The range of emotions you can experience during a divorce is practically unlimited. In addition to sadness, loss, and anger, you may feel frustration, confusion, anxiety, disbelief, guilt, or grief; you may feel lost. Healthy people can find themselves in full-on fight-or-flight mode—feeling under pressure, threatened, or attacked—with an urge to lash out.
Though these feelings are normal and expected, they can sometimes be overwhelming. All that emotional too-much-ness and the nature of the divorce process can leave you feeling out of control. Which in turn, understandably, may lead you to try to control things that are beyond your control.
Unfortunately, it’s a vicious circle. Trying to control things you can’t control produces more stress and anxiety and sets you up for failure and even more feelings of disappointment, discouragement, fury, self-recrimination, or shame.
A lot is simply out of your hands when you’re sorting out the end of a marriage. Recognizing and acknowledging those factors, and letting them go, will allow you to focus on areas where you can have a real impact.
Your spouse is not in your control. You can’t manage what they say, how they see things, how they behave, or what attorney they hire. You can’t control the tactics their lawyer uses. You don’t have a say in which judge you’re assigned or how long it takes for your case to get a court date. You can’t change the fact that this will probably take longer than you wish it would, that it’s going to be a lot of work and pretty grueling, and that, in the end, you’re almost certainly not going to get everything you want. You can’t control how your children, family, and friends respond to your divorce.
But you have control in other ways—and more power than you may feel. Here are 9 expert tips for focusing on things you can control during your divorce and letting go of the rest:
Collaborate if you can. If you can work together to create a satisfactory Marital Settlement Agreement, use mediation, etc., you will have more control over the outcome. You will have much less control of almost everything if your case goes to litigation.
Be kind. You can’t dictate how others behave, but you can choose how you interact. Be kind to everyone you work with—yes, even your ex. Take the high road. Your attitude can help de-escalate tense situations, and the judge notices who stays calm and reasonable.
Be confident but coachable. Believe in yourself and the strength of your case. Try to stay upbeat. But know that there will probably be times when you’re not at your best. Forgive yourself, and accept advice from your attorney (and therapist if you’re seeing one) so you can be more effective.
Be realistic. If you decide you won’t be satisfied with anything but a winner-take-all, scorched-earth decision in your favor, you won’t be happy with the outcome. Don’t assume your case is a slam dunk or a lost cause. Prepare yourself for a drawn-out process with ups and downs, some victories, and some losses.
Consider what matters most. Set your priorities. Choose your battles. Focusing on what you care about has two essential benefits. First, it can help you let go of things that don’t matter to you but might matter to your ex and give you bargaining power. And second, genuinely distilling your priorities may help you find common ground. For example, if you have children, you both want their health and happiness. Try to put aside anger, vindictiveness, petty disagreements, and your sense of your parental “rights,” and (assuming no unusual circumstances) strive for an objectively equitable arrangement that supports and nurtures the whole family in its new form.
Do your homework. Be timely, honest, and straightforward in disclosure documents. Be proactive and helpful in providing information to the other party. Attend hearings.
Communicate in writing. Using email can create an essential record of your interactions. It can also give you time to think about how to say what you need to say, edit your impulses, and keep your emotions in check. (Conversely, don’t get caught up in text/email/social media warfare).
Take care of yourself. Commit to healthy habits:
- Get enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious food.
- Take time out for relaxation, feeding your spirit, and getting re-centered; maybe that’s meditation, prayer, yoga, journaling, time in nature—whatever works for you.
- Surround yourself with supportive people.
- Play with your kids.
- Find ways to have fun and carry on with life, even during this difficult time.
Choose the right attorney. One pivotal factor you can control is your choice of lawyer. The skilled, experienced, compassionate family law attorneys at SFLG can smooth your divorce process and help you attain a satisfactory outcome, whether you settle out of court or go to litigation.
By Debra Schoenberg