As you enter into the divorce process, you are naturally apprehensive. Just making the decision to divorce can be fraught with emotion and uncertainty, and then knowing how to proceed can also be difficult. For several reasons, this will be a high-stress time, but that can be minimized if you stay calm, seek professional advice, and follow some practical guidelines.
When you make the decision to divorce, a major shift occurs in your life. Most likely you’ve felt able to rely on your spouse to some extent for support in making important decisions and managing life’s challenges. When you decide to divorce, that evaporates, and you are navigating on your own, making important decisions about your future and your family’s welfare without a familiar sounding board.
Divorce is Unfamiliar Territory
The divorce process is far from simple, particularly given the fact that, for most of us it’s a one-time experience.
Pew Research tells us that…
23% of currently married adults have been married before, and the U.S. Census reports that 52 percent of U.S. adults have been married only once, 13 percent have been married twice, and 4% 3 or more times.
So while the incidence of divorce has climbed over the last 50 years, it is still most often the case that a given person will only personally experience divorce once.
In a divorce, there are known stressors and unknown. We can anticipate having to deal with things like having to start over; making the decision to keep the house or move; the loss of the familiar life and lifestyle; paying high attorney bills; having less money to live on; or dealing with your kid’s reaction to the divorce and not being able to tuck them in every night.
Perhaps even more challenging are the unknown stressors, the things that aren’t certain, like wondering if the settlement will be fair; who will get what assets (and debts); wondering if you’ll be able to find a job after being a stay-at-home-parent for the past ten years; not knowing how to make ends meet on less money; wondering how the kids will fare; fearing the effects on you in terms of family, social connections, and emotional state.
In many ways, the outcome is beyond your control. It can depend on the work of the professionals you hire, how your spouse behaves, and how the courts see your case. No one likes to feel that they can’t control such important matters, and that’s what produces the stress.
The Stakes are High
Much of the stress from divorce comes from the realization that the decisions you make during the process will have a profound effect on so many areas of your life. Like an important business decision, divorce impacts your financial situation for years to come. Added to that are the personal consequences –the loss of an intimate relationship, adjustments to the lives of children, and likely a move or some change in living situation.
These are all critical aspects of your life, and they are all changing at once. At least you have your health, right?
Actually divorce can be very hard on us physically as well, so you can add that to the list of possible negatives. Prevention magazine lists higher levels of anxiety, changes in metabolism, and even increased risk of cardiovascular disease as possible effects of divorce.
Dealing with the Stress from Divorce
In order to minimize drama in a divorce, it’s essential to first maximize your own ability to cope with the stress. When you are less anxious you can deal more effectively and amicably with everyone else involved.
Psychology Today shares these basic tips for coping with stress and taking care of yourself during difficult times.
- Ask for help and let help in. You don’t have to do everything alone.
- Get as much information as you can about the divorce process. Information makes people feel more empowered.
- Face each obstacle as it arises. Letting things build up may allow you to avoid stress in the moment, but you will eventually have to deal with it. If you put too much off, you may be completely overwhelmed and become immobilized.
- Talk about your grief with others and allow yourself to feel whatever you feel. People often add a layer of shame and stress by telling themselves they “shouldn’t feel this way,” or “should be over it by now.”
- Integrate regular exercise into your day — especially cardio-vascular workouts. There is a great deal of evidence proving that exercise can help you feel better physically, emotionally and mentally.
- Find a creative outlet. Singing, drawing, writing, dancing, photography, etc. can be tremendous stress relievers.
- Be willing to make mistakes (mistakes are going to happen no matter how well prepared you are – it’s just part of the process).
- Accept your new reality and move on when it’s appropriate to move on (this doesn’t mean you have to like it!).
- Have trust/faith that things will work out. Trusting that there is a benevolent force working on your behalf will likely make you feel better than if you believe the world is out to get you.
- Vision. Picture your ideal outcome and keep that idea in your head. You are far more likely to improve your outcome by preparing your mind for positive events than by thinking you are doomed to live out the rest of your life depressed and unhappy.
Additional Tips to Keep Your Divorce Amicable
Taking the high road
In addition to doing all you can to minimize your own stress levels, there are guidelines you can follow to decrease conflict and tension with your spouse as the divorce moves forward. An amicable divorce is easier on everyone involved. Naturally there will be disagreements and hurt feelings, but you can keep them to a minimum by deliberately and consciously choosing a mature approach.
Mediate sooner rather than later
Know the value of an objective opinion amidst the emotional swirl of a divorce. Be proactive about settling any points of contention, knowing that they are going to arise. Starting the mediation process early on will typically save a substantial amount of money and keeps everyone focused on positive outcomes, setting the tone for a more amicable divorce.
Be united on matters involving children
Issues surrounding custody are usually the most emotionally charged part of a divorce. Deciding where the children should live and how much parenting time each parent gets can be difficult, especially when a custody decision also has financial consequences in the form of child support.
If you and your spouse can agree to work together for the good of the kids, you can avoid a messy custody battle, which can be so harmful to children. Keeping that area of negotiation civil, and putting the children first also reduces the stress and resentment felt by the parents.
Don’t involve boyfriend or girlfriends
One sure way to increase tension is to allow a new love interest to become involved in the divorce. If you or your spouse has someone new, keep them out of the divorce process. They can provide background support, but should never be a part of decisions you make in ending your marriage.
Be scrupulously honest
Never try to hide assets or practice any type of deception during a divorce. An amicable settlement cannot be reached if you are proceeding based on punishing your spouse for past slights and offenses. That hurts everyone, and will inevitably make the divorce more expensive, since it results in delays. When both parties are honest and above-board there can be sufficient trust to move through the case more efficiently.
Don’t lay blame
Try to remember that both you and your spouse probably played a part in the disintegration of your marriage. There are two sides to the story, so try to own up to your actions and take responsibility. Thinking that your spouse was the sole cause of problems in your relationship will only serve to stoke resentment, so be honest with yourself, skip the blame, and move on from where you are now.
Choose your battles
Divorce is really made up of a host of small decisions and agreements, but getting too wrapped up in details can be counterproductive. Disputing every little point during the process will add months or even years to the divorce, along with the corresponding cost.
Choose your battles by determining ahead of time the things that are most important to you. There may be a few non-negotiables, but you will likely find that there are many areas where you can compromise without significantly damaging the outcome. Weigh the benefits of contention against keeping the peace and moving forward. Then you can discuss these points more calmly and confidently.
Eyes on the prize
Remember that the goal for this process is a better, more fulfilling and happy life for you and your children. Focus on that goal; visualize yourself there. There is no such thing as “winning” a divorce, so put any thoughts of evening the score aside.
The day will soon come when your divorce is a receding memory; so don’t let yourself get bogged down in trivial disputes. Keep the process as simple, civil, and honest as possible, for your own sake. Take steps to deal with the inevitable stress, and consult professionals who can guide you through the process, answer questions, and ease your mind. The result will be a more amicable process, and a settlement with which everyone can live.
Get Professional Help
Take the next step in the process by connecting with our team at Divorce Lawyers for Men. As a Tacoma divorce lawyer, we’re always available for consultation and can help you through this difficult time.