Going through a divorce is overwhelming and stressful. Whether you were blindsided by your partner’s request for a divorce or you initiated the divorce, either way divorce is a complex and painful process. I wondered if there was a way to make getting a divorce less overwhelming and stressful and here’s what I found.
So, how do you survive your divorce and make getting a divorce less awful? It’s possible to make it less stressful if you remember these seven things:
- Managing your emotions
- Protect yourself financially
- Develop a support network
- Don’t get into power struggles
- Don’t drag your children into it
- Take care of yourself
- Know your rights
If you can accept that it’s going to be a stressful time and many changes will occur, you can survive your divorce and then one day move on.
Managing Your Emotions
Emotions run the gamut in a divorce: You may experience anything from anger, rage, grief, sadness, loss, even relief. Everyone reacts to divorce differently. Furthermore, you’re the only one who knows what it’s like to leave your marriage.
Don’t judge yourself for your feelings. A caveat to this is you don’t need to explain yourself if you’re not feeling what other people expect you to feel. Take it easy on yourself for a while. If you become overwhelmed by your emotions, take a deep breath.
Take a break, if possible. Go for a walk, go to the movies, go for a run. Don’t indulge in destructive behavior. It may be fun to imagine, but the consequences of actually keying your ex’s car will wipe out that brief minute of satisfaction.
If you find yourself truly stuck, seek professional help. A therapist can help you process your emotions, help you vent and help you move on (eventually). Also, since you pay a therapist, you don’t have to worry about repeating yourself, or that you’re not being fun, as you might with a friend.
Protect Yourself Financially
Divorce brings about a lot of changes. One of the best things you can do is gather up all of your financial documents. Getting a divorce is basically separating one financial profile into two (if you leave out the myriad of emotions involved).
You want to bring at least five years of information, not just your most recent paycheck. If the marriage didn’t last that long, three years of information should suffice. Bring all of the following to the meeting with the lawyer:
- Bank statements (savings and checking accounts)
- Income Tax returns, going back five years
- Income information such as paystubs
- Investment accounts
- Children’s account information
- Credit card statements
- Other loans
- Social security information
- Life insurance
Working with all of this information will help the lawyers figure out a fair settlement. They will also help you figure out all of the documents you need to change information on, such as life insurance beneficiaries, credit cards, mortgage, etc.
Money and emotions are often tied together. That’s why its important to involve impartial parties (lawyers) so that everything can be taken into consideration and that you don’t kill each other.
Develop a Support Network
Divorce sucks. Lean on friends to process your feelings about the divorce, or to distract yourself from your feelings. You may have different friends for different roles. There are friends you go out to dinner with so you can vent about what an idiot your ex is, and there are friends where you get together for a run and don’t think about anything.
There could be friends you drink with, but this is a traumatic time in your life—try not to rely on alcohol. It’s fun at first, but then it only puts off feelings you need to work through, anyway.
If you don’t have a strong support network, find one! Join a post-divorce support group, where people just like you are waiting to connect. Not your thing? What are your interests? Join a running group, sign up to volunteer at a school, or walk dogs at a shelter.
The point is, don’t sit home alone. Get out there and find friends. Now is a great time to try all those activities you wanted to do but you didn’t have time for, or your spouse discouraged.
If you are still having trouble, once again, consider a therapist. They can help you process your feelings and you don’t have to worry about what they’re getting out of the relationship. Refreshing, isn’t it?
Don’t Get into Power Struggles with Your Spouse
If you remove all of the emotions, divorce is basically a legal dissolution of a marriage. However, that’s not possible, unless you’re divorcing a robot. There will be lots to divide up and with this comes lots of emotions. If you look back at your marriage, if there were a lot of power struggles in the relationship, guess what? There will be in the divorce as well. The two most common areas of conflict are money and the kids.
Remember that you can’t change or control your spouse—if you could you wouldn’t be divorcing. You can only control your own behavior, so focus on that. If you can’t communicate face to face because it’s too fraught with conflict, send emails.
Do not engage them on social media. It’s probably not a bad idea to block them entirely, but don’t send tweets or posts. The last thing you want is everyone to have an opinion on your divorce.
If you can’t communicate any other way, feel free to communicate only through attorneys. There’s a reason they make the big bucks.
Don’t Drag Your Children into It
Your children are going to be affected by the divorce, and they may have some strong feelings. After all, their world is being upended and they have very little control over it. It’s important that both spouses try to keep the best interests of the children in mind. Present a united front. Don’t blame the other spouse or badmouth the other spouse.
Depending on how old your children are, they may have different concerns. Some questions they may have are:
- Was this my fault?
- Where will I live?
- How often will I see Mommy/Daddy?
- What about my dog/cat/hamster?
- Is there anything I can do to make you stay together?
- Are we going to be okay?
- Will we have enough money?
Remember that your children only have one Mom and one Dad. It’s important that they have a good relationship with them, even if you don’t. Also, if you bad-mouth your ex, it will backfire and negatively affect how your children see you.
You can help your children get through the divorce. You can let them talk about their feelings. You can try and keep their routines as close to the same as possible. You can reassure them that both you and your spouse still love them just the same.
Divorce is pretty common these days, but just because they have friends whose parents got divorced doesn’t mean that your divorce will be similar.
Every divorce is different. Don’t assume you know how your children feel. They could be jumping for joy that the hostility and conflict will finally end. It depends. Odds are that they will confused and hurt and they will have lots of questions. Be honest with them without going into unnecessary details. They will understand and appreciate your honesty.
Take Care of Yourself
Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to grieve. Divorce is a loss, not only of the relationship, but of the dreams and goals the two of you had as a couple. Don’t expect to be performing at a hundred percent.
A lot of people see divorce as a failure, and worse yet, they see themselves as a failure because they could not make the marriage work. It’s important to forgive yourself. Did you do everything right in your marriage? Of course not. But beating yourself up over what you could have/should have done differently is not productive and will just prolong the pain.
On the other hand, pretending that you are just a victim and had no role in your own divorce is counter-productive. Examine what you did wrong, resolve to do better next time and then move on.
Now that your kids aren’t with you all the time, enjoy your free time when they are with your ex-spouse. You can indulge in hobbies you never had time for—art classes, karate, hiking—whatever you want. Do what you enjoy, even if it’s staying in your pajamas and watching reruns of The Bachelor.
Get some exercise. Anything that burns some calories and gets you out of your own head is great. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Remember to eat well. It’s tempting to drown your sorrows in a couple pints of Ben and Jerry’s but then you just feel worse after the last spoonful of ice cream has slid down your throat. Allow yourself some indulgence, like maybe one afternoon with Ben and Jerry. But you’ll feel better overall if you eat healthy.
Get enough sleep. Tired people are more prone to meltdowns. It may be difficult to sleep during and right after your divorce. After all, the spouse you shared a bed with is no longer there. Make the bed just how you like it (no one to hog the blankets or insist on air conditioning in November). Play relaxing music. Sprawl out. If you still have trouble, you can try a very short-term prescription for a sleep aid, but don’t rely on them too long.
Set some new goals. These can be professional goals, financial goals, or anything else. In order to move on, it’s important to see yourself as someone capable of achieving things. Even if it’s something as small as maintaining a garden or remembering to journal every day, do something that makes you proud.
Remember to get together with friends, especially those who knew you before you were married. Develop new interests. That passion for hang gliding your spouse discouraged? Go for it!
Know Your Rights
Laws around divorce vary from state to state, so you should familiarize yourself with your state’s laws. However, you do have certain rights under the constitution. These include:
- Your spouse can not destroy, damage, give away or otherwise get rid of any property which was both of yours while you were married.
- Move minor children outside of the court’s jurisdiction (that the divorce was filed in). Taking children somewhere without the other parent’s knowledge or permission is a great way to lose custody of the children.
- Access to the children. Do not try to prevent your ex from seeing the kids—even in cases of abuse, the courts will decide that.
- Neither spouse can use credit cards that are in the other spouse’s name only. Yes, you may have gotten away with that when you were married, but you will be held accountable now.
- You should not be harmed, harassed or threatened by your ex. Just because your divorcing doesn’t mean it’s okay to be a jerk about it. It will count against you in the settlement.
- Neither of you can disregard temporary court orders. Court orders are meant to be followed—don’t make your divorce worse for yourself by pretending they don’t exist.
How do I find a divorce lawyer?
The best way to get referrals from family and friends who have gone through a divorce. Alternatively, if you know any lawyers of any kind, they might be able to point you in the right direction. Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation. Go with all of your questions. However, it’s important to feel comfortable with this person. The best lawyer in the world is not the best lawyer for you if they make you feel dismissed.
Also, make sure to ask how they bill. Some lawyers charge in increments (usually six minutes), some by the week and some will charge you a retainer. Once a retainer runs out, work on your case also stops until they get more money. Remember your lawyer is not your friend—they charge for every minute they’re on the phone, every email they send, every document they file. Therapists are much cheaper!
Make sure you understand everything your lawyer is doing. Don’t assume things are going great when you don’t hear from them. You need to be your own advocate, not just blindly float down the current and hope for the best.
Can’t we just work this out ourselves?
Maybe. If you and your spouse have good communication and you agree on how to divide your assets, childcare and debts. You’ll need to figure out:
- Childcare, visitation and parenting responsibilities
- Amount of spousal support (if any)
- Division of property and debts.
Even in this best-case scenario, though, it might be a good idea to have a lawyer look over the paperwork before you file it. Then a judge will grant the divorce.
What is a collaborative divorce?
A collaborative divorce is for people who feel they can work out most of the divorce themselves but still want some legal protection. Basically, the same lawyer works with both parties. The collaborative lawyer is trained in managing conflict and trying to get everyone to come to an amicable agreement.
The advantage is that it’s less expensive and possibly less stressful, although some of that it because the spouses are both willing to come to an agreement.
If you are going through a divorce, make sure to look after yourself. Try to keep the big picture in mind, and try not to let your hurt, angry feelings overwhelm you. In time, you will be able to move on. You may even develop a healthy friendship with your ex. You will get through this. You will survive your divorce and come out happier on the other side.