “divorce.” Even though I’m a lawyer, these tips are less legal and more practical, gleaned from 37 years of dealing with clients in constant distress.
Tip #1 – Accept What Is and Visioneer What Will Be.
As you look around and see everything changing, your resistance to what is happening can drain your energy and deplete your reserves. But you can’t do anything about what has already happened. And you can’t do much about what is happening now except to be the best person you can be in these circumstances.
You can have a significant impact on how you react to what is. You can also have a significant impact on what happens in the next minute, hour, day, month, and year if you focus your attention on what you want instead of what you don’t want.
Visualize your future after divorce. Imagine what your life will be like without the problems that accompanied your marriage. And the problems that accompany this divorce. There’s a reason for clichés like “When a door closes, a window opens.” (They are true!) See this divorce as a fresh start, a new beginning. It’s an exciting time. You can make the future you imagine happen by envisioning it. Visioneer what you want and it will become.
Tip #2 – Focus on Your Future.
Pay attention to what you say. Be aware that every time you talk about what you don’t want, you are attracting more of what you don’t want to you! Want to attract more good into your life? Then focus on the good stuff and what you are doing to move in the direction of the good stuff. Talk about the wonderful life you will be living after you are divorced.
Talk with others about what you want. Not as in “what I want for me,” but as in what you want for everyone who is important to you – your family, your community, your gender, your profession, and your world. Then listen and be willing to accept what they offer. Sure, you can do it alone, but why? Why not graciously accept the gifts that others offer to you? Besides, it’s more fun, isn’t it?
What does the world around you look like in this post-divorce Utopia? How are the kids doing in school and in life, now that they’ve settled into their new schedules? What is your lovely new home like, now that you’ve made it your own? How wonderful is your job, now that you are able to focus and to achieve in it? What fabulous gifts are you now able to give to the world?
Tip #3 – Choose Your Divorce Process.
There are different ways to get divorced, and you are not required to litigate. Instead, for example, you can mediate or negotiate your divorce collaboratively. Be sure to consult an attorney who understands the various courtless options you can pursue to get divorced more amicably than the courtroom.
And, before you retain an attorney, get a second opinion.
Tip #4 – Do Your Homework.
Any divorce takes a lot of hard work. You will need to prepare a financial affidavit, compile financial documents, review lengthy settlement offers, attend a parenting course, prepare for hearings and depositions or for collaborative meetings or for mediation, etc. The more work you do, the more that you will be committed to resolving the matter, and the less you will have to pay your attorneys and other professionals to do the work for you or to chase you down to do the work they requested of you.
Tip #5 – Observe the Golden Rule.
Treat your spouse as you would like to be treated. No matter how you feel or what your spouse has done, don’t lie to, belittle, or ignore him or her. Don’t empty joint bank accounts, dissipate marital assets, or remove your spouse from insurances. Don’t file false police reports or contact child services unless your children really are in danger. Don’t post inappropriate pictures and comments on social media.
Tip #6 – Be Transparent.
By freely disclosing information, you will gain your spouse’s trust, and you will save money by avoiding the other side having to search for information. You are required by law to disclose everything, and, by doing so, you will develop (or regain) the trust necessary to settle your divorce and to move forward with your ex as amicably as possible.
Tip #7 – Focus On Your Goals.
Identify your interests, and understand that there may be several ways to achieve your goals. This will give you more bargaining room and increase the likelihood that both you and your spouse will accomplish your most important goals with fewer compromises. It’s like this: if you have one orange between the two of you, and you each want the whole orange, one of you will “win” the orange, and one of you will “lose” the orange, or you might cut the orange in half, and neither of you will be happy. However, if you focus on your interests in the orange, you may be able to come to a win-win solution. You may want the zest so that you can make a dessert. Your spouse may want the pulp to make juice. Understanding your interests will allow you to get the peel, and your spouse to get the pulp; you both win!
So focus on your underlying goals, and forget about taking a position, the solution that you think is the only answer for you. If your goal was to make dessert, focus on that, not on “I want the orange.” Taking positions may blind you to the possibilities.
If you focus on your goals, you will understand when to be quiet and listen. If you are able to hear your spouse’s point-of-view, and to understand his or her underlying goals, then other possibilities will occur to you that will work for you both.
Tip #8 – Be Realistic!
Even if you need alimony, that doesn’t mean that your spouse has the ability to pay it. Even though you would like to stay in your home, that doesn’t mean that it is financially possible for you to do so. Just because you want your children with you the vast majority of the time, it is not fair to your spouse to have less time with your children if s/he wants more. Divorcing spouses waste time and money arguing impossible positions. Try to see the big picture, and take time to view issues from your spouse’s perspective. Consider what your interests are, and don’t just take positions for the sake of taking a position.
Tip #9 – Ask Questions.
If you don’t understand a document or a proposed settlement, ask your attorney questions. Most folks are willing to do that. But they are less comfortable asking questions about their own bills. If you are not comfortable with the amount of time billed on your case, ask questions. If you can’t afford your attorney to go to mediation or court or a conference with you, ask whether there’s another alternative. Your attorney may have some less expensive options for representation, and it is better to explore those options before you owe your attorney fees that you cannot afford. No one likes to spend a lot of money on an attorney, only to discover that the money is gone but the divorce is still plowing forward. And you’re representing yourself without a clue how to do it.
Tip #10 – Remember: If You Have Kids, Divorce Does Not End Your Co-Parenting Relationship.
You will deal with your former spouse regularly until your children turn 18, and even thereafter, at major events like graduations and weddings. It is important to be as amicable as possible during your divorce so that you are able to be in the same room with one another in the future. Do not speak disparagingly about each other to your children, friends, or family. Your spouse will hear about it, and it will only delay your ability to resolve your divorce and move on. Your spouse will be less likely to negotiate reasonably with you if you are constantly badmouthing him or her. While divorces are highly emotional, there is life after divorce. (Remember, you are visioneering it now!) Avoid doing things during your divorce that are destructive to your relationships with your spouse and with his/her family.
I know you’ve seen some recurring themes in my top tips. There’s a reason for that. You can’t eliminate the stress from your divorce, but you can manage it by applying the right approach and attitude. And there will come a day when your children and your family and friends will thank you for it.
Joryn Jenkins is a trial attorney with 37 years of experience, now in private practice at Open Palm in Tampa, where she concentrates on courtless divorce.
She is a well respected author of several books about the divorce process. While Joryn’s focus during most of her 37 years in practice centered on legal ethics in the practice of law, her current mission is, to “change the way the world gets divorced,” to inform folks as to the alternatives they have when it comes to the process of divorce, and to enlighten them as to which choices will best suit their families and their finances.