One of the most difficult times of your life can also be a blessing.
Dr Seuss said “I’m sorry to say so but, sadly it’s true, that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.” For a moment – whether brief or exaggerated – your life feels like it’s going down the toilet.
Everything you knew to be true has just shattered around you like cheap glass crashing on concrete and you’ve got more than a few cuts trying to pick up the pieces. The hardest part – the one person you counted on in tough times like these is the only one you can’t turn to.
Because he’s the one you’re getting away from, through divorce or separation.
Divorce can be messy, painful and confusing. No one says this is fair or that it will be easy – but at the very least, you can try for manageable.
Whether the circumstances are cooperative or uncooperative, if you find yourself drowning in your own divorce, here’s to throwing you a life jacket. It’s possible to make it through a divorce a better, stronger person – but first you’ll have to do your legal, mental, and emotional homework.
Carolyn Ellis, award-winning author and founder of Thrive After Divorce, helps people navigate through divorce. Those about to get a divorce, or even thinking about it: Ellis wants you to do your research.
“It’s important to become an educated consumer of the divorce system beforehand, because if not, you will be educated while your lawyer’s clock is running,” says Ellis.
From mediations to collaborative divorce to third party litigations, there are many legal options that don’t involve the often-unnecessary path of divorce court.
Putting together the right team is essential. Finding a lawyer that suits you, both financially and personally, can be a task in itself, as not all lawyers will be in tune with your best interests. “You need to be the quarterback of your divorce resource team,” Ellis advises, “you need to tell your lawyer your best outcome, where you’re willing to give and where you aren’t.”
“Ask questions, and shop around.”
The legal system can get quite complicated. Alexis Martin Neely, “America’s Personal Family Lawyer,” outlines a list of questions you need to ask:
How do you bill for your services?
Are you able to be responsive to my needs on an ongoing basis?
How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?
Can I call about any legal problem I have, or just about matters within your specialty?
Neely is very clear: you need not be afraid to ask these questions of potential lawyers. After all, you will be paying them a lot of money. You need to be sure of what you’re getting into.
Ellis, in addition to offering advice on legal issues, also acts sort of as a life coach. She teaches her clients methods to better handle adversity in any capacity, not just in divorce or separation.
Urging people to be in charge of their own thinking helps them to see the positive, even in seemingly negative situations:
“Without an awareness of how important our mindset is, we engage in knee-jerk reactions or fight or flight responses,” Ellis cautions. This can lead to making irrational decisions that create further damage down the road.
Having your emotions and way of thinking sorted out leads to a better sense of control, and better able to cope with what you cannot control, she adds.
Kids are stronger than you think
One aspect in your control is how to handle children. People think of this as one of the most crucial and difficult tasks; so often we hear horror stories of emotional damage from witnessing their parents’ bad divorce.
It doesn’t need to be this way. Often, children are more than able to cope with their parents divorce, so long as too much of their life isn’t overly upset by it:
“Kids are way more resilient, adaptable and understanding than we think they are,” Ellis says, “and they will respond in large measure in reaction to how you (respond).”
Think of that as just one more reason to not let yourself be consumed by feelings of grief and anger, and to work through the divorce process positively.
“You expect to solve your divorce issues in the arena of parenting,” says Ellis.
Working with a divorce coach, counselor, or a supportive friend is a great place to get all those issues out, so you can focus on your children when with them.
How to break the news of a divorce depends largely on the child’s age. Older children might require more information. Give them as much as they need to know, but make sure not to speak negatively of your former spouse.
It is important to make sure children know they are loved, that they didn’t create the divorce, that they taken care of, and that divorce is a grown-up thing.
“Often, kids are concerned with what affects their immediate lives,” says Ellis.
What matters to a child? Things like: if they will be moving, where the family pet will go, where his or her toys will be, and if they will still see their friends.
There are a few common-but-avoidable mistakes where kids and divorce are concerned. Putting children in the middle by making then messengers or spies, or dishing to them and thereby making them act as your therapist, are harmful acts to be avoided.
Dealing with your kids is a part of “the process of disentanglement,” according to Ellis. Former spouses still play a role in your life in this way, but it’s drastically different.
“They are no longer a romantic partner,” Ellis says, “they are a business partner in parenting the children, and should be communicated with as such.”
Communication can often be helped by structuring it around a business model.
Divorce is essentially the death of a relationship, which is in essence, a sad thing. However, if it came to an end in this way, it was for good reason. Ellis is quick to point out the positives a divorce can bring.
“Divorce can be an enormous gift,” she says.
“The amount of strength and emotional resilience that I have now, I would not have received in any other way.”