How to Promote Emotional Stability During a Divorce
Divorce is a difficult process for everyone involved. In this post, I provide 5 steps to promote your emotional stability during a divorce. These steps can help mitigate stress, feeling overwhelmed, and help you make it to the other side of the divorce process emotionally intact.
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Divorce is Difficult
When you and your spouse decide that it’s time for a divorce, the ensuing experience can be overwhelming. Up until this point, you might have been fighting with criticism and defensiveness. Or you might have experienced stonewalling – when one or more individuals in the couple withdraw from the relationship to avoid the conflict.
A difficult marriage can be exhausting, but if you’ve made the choice to pursue divorce, the battle isn’t over yet.
In the United States, divorce can take years, and instead of costing a mere 60 bucks (i.e., a marriage license), a divorce decree can cost thousands of dollars. While splitting your possessions and progeny in two might seem simple on paper, it rarely is as straightforward as it might seem because emotions and conflict tend to run high, long after the separation has begun.
Although every person is different, there are similar themes that take part during the divorce process. One such theme is that of grief and loss. Regardless of your perspective toward your divorce, there will be some sort of change and inevitable loss.
Also, change is always emotionally draining and it can be easy to lose emotional stability. Humans like their routines and habits and stereotypes and find change to be difficult. During the transitional process of the divorce, many people struggle emotionally due to the change. There is potential loss and the overwhelming nature of the process itself.
While I cannot help mitigate some of the physical and tangible losses of the divorce process, I can help by providing steps to prepare you for what’s to come and develop emotional stability.
Five Steps to Maintain Emotional Stability During a Divorce
1. Take Things One Step at a Time
First off, you must make the choice to live in the present. One of the biggest pitfalls I see people make, no matter the situation, is getting ahead of themselves and attempting to answer all of life’s problems in one moment.
Often times, when there is a long laundry list of things to do, people to speak with, and appointments to attend, as in the divorce process, thinking about the long list can be overwhelming. Instead of looking at the whole of the process, consider the next right step.
What is the next thing you will do to promote your own wellness and the wellness of those involved during your divorce process?
Do that. Then move onto the next item on your to-do list.
When people consider the process to be too overwhelming, sometimes they become defensive or just quit. If you want to make it through your divorce and maintain emotional stability, you must choose to do what you can handle at the moment.
If you choose to think, “This is too much. I can’t do this.” then you won’t and you will not get through the process successfully.
Instead, focus on what you can do only today that will make you feel more in control of the changing situation.
I find that keeping a planner can really help with this process and focusing on what I am able to do in one day. I might know that I have to get x number of things done this week, but I don’t need to finish them all today. If I can put one task on each day of my week in my planner, then focus on today’s tasks only, knowing that the rest of the week is planned.
2. Learn About the Divorce Process
Unless you’ve been divorced before, this process is likely new for you. While you might have vicariously experienced the divorce of your parents or your friends, if you have never been through a divorce before, you should not expect yourself to know how to handle the process perfectly. Part of developing emotional stability is learning what to expect.
If you’ve never drove a car before, you shouldn’t expect yourself to know how to drive perfectly the first time, even if you’ve watched other people do it, or are an avid NASCAR fan.
You might do a quick Google search, or check out Pinterest for more information about what to expect given other people’s divorces, or you might even speak with your lawyer. You’ve hired this person to act on behalf of your best interests. The next meeting you have with him or her, ask what you should be expecting in the near future, or potential difficulties that might arise.
The more you know about the divorce process, the less surprising and overwhelming things will be.
3. Explore your Beliefs Surrounding Divorce
While over half of marriages today end in divorce, shame is still a common emotion that surrounds the event. Many people who pursue divorce after getting married struggle with thoughts about their self-worth, their future, and their ability to be an adequate partner. Some people feel that shame and guilt because they do not think that they are not good enough, did not try hard enough to continue the marriage, or that others will think negatively of them because they are divorced.
If you’re having any of these thoughts, I would encourage you to explore your beliefs surrounding marriage and divorce.
These critical thoughts cannot help build your mental health and often serve as negative self-talk, but are coming from somewhere. When we feel shame and guilt for our actions, we are identifying that we have done something wrong and have acted incongruently with what we know to be right.
As you explore what you believe to be right considering marriage and divorce, you can then decide whether or not your feelings of shame and guilt are valid in the current situation. If they aren’t valid, we can choose to change our narratives. If they are valid, then we can choose to change our actions.
For example, someone who identifies as a perfectionist might believe that he or she must try his or her best at everything. When he or she fails, he or she will feel guilty and shameful for not succeeding. But does trying our best also mean success each time? No. So the perfectionist can take a deep breath and try again next time.
In the same manner, consider what you believe about your marriage and divorce to challenge the emotions that you are currently engaging in.
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4. Practice Your Boundaries Ahead of Time
When you and your spouse choose to proceed in divorce, you won’t be the only ones to be affected or to know of the event. Protect your emotional stability by knowing your boundaries.
What to Expect
Many people will be affected by your choices including your children, parents, and other immediate family members. Other people outside of your family will experience the effects as well. Often times church members, friends, and co-workers will experience the effects of your divorce in one way or another.
As such, you should expect to receive questions or remarks from other people.
When you’re going through a divorce, often times questions and remarks from others are the last things that you want to deal with. The divorce process brings with it a difficult set of changes, and answering questions can often bring up tears, anger, and nervousness.
You might not know what to say, or what details are appropriate to provide in the moment, or you might feel pressured to say things that you regret by a well-meaning family member or friend. If you are unsure of how to respond, you will likely dread interactions with others and could be embarrassed by things that you said in the moment.
Preparing what you are going to say ahead of time helps to mitigate any of these concerns.
Before anyone asks about the details, prepare what you are willing to share with outsiders. Maybe you decide to say “My spouse and I are getting a divorce and are currently separated” and leave it at that. That’s fine. You don’t owe anyone an explanation right now and are in-control of what you share and don’t share.
You can choose what emotional boundaries to set up to protect yourself and your family.
You might also like to prepare your answers using rehearsal. Personally, I like to respond to difficult situations by practicing my script in the mirror. It helps me register that I am safe while still responding within my boundaries.
If you have difficulty setting appropriate limits with others, take a look at my earlier post “Why People Pleasing Makes Your Life More Difficult” for help in determining effective self-boundaries to promote your growth and safety.
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5. Be Ready for the Grief Cycle
Last, be ready for the grief cycle. As we discussed earlier, divorce is loss in some manner or another. You’re losing a relationship you once had, the potential for your relationship, in-law family members, physical possessions, time with your children, and so much more.
While no one has died as a result of the divorce, you will still experience the grief cycle and should expect to experience denial, anger, bargaining, and or depression while working through the loss. Preparing yourself for the possibility of these emotions helps to address any behavioral changes as a result.
If you believe that you need counseling to work through your divorce, please seek out a counselor who might be a good fit for you. Browsing Psychology Today can give you a good idea of what counselors are available in your area and what methods they use in their counseling practice.
Take a Deep Breath
Before you go, take a deep breath and notice how you are feeling. Are you anxious, worried, confident, sad? Consider what your physical body is telling you at the moment.
Take another deep breath and tell yourself that you will get through this process, although it might be difficult.
By taking steps now to promote your emotional stability during divorce, you will be prepared to start a relationship again in the future. Consider John Gottman, the leading researcher in relationships, and his book What Makes Love Last? to identify signs and behaviors that tell of a strong relationship. When you’re ready, you and a future spouse will have the necessary tools to promote a healthy relationship.
How have you prepared for your self-care through the divorce process and what changes have you made to promote your own emotional stability?
Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, I am not YOUR mental health professional. The information provided on this website is for educational and informational purposes only. Using this website does not establish a counselor-client relationship, or constitute provision of mental health services. I am not responsible for any damages resulting from your use of the content on this site, as the information provided does not substitute for collaboration with a health professional. Please consult with your health professional before making changes to your health regimen.
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Lat Updated: September 16, 2020