A recent article in Psychology Today discussed how to cope the first few days after deciding to divorce. It stressed that no matter how long you’ve had marital problems making that final decision is very emotional and overwhelming. It’s common to feel anxious, fearful, sad, angry, guilty and many other emotions. While this is likely unavoidable, it is important to start setting the stage for how you will move forward in your life. I’d like to share the author’s tips along with some of my own to help couples at this stage:
- Take care of yourself. Yes, you have responsibilities and maintaining your routines is beneficial. However, make sure you eat properly, get sleep, exercise, meditate and focus on self-care. Reach out to your support network but don’t discuss your case. This is not the time to listen to everyone’s advice about your divorce. You need to grieve a little first and consider your immediate emotional needs. If you don’t have a therapist, find one so you get constructive help in coping with divorce.
- Talk with your children. No doubt your children are well aware of your marital problems but you need to be honest with them about the divorce, reassure them that they are loved and your quarrel with your spouse is not their fault. You should not bad mouth your spouse or his or her family or encourage your kids to pick sides. Show your children that their parents are cooperating with each other.
- Don’t make major life decisions. This is not the time to change jobs, start buying and selling anything of significant value, move to another home (unless you or your spouse is moving out of the marital home) or take other steps that will only cause more anxiety. You also shouldn’t negotiate or agree to a financial or custody settlement without first getting legal advice.
- Start gathering documents. Many spouses, particularly women, don’t know much about their finances. However, money will likely be a significant issue in divorce. It is important to make copies of financial and legal documents that will be needed by your attorney and financial experts in your divorce. You don’t necessarily have to do this within the first few days but if you suspect that your spouse may be hiding assets, you should begin this process as soon as possible.
- Consider a collaborative divorce process. Collaborative divorce relies on a team approach to divorce. Each side has an attorney who advocates for his or her best interests but with a view toward helping find compromise. Financial and mental health professionals are brought in to assist the parties in coming to an agreement. This helps address the emotional and financial shock of divorce. A child specialist may also be involved to provide guidance to parents in communicating effectively with and providing emotional support to children.
The first few days after deciding to divorce are going to be difficult no matter what. Focus on calming strategies and avoid added stress. Then start learning to manage your negative emotions and begin the healing process. I believe a nasty court battle only makes it harder for spouses to move past divorce. While litigation may be necessary in some cases, oftentimes, an alternative approach – collaborative divorce or mediation – is more effective at allowing people to enter a new and better phase of their lives.