Handling Emotions During Divorce
The emotional experience of divorce is described so many ways:
· Divorce is one of the worst stressors, according to well-known “stress scales” measuring major life events. Such heavy stress can take its toll physically, too—headaches, nausea, and disrupted sleep are common, especially in the beginning.
· Divorce is a traumatic loss of marriage, family structure, and dreams. Shock, anger, numbness, guilt, fear, grief, and despair are all in the gamut of possible emotions in keeping with this loss. Emotions don’t always unfold in a particular order and may loop backwards before a person can move past them.
· Divorce is a limbo characterized by painful waiting and harsh reckonings. Relief and happiness might be in sight, but the process itself can raise unexpected and uncharacteristic emotions.
Regardless of how you experience your divorce, it’s important to keep in mind that even when emotions run high, keeping them in check during divorce negotiations is key to success. Why? Emotions can interfere with decision-making, both in the short-term and long-term. Inability to control emotions at home or during court proceedings can negatively impact the outcome of your case.
Well-managed emotions, by comparison, can help to achieve the best results and create a good foundation for dealing with your spouse and the children once the divorce is final.
Your attorney plays a significant role in helping you manage the emotional side of your divorce—that’s why it’s important to choose an attorney who understands both the financial and emotional dimensions and who will be attentive and responsive to your needs.
Keeping emotions in check requires enormous energy. Here are a few strategies to get you through:
For Minimizing the Feeling of Helplessness:
· Be an active participant in your divorce process. It can be very empowering to be engaged in the process. Helping your attorney and her team get all the information they need when they need it to keep the process moving forward will give you confidence as you move through the process. While your attorney is there to do the heavy lifting, she is advocating on your behalf, so the more open and honest you are with her, the better. Look for ways you can be proactive in gathering the information necessary such as: tax returns (3 years), pay stubs, insurance policies, household bills, credit card bills, financial/retirement accounts, real estate deeds, mortgage bills, and bank account information.
If you have children, create a chart detailing their ages, school schedules, extra-curricular activities and other personal information that will help to determine custody schedules. Project costs for items like computers, clothing, shoes, and additional big-spend things for older kids like travel sports, cars, or study abroad.
Create a cost-of-living spreadsheet including daily, weekly, monthly, and annual spending for real estate taxes, monthly food expenses, prescriptions and other medicines, phone, cable, and Internet bills. Be as thorough as possible and include copies of itemized receipts and bills to keep it all straight.
The more involved and organized you are, the more effective your attorney will be and the less powerless you’ll feel, which helps to minimize the roller coaster of emotions.
For Emotional Control:
· Know your emotional triggers and manage them. Psychologists increasingly say “emotional regulation” is the key to success in so many areas of your life—social, professional, close relationships, and certainly any endeavor involving high emotions (like a divorce). Emotional regulation involves turning down the emotional fire alarms that go off in your head, which cause you to react, and overreact, to triggers.
Get to know and understand your emotional triggers so you can avoid them or at least distract yourself by shifting focus. During court appearances, you can choose to focus on someone or something in the room that captures your attention in a positive way. Reframe the meaning of a distressing event so that it’s less negative or becomes outright positive. You can minimize the emotional impact of something upsetting.
Be mindful that in New York State, it is legal for your spouse to record your words and deeds and that these recordings may be used in Court to gain an advantage. If you feel you are losing control, call a supportive person, including your attorney, or go to a room or for a walk. If your spouse is harassing you, call your attorney who may be able to get relief from the Court.
For Staying Hopeful about the Future:
· First and foremost, find an attorney you feel confident in and make sure that they will address your concerns and be responsive to you.
· Find a trusted resource to guide you. For many people, a therapist can keep them moving forward with goal-oriented strategies and helpful insights.
For others, even a brief involvement in a divorce support group can help. (You can Google one in your area or ask around at local community organizations.) Some of my clients have found it helpful to read a book that really “gets” divorce. The Huffington Post’s list 22 Books Everyone Should Read During Divorce is a good resource.
For the time-pressed, a TED Talk is an option. Check out The Psychology of Your Future Self, an inspiring research-based talk given by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D. Through his research, he shows that the person you are right now won’t be the person you’ll be 10 years from now. Your personality, values, and passions will be different. You can’t see that now because imagining your future and identifying the specific ways you’ll change is far more difficult than recalling your past. His research tracking people over decades shows that people do, in fact, change every 10 years without their realizing it. They can only see these changes in retrospect. “Human beings are works-in-progress that mistakenly think they’re finished,” he says. A reassuring message indeed.
For Increasing Happiness:
· Try an uplifting podcast – like a great one called The Happiness Lab. This podcast is based on the most popular course ever taught at Yale University. Professor Laurie Santos, Ph.D., will take you through the latest scientific research and share compelling stories that have helped to change the lives of thousands of people—by learning how to increase happiness.