Getting divorced is extremely stressful. Regardless if you made the decision to end the marriage or were “left”, the process of divorce involves a gauntlet of emotional experiences, a need to be a savvy negotiator (quite possibly for the first time in your life), patience, persistence and a lot of positivity. As a counsellor, here is what I have learned from helping women through this experience. While much of the advice I offer here would also be helpful to men, it is written with women in mind.
All over the house
Individuals experiencing divorce are sometimes perplexed and surprized by the extent of disassociation they experience during the process – feeling detached from reality and floating between shock and vulnerability.
One minute you may feel completely numb, the next filled with rage, worry, fear, then hurt and pain so great you feel your heart may actually break. You must accept that this is, unfortunately, a NORMAL part of the process of divorce. You may have anchored a view of yourself, your family and your future on the foundation of your marriage. When that foundation cracks, you will feel extremely unsteady. Be patient and kind to yourself . Remember, this rollercoaster will finish, so help yourself hold on tight during the ride.
There are minimal short cuts
Many women expect recovery to be fast, especially since they link the dissociative state with the legal process of divorce. The emotional journey does not end once final papers are signed, although this might bring some temporary relief. If you feel like a victim during this process, ask yourself why and if it is really going to help in the long run.
I recommend that you recall of some other challenges or transition during your life – moving to a new country, the death of someone close – and analyse how you coped during those times? Explore your armoury of coping strengths and remember, you got through tough times before.
You may feel tempted to run away from the feelings of discomfort until this is “done”. However, be wary of the pressure your feelings may create. Rushing sensitive negotiations can be a mistake – take the time you need to get the terms you want. If your safety is or has been in danger you need to protect yourself – do not remain in a situation where your physical safety is compromised. Find somewhere to stay.
Direct your dialogues
Sitting down with your lawyer to vent about the unfairness of your soon to be ex-spouse is as pointless as it is expensive. Try to focus your conversations efficiently so you get what you need from the people who can best provide it in a timely manner.
In conversations with your lawyer and financial advisor, keep emotional elements to a minimum. Their jobs are to calculate the most favourable terms for you, and to help exit the legal contract of your marriage in an acceptable (and advantageous) manner.
Discuss your emotional experiences with your friends – bitching about your ex can be positively cathartic. A counsellor can help you understand how you got to this point, prevent these patterns in the future, and help you build a new foundation for your life. Given the emotional maelstrom of divorce and its aftermath, counselling during divorce is highly recommended. Since you are vulnerable now, it can help keep you as mentally and emotionally strong as you can be, while helping you move forward.
Support, support, support
This is not a time to hide away from the world. You need support. Let your friends help you. Seek support from groups. There is also tangible support, those who can help now that you may be a single parent much of the time. List these resources down on paper, invite them over, ask for support. For example, if you have children at school, school counsellors can offer some assistance. You may be surprised who is willing to really be there for you. You do not need, nor is it in the interest of your mental health, to go through the divorce process alone. The first step to accessing support is to ask.
Resist the urge to repeal and replace
While the heady new days of separation might provide fun opportunities to connect with new romantic partners, try not to race forward into a serious relationship. This is a time to find out who you are now, not who you want to be with. While many people use another relationship to give them the strength to finally leave a marriage, statistically the odds of that relationship being successful after three years are not favourable. Feel free to enjoy your new freedom, discover who you are now, and who you want to be. If you fear being on your own, this may be a topic worth exploring further with friends or a counsellor.
A better tomorrow is possible
It might take two, three or, even ten years, but you will feel much better in time.
Divorce is unsettling for many because they don’t know how they will survive outside of their marriage. Finding a financial and personal future is important. Even if you have ample alimony to last the rest of your days (and I hope you do), you will still need to think about what you’ve learned about yourself, who you want to be and what do you want in the future.
Make a list of the attributes that you like about yourself. Have your friends contribute. Pull out that list whenever you have moments of self-doubt. List the things you would like to try, that you felt you were not able to explore inside your marriage – perhaps travel to a new country, take up a hobby or class. Start on a journey to a new you.
If you have trouble seeing beyond today, a counsellor or coach can help to determine and build your strengths and help you to see and realize a different tomorrow.
I hope you find these guidelines helpful. Divorce is hard, and it often gets harder before it gets easier. Be kind to yourself, and remember as the great Gloria Gaynor declared in song, “I will survive”.
RED DOOR offers counselling to individuals who are experiencing relationship troubles, and specifically to people during divorce. We will be introducing a SURVIVING DIVORCE group therapy for women on Monday evenings. This is a therapy group, focused on moving participants actively through the process. A therapy group focuses on the emotional aspects and processes experienced during a divorce and utilizes shared experiences of the group to help each member deal better with the emotional turmoil created by divorce. You will be working on your emotions and thoughts, your reimagining of your future, your current and future mental health in a supportive, and challenging environment together with other women sharing their experiences and learning.
We will host an information session on divorce for women Monday 16 October 2017. If you would like to join the SURVIVING DIVORCE group, or our information session, please email Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.redoor.hk