No matter how frustrated you may have become with your partner, the decision to divorce never is an easy one. Strong emotions often arise on both sides. But there are healthy ways to cope.
Making the Decision
The decision legally to end a relationship sets off a long and difficult process. Even without complicated legal and financial issues, the upheaval is often enormous, affecting children, grandparents, friends and the extended family. The chances are that some of the family members involved will experience a drop in their standard of living. All will face an emotional challenge.
So before deciding to divorce, make sure you have done all you can to improve your relationship. Are you certain that there is no alternative, such as separation? Think about talking it over with a marriage and family therapist or getting other expert advice and help. A consultation with a lawyer can provide an idea of the likely legal and financial outcomes. Often lawyers will provide free initial consultations. Look in the Yellow Pages under “attorneys” for those who specifically handle divorces, as lawyers often specialize.
Coping with the Stress of Divorce
Separation and divorce are two of the most painful life events there are. They can lead you to question everything in your life, including your own identity and your ability to cope by yourself. Divorce highlights your fears and sensitivities, so old wounds from the past might resurface. You will need to recover your self-esteem, which will take time.
Below are some coping techniques to help you take care of yourself and others.
- Consider joining a support group, and going through mediation. It can lead to better communication and fewer confrontations with your ex-partner.
- Rather than withdrawing socially, surround yourself with friends. Remember how important they are in providing support, perspective and practical help.
- Learn how to balance giving and receiving. You don’t have to be perfect.
- Don’t beat yourself up over what you should have done. Stop the negative self-talk and guilt. You can’t change the past, so try to learn the lessons the present offers, then focus on a positive future.
- Set aside time just for yourself to help you find balance.
- Don’t worry about what other people might think.
- Declutter your environment. If something is too painful to look at or is useless to you now that you’re alone, throw it out.
- Determine what most needs doing and in what order. Then break up the tasks into smaller steps that can be done in several shorter periods of time. That way larger tasks seem more manageable and you are more likely to get them done.
- If you have been a stay-at-home mom and out of the workforce for some time, you probably will need to go back to school for training in a marketable skill. Bringing home your own money is satisfying and creates independence. It also sets a positive example for your children.
- Work toward forgiveness and moving on. Don’t deny your anger, but don’t let it drain your energy by getting stuck in resentment.
- Don’t be scared of going out on your own and opening up to new people.
Divorce and Money Issues
In addition to the difficulties of ending a relationship, you also will have to deal with finances. This can be particularly tricky if there is an atmosphere of mistrust because of the break-up. Many divorces actually are caused my money issues.
If your partner used to deal with all the financial matters, make it a priority to learn how to budget and manage your finances. Get advice on the financial decisions you need to make, especially if you are selling your house. Ask for help from your lawyer or an organization which supports those going through a divorce.
Most couples agree on a financial settlement without going to court, but even so, a typical divorce settlement can take over a year to finalize. Deciding on child maintenance payments can be especially difficult. Make a list of all your assets and debts, close joint accounts as soon as possible, and get advice on how your pension, savings and investments will be affected.
Divorce’s Effect on Children
While most adapt well, some children will suffer significant adjustment problems. They will at the very least be anxious about their relationships within the family and about the disruption in their own lives. A lot depends on how you handle it — you can make an enormous difference in how well they cope.
Below are some ways to reduce divorce’s emotional impact on children.
- Give them as much reassurance as possible. Keep telling them that they are not responsible for the break-up.
- Talk over what is happening in an age-appropriate way.
- Be open to their questions and encourage them to talk about their feelings, but don’t force them to talk.
- Encourage them to maintain their relationship with the other parent. Don’t criticize the other parent, demand exclusive loyalty, or use them to hurt your ex-partner.
- Avoid looking to your children for support or guidance. Ask friends or a therapist instead.
- Maintain normal household routines as far as possible.
- Look for signs of distress: increasingly clingy behavior, tantrums, fear of separation, anxiety at bedtime, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, headaches or stomachaches, increased aggression or perfectionism.
If you observe these symptoms, let the child know that you understand they are upset and it’s OK to talk about it to you or another trusted adult. Help them express themselves as best they can and seek professional help if signs of distress continue.
- To reduce conflict around holidays, keep expectations realistic, including expectations of yourself. Don’t make younger children decide which parent to spend the holiday with; this will cause enormous distress. Parents should not try to outdo each other, or make up for problems, with presents or other indulgences.