The decision to separate and divorce from your spouse can be one of the most stressful and pain-staking decisions you will ever make. Feelings of uncertainty, sorrow, grieving, denial, and guilt can paralyze you, and make you feel stuck. While there is no easy way to make this very difficult decision, preparing yourself for the emotions that lie ahead of you may help ease the burden when the time comes to have The Talk with your partner. Knowing what to expect when you and your spouse decide to end the marriage can also make this time a little less difficult.
You will be afraid to call it quits because you don’t know what lies ahead of you. You may be scared of the Unknown and because of this, you may tell yourself that you are comfortable even if you are miserable. You will will try to weigh the pros and cons of staying married, and tell yourself you can continue to endure your unhappy marriage. You will tell yourself lies and reason that you should stay together for the kids, for the finances, etc. But fact that you’re trying to bargain against your happiness indicates that something is wrong. You are bargaining because you are scared, but know that this is normal.
Know that when the decision is make to split, the roller coaster of emotions you will feel is unlike anything you have ever experienced. Grief, pain, relief, heartbreak, confusion, and the desperation of wanting to be loved can feel like waking up every morning and learning that you are the only survivor to a nuclear war. Do not hide these emotions, but accept them and deal with them in a healthy manner. And once you do, know that there is a weight that will slowly start to ease from your shoulders—the same weight that you denied all this time when you told yourself nothing was wrong.
Even if your self-esteem was in the dumps from your martial troubles prior to the split, know that it will shatter once the separation occurs. You may find yourself wanting to be loved and validated, desperate for attention that your spouse no longer provided. You will think that nobody will ever love you or want you again, and you may be tempted to to date immediately and latch on to the first person who catches your eye. Resist this urge to attach yourself, even if you have not had that romantic touch or intimacy for a long time. Trying to fill that void with another relationship robs you of the chance to heal, and may set into motion a cycle of dependency for you, when what you need is to be strong and focus on loving yourself.
You may tell yourself that you are find and holding up well, but do not mistake that complacency with merely bootleg up your emotions. You will need a support system: a therapist, a support group, good friends, the non-judgmental anonymity of online forums. Whatever combination of systems you choose should help you attain two objectives–creating a safe place for venting, while also helping you find constructive ways to cope with the divorce in a healthy manner. Do not convince yourself that you are better than that, stronger than that. You are human. Go talk to someone.
You will feel like you are getting sprayed with an industrial fire-hose, especially at the beginning when you aren’t sure what you should be doing. The number of “to-do’s” and “should-do’s” regarding emotions, finances, legal issues, custody, and other logistics will arrive with incredible urgency. Shifting prorates and conflicting advise may make you will feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Understand that splitting is a process and you don’t have to do everything at once. There will be things to take care of immediately (safety, shelter, income), things to address a little bit later (finding a good lawyer, mediator, and therapist) and there are things to address later on down the road (agreeing on a second separation plan, assuring you and your children are adjusting). You will need to remind yourself that divorce is like a marathon and it requires patience and persistence. Show compassion for yourself, even if things seem to take forever.
Understand that you can only control your behavior, and not your spouse’s. For serious offenses (threatening harm, screwing with your finance), you should absolutely take action. But there will also be annoyances that may not endanger you, but still make you mad. It may seem like your spouse is gong out of their way to make your life as miserable as they can, which could result in a long, drawn-out, expensive, soul-sucking divorce for you, if you let it. And although you can’t control their behavior, you can control how you react to it. Taking the high road, although not instantly gratifying, may save you future stress and drama. This will be easier said than done.
7. Being Reactive
You will be tempted to make decisions driven by emotion, rather than logic. You will constantly forget that divorce, boiled down, is a business transaction–a splitting of assets and incomes. The logical part of you will understand this, but the part of you that is hurt may spend months fighting over things that have nothing to do with money at all. During the legal process, you will be forced to choose your battles. Choose wisely. You will need to learn that nobody wins in divorce. Otherwise, you will find yourself robbed of years of your life fighting in court, having spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees that could have been put to better use in your post-divorce life, and so emotionally distraught that moving on will be extremely difficult.
You will find yourself in new uncomfortable situations. There are too many to mention here. You may be re-entering the workforce. Your budget may be tight. Your children may have trouble adjusting and exhibit behavioral problems. You may find friends treating you differently, thinking for some reason your split means that their relationship is in jeopardy. Social situations where there are couples may make you feel lonely and miserable. Understand that you are not alone in all of these struggles and that there are infinite resources are out there to help you. Do not allow any of this discomfort to make you bitter.
There will be dark times where you wallow in self-pity. You may cry and say to yourself, “my life was not supposed to be like this. I thought my marriage was perfect and we’d be together forever.” You maybe be ashamed and feel like a failure. Know that this is part of the grieving process, and understand that you must accept your circumstances have changed and adapt to them before you can learn how to heal and move on. You will learn that are not a prisoner to those circumstances, and you have the power to emerge a stronger person.
10. Empowerment, if you let it
You will learn that divorce gives you a choice. You can choose to look at this split as a trauma from which you will never recover, and to be guided by anger and fear and and panic, or you can choose the path that takes more work–the path where you ask for assistance, get the support you need, educate yourself about every aspect of the divorce (and there are many), and understand that you will have the power to get through it all. No one can make that choice but you.
Featured photo credit: Riding the Train by Colin Logan via imcreator.com