Every divorce is unique. Some are simple-- a couple that has grown apart and determines together that the utility of marriage has run its course. Others are complex-- one party wants out of the marriage while the other party wants life to remain the same. Then, there are the marriages which have been marked by addiction, dependency, and one or more forms of abuse, including financial, emotional, or physical. I asked divorce coach, Lisa Brick, of Journey Beyond Divorce, how to feel empowered while going through a divorce.
Lisa explained that no matter which type of divorce you are navigating, accepting the following 5 truths is necessary in order for you to be grounded and respond strategically to your quickly changing world.
Truth #1: You have personal agency in your divorce and in your life.
Personal agency is understanding that you have choice even when it doesn’t feel like it. They may not be the choices you want, yet choices they are. The first choice is how you choose to navigate this divorce, whether by your emotions or your logic.
Choice allows more control over situations than you might initially believe you have. How you respond to the situation impacts the direction in which the divorce flows. If you act out of the chaos of your emotions with your spouse, the children, and the divorce professionals you hired, you will ultimately undermine your credibility. You have the choice to begin training yourself to experience your emotions, yet act out of logic and the strategy you design to have the best possible outcome from the changes taking place.
You are NOT a victim even if you feel like a victim. Recognizing that you have agency over your thoughts, feelings, and actions is healthy. If you are not at the place where that recognition can result in changing how you show up, there are resources available for you to tap into, including podcasts, books, divorce professionals, and psychological professionals, who can support you in calming the chaos within, so you can think and act strategically. Taking this on is excellent modeling for your children, so they too know they have personal agency and can impact outcomes intentionally in their lives.
Your freedom is when you accept the situation your relationship is in, and then begin to alter your perspective around it. Perspective shifting is the ground of personal agency. Exercising personal agency during the different stages of divorce results in you having power to positively influence the process and therefore, the outcome.
Truth #2: You share responsibility for the dissolution of your marriage with your spouse. “It takes two to tango.” It’s too easy to attribute fault to the dissolution of a marriage to the other spouse. But, you must take responsibility for your part in the divorce. This in no way means you have been a failure. That’s an old tale that no longer has value.
In every relationship, there are two people who have acted towards each other in predetermined ways, ways they feel they were compelled to act from either their early conditioning or because there had been significant change in one or both of the individuals over time. Blame causes you to focus on the negative, rather than allowing yourself to heal and move forward.
If the relationship no longer works as a marriage, shifting your attention from blame, either towards yourself or towards your spouse, and figuring out how you can best parent your children in two separate households is a worthwhile shift towards a positive future.
Truth #3: Uncontrolled emotions are destructive - they are expensive, they hurt you and your children, and they prolong the pain of divorce.
The strong negative emotions that arise during the divorce process when acted upon in an uncontrolled manner are toxic and costly. They create bigger attorney bills. They undermine your psyche. They inflict serious damage on your children. They prolong the pain of divorce.
You can’t control your emotions. Emotions come fast and hard. You can’t “choose” not to feel them. But, what you can do is slow yourself down until the brain can recenter. Harvard brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, teaches that within ninety seconds an individual can identify an emotion and allow it to dissipate by simply observing it.
When you’re stressed, pausing for ninety seconds and labeling what you are feeling (eg., I am furious), tamps down activity in the portion of the brain called the amygdala. MRI studies of the brain show that labeling the emotions that arise within calms the brain region involved in emotional outbursts and helps you regain control of yourself, how you respond, and how well you influence the outcome of your interactions. Developing the skill of self-emotional regulation will change your life and make for a much healthier divorce. As you hone the skill of awareness and the 90 second pause, you will be able to remember what kind of an outcome you want as you and your family move forward.
Truth #4: Divorce is the dissolution of a legal business partnership, not a chance to air your grievances.
While marriage is about love, divorce is about money. The process of divorce is all about dividing assets and debts, and financial responsibilities for the children. In the best of circumstances, when both parties are capable and rational, divorce is painful yet doable without great expense or unnecessary suffering. Make sure you have an effective support team including an attorney who specializes in divorce, a financial professional, a therapist, and a divorce coach.
Truth #5: Children have rights during and post-divorce. Respecting your children’s rights maintains their psychological integrity.
Finally, the fifth truth about divorce is that families that put the health and well-being of their children first emerge healthier and happier than the parents that are so caught up in their own emotions that they damage the psyches of their children.
Children have rights during and post-divorce. Respecting those rights will help your children maintain good psychological health. Here is one version of The Children's Bill of Rights in Divorce:
1. The right to love and be loved by both of your parents without feeling guilt or disapproval.
2. The right to be protected from your parents' anger with each other.
3. The right to be kept out of the middle of your parents' conflict, including the right not to pick sides, carry messages, or hear complaints about the other parent.
4. The right not to have to choose one of your parents over the other.
5. The right not to have to be responsible for the burden of either of your parents' emotional problems.
6. The right to know well in advance about important changes that will affect your life; for example, when one of your parents is going to move or get remarried.
7. The right to reasonable financial support during your childhood and through your college years.
8. The right to have feelings, to express your feelings, and to have both parents listen to how you feel.
9. The right to have a life that is as close as possible to what it would have been if your parents stayed together.
10. The right to be a kid.
Reality has proven to many that there is life after divorce and that for those willing to do the work of using divorce as a force to grow and evolve, life is more rewarding post-divorce. Take advantage of the resources available to you while going through a divorce so that you can move forward with grace and dignity, regardless of how your spouse is acting,
Lisa Brick, is a divorce coach at Journey Beyond Divorce, www.JourneyBeyondDivorce.com. For support in shifting out of the pain and chaos you feel and to empower yourself through divorce, you may contact Ms. Brick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-610-7031, and check out the firm’s podcasts online at Apple podcasts.