It seems everywhere these days you are reading “the top ten tips” or “the seven simple ways” to achieve something- it is all the rage. When it comes to information about divorce I have recently read a lot of what not to do- lists of where people have gone wrong- so I thought I might try and put together a list of things that I have seen people do really well when they are trying to achieve what I call a ‘happy divorce’. That type of divorce where a separated family can come together, share experiences and even share a meal or two throughout the year.
1. Think before you act- but always act calmly
Divorce is said to be the second most significant grief event for many of us, second only to the death of a loved one. It is therefore not surprising that during divorce we are often at our worst. We are emotional, scared, unhappy and uncertain. It is clearly not the ideal time to have to make significant decisions that relate to two of the most important things in our lives- our children and our personal possessions. My clients who are now happily divorced were able to act with military precision- using calmness in the face of adversity to assess a situation and act when the time was right.
If you are in the military, that precision comes from daily and repetitive training that is designed to ensure that when you face an emotional, fearful or stressful situation, your training kicks in and (hopefully) you act calmly and automatically. If only the skills learned in military training could be adopted by so many of us when we are asked to make the significant decisions as we are at the time of a divorce! Being able to act with calmness during your divorce will often be anything but easy and is unlikely to be automatic for most of us.
If I think of my clients who are “Happily Divorced” I can see that they have in common that they were able stop and think before acting, particularly when being asked to make big decisions. They have been able to identify when their emotions are getting the better of them and seek appropriate assistance from professionals, friends and family to keep them in check. They know their strengths and they know where they are vulnerable. They act with calmness even though it often was not their automatic reaction.
Take the time to think carefully before you speak, write, or this day and age, text and tweet! Sometimes just sleeping on something overnight can give you a whole new perspective the next morning. You are aiming for a state of ‘automatic calm response’ even though the smoke may be coming out your ears from time to time!
2. Listen twice as much as you speak
I’ve always loved the saying ‘we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak’. We rarely do and I think when you are being asked to communicate with a former lover about issues that are very important to you, it is perhaps the worst and yet most important time to practice this concept of listening more than you’re speaking.
I don’t just mean listening to the words that are being said, but listening to the issues, concerns and fears that sit underneath those words. If you can understand the emotions, the fears and the drivers that sit beneath anything that someone is saying to you, you are always going to be better able to understand how you might meet their needs and in the same process, meet your own. There is much power in silence and therefore power in listening, understanding and acting accordingly.
3. Don’t believe everything you hear
Don’t get me wrong, listening is incredibly important but at the same time, don’t believe every single thing that you hear. Family, friends even the local Real Estate Agent will have something essential that they feel they must share to assist you in your divorce process.
Be careful to consider all the information you are receiving and use your listening skills to carefully consider whether that helpful tip from a stranger really will assist you at all.
So often I am told by clients that their children have told them something and all of a sudden that information becomes gospel. For example, ‘Johnny tells me that he doesn’t want to see his mother on weekends anymore’ is suddenly interpreted by Johnny’s father as somehow illustrating a truth that Johnny doesn’t want to spend time with his mother. This statement from a young child experiencing his family breaking apart could mean so many different things.
If you are able to listen but also assess why something is being said by a those around you, including your children, you will be best able to move through your divorce with minimal conflict. Don’t get me wrong, children often say things that are very important and should be given much credence, but similarly, children are trying to navigate the tricky world of separation. They too will say things without the meaning that is perhaps later interpreted by adults who are carefully listening for signs that their children’s wellbeing might be being affected by the divorce.
4. Let a few goals go the keeper
I say this so often in so many areas of life but it is so important during your divorce. You don’t have to always be the last one to have your say. It also does not matter if you ‘give in’ on a few things that are perhaps not so important to you but more important to your spouse. Work out what really matters to you and focus on the big picture- if it is really important to you that you are able to share in the costs of your children pursuing their dreams then don’t seek an accounting from your spouse of every cent that you have each spent that month on tennis lessons, uniforms, rackets and balls. Swings and roundabouts as they say!
Avoiding conflict over things that ‘just don’t matter’ is often one of the hardest things to do during your divorce. If you can let a few goals through to the keeper you will remain focused on the bigger issues at hand and ensure unnecessary conflict is minimised.
5. Look to the future and not the past to find your ‘silver lining’
A divorce is a good time to try and find your ‘glass half full’ attitude. No doubt it won’t be there every morning when you wake up but if you can spend some time each day finding something positive, something that creates optimism you will move through your divorce with a lot more ease than some. I sense we are programmed to identify all that is wrong in any situation as our default position. While it may be very, very hard to find, there will always be a silver lining if you can just start to see the world in a new light.
There is little point in reliving the past- this often leads to apportioning blame for your failed relationship. Accept your role in things, know that you and your spouse may never see eye to eye but start to plan your life into the future. Give yourself something to look forward too. Do something you always wanted to do but never could before. And remember, your life has changed and that may or may not be your decision but either way life is precious and we need to make the most of every single minute.