When it comes to divorce it is the emotional roller coaster that is the hardest part to both experience and manage. One moment you will feel ‘I’ve got this’ only to feel like you are upside down and have no idea where to turn a few moments later. Divorce is a process of change. You will come out the other side but just ‘how’ is different for all of us. There is no doubt that how you think, feel and act will have a huge impact on your divorce process- both personal and legal.
Recently I was lucky enough to sit down with my colleague and friend Maria Buglar as she presented her top 10 tips on looking after yourself during divorce. Maria is a psychologist- someone I often turn to for advice to assist my clients during divorce. And I learned so much from Maria’s ‘top tips’ that I decided I would put them together for you here-
1. Fit your own mask first- You can’t look after anyone else if you aren’t looking after yourself. Divorce affects everyone, but particularly your children. And if you are not coping, they won’t either. Children grieve the loss of their family as much as you will and it is important that as parents we can support them. But if you are not looking after yourself, you won’t be able to look after them. Looking after yourself starts with your health and wellbeing- you need to eat well, exercise (not necessarily marathons- a walk is fine) and get rest.
2. It’s ok to cry- You will feel a whole range of mostly negative emotions during divorce. Don’t try and ‘be strong’ or ‘hold it in’. The process of crying is a healthy one, designed to help our bodies release some of those emotions. Allow yourself to feel sad- to cry but if you find yourself ‘crying’ too much- all the time- then get in touch with your family Doctor to find out whether your crying is ‘normal’ or perhaps a sign that it is time for some help.
3. Treat Yourself- When life feels upside down it is the perfect time to try and do small things to reward yourself for getting through. Simple, small treats- 15 minutes a day with a nice cup of tea or coffee or perhaps a short walk. By choosing these moments, just for you, you are looking after yourself- creating the space for peaceful thought and time for momentary relaxation. If you find your mind running with thoughts then practice taking 5 deep breaths and focusing on something beautiful in your life- it might be your child’s smile, a beautiful flower on your walk or just the smell of that coffee. If you can slow your breathing and focus your thoughts you will start to be able to relax and ‘train’ your mind to calm. Doing pleasant activities and scheduling them into your day is a way of training your brain and giving yourself permission to feel ‘happy’.
4. Slow down- If ever there was a time to ‘slow down’ it is when your life feels upside down. Divorce will mean a lot of things you have come to know will change for you and those around you. That uncertainty can be scary- particularly when you may not be able to control where things are going. By slowing down and only doing what you need to do right now, in this moment, you can again start to calm yourself to ensure you can make considered decisions- not ones that are ‘rushed’, impulsive and not good for you in the long term. You would have heard me talk of finding a ‘holding pattern’ if you are in the early stages of separation- if you can find certainty in terms of your living arrangements and the arrangements for your children in the short term- the first 8 weeks or so- it will give you and your former spouse both time to slow down and grieve.
5. Refocus your thinking- When the person you loved most in this world breaks your heart it is no surprise we start to question their every action. During divorce we are in grief- our brains are compromised and it makes it really hard to see things clearly. There is a good chance you will start to misinterpret things- to filter how you are seeing situations to find negative interpretations where sometimes they just don’t exist. You need to find ways to refocus your thinking-look for alternate interpretations or explanations and ask yourself ‘Am I seeing the whole picture here?’. Leave that email until tomorrow and see if you are still reading the same thing into the message or look for a positive interpretation even when you feel like there could only be the negative. Try and ensure you are not being overly negative, that you are not assigning all the blame for things on your former partner and again slow down, breath and try and think clearly.
6. Set ground rules- This is one of my favourites. ‘Ground Rules’ can be a great way of creating a little bit of ‘order’ when things start feeling out of control. Chances are communication with your former partner is really difficult right now and I see in my day job piles of emails, texts and messages sent in anger, haste. Ground rules about communication are a good place to start- agreeing on how and when you might communicate can be a good way to calm things down before they get out of hand. But the thing with ground rules is that if you are going to set them, you need to stick to them.
7. Reconnect with you- Chances are everything that you thought you knew about your partner, your life and your future feels upside down. When we commit to intimate relationships, we start to lose bits of ourselves as we compromise and change to make our relationships work. So now is the time to spend some time re-thinking just what it means to be ‘you’. This may feel scary at first but it can also be really fun. This is the time to try something new- join a book club, a dance class or head to the local library (thanks for that tip Maria!). It might feel daunting at first but if you can find a little time to do things that you love it will help you reconnect with ‘you’.
8. Find your supports- There are lots of people that can help you through divorce. From friends and family to professionals you should not feel alone. Your family doctor is a good place to start- they can make sure you are traveling ok and connect you with supports such as counselling as you need them. Seeking help shows strength, not weakness, and having a professional who can help you understand your grief and organise your thoughts will give you the best chance of moving through the difficult stages of divorce with more ease.
9. Get a plan- your divorce won’t be easy but rather than hiding in a corner and hoping it will go away for too long, you can tackle this challenge with a plan. Educate yourself about your divorce- the emotions, the legal process, your finances and your children so that you can make your own decisions and be in charge of your own future.
10. Remember to breathe- Over the past 16 years I have worked with over 2,000 families during divorce and I can honestly say for most of them it was a stage in life that was anything but pleasant but they moved through. Your divorce will be ok if you just let it. If you can slow down, look after yourself and take your time to make important decisions about your future, your divorce will pass and you will come out the other side a ‘new’ and different person who you might really like!
Maria described divorce as an opportunity to ‘draft your new dream’ last week when we were talking- what a beautiful way of looking at things. Divorce is hard, horrible, full of strong and difficult emotions- our hearts are breaking so it is no wonder.
But divorce can be an opportunity for new dreams, new plans and a new life that would not have been possible before. Like any challenge life throws our way, it is all about how we see it. Do slow down, take time to look after yourself and make changes slowly, but don’t be afraid to draft your new dream along the way too.
Look after yourself.
Hi! My name is Clarissa Rayward and I am a Collaborative Divorce Lawyer & Mediator and the Owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. Over the past 16 years, I have worked with over 2000 families during separation and divorce. I specialise in assisting my clients to experience a dignified divorce- staying away from the Court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 15 minute phone appointment with me or one of her team here.
You can also grab a copy of my book, Splitsville- How to separate, stay out of Court and stay friends here.
Book your complimentary chat with me here