When you married, you never thought this day would occur yet here you are facing a separation or divorce. Whether you or your spouse is initiating this end, or whether it is mutual, here are some thoughts to help you through.
1. Recognize that a separation or divorce is a process not an event. It does not occur overnight. Deciding to take this step is a process. Working through the emotions is a process. Making decisions regarding a parenting plan and dividing assets and debts is a process.
2. Know that the end of anything involves grief and all the accompanying emotions including denial, anger, and sadness. Grieving takes time and is not a linear path to acceptance. One day you may feel numb and then the next you may be in tears. It is important to recognize and allow yourself to feel these feelings.
3. Think very carefully and through a lens of logic rather than emotion when deciding HOW to end your marriage. Divorce does not equal the War of the Roses, fighting for years in court. Consider an alternative process such as mediation or a Collaborative Divorce, particularly if you have children as you and your spouse will forever remain tied to each other through your children.
4. Keeping in mind #2, and to help you navigate #3, work with a therapist or divorce coach, or better yet both. A therapist can help you process the feelings related to your divorce. A divorce coach will help you through the divorce process, working with your attorney and helping you to focus on making decisions from a business mind and not an emotional mind.
5. Remember that your divorce is not your friend’s divorce or your parents’ divorce. Seeking support from others can be quite helpful yet take their advice with a grain of salt. Again, professionals can help you with this. This is your divorce. This will be your divorce story, so it is up to you to be the narrator.
6. There is a difference between your marriage ending and your marriage being a failure. You married your spouse, so you must have had good feelings and experiences at one point. And if you have children, I am certain you are thankful for them. Just because you are divorcing does not negate these good things. Although it might be hard to remember the good times, divorce only means the end, not failure.
7. Have your mantra be “I can only control my actions and reactions.” No matter the behavior of your ex, no matter how horrible you believe the behavior to be, you can control how you act and react. Yes, you can. And get any necessary support in this domain. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.
8. Focus on yourself. Remember, divorce is a process. Spending the next year or more stressed out and overwhelmed is not healthy for you or for your children. Of course you will feel stressed and overwhelmed, just try not to get stuck. Eat well, get enough sleep, be active, go out with friends. Have a life. Your divorce may be happening yet it does not have to consume your life.
9. Begin to explore who you are and who you want to be. Often times in marriage, particularly as difficulties arise, we can lose ourselves in the relationship. Moving forward on your own is an opportunity to regain your sense of self, as well as to redefine yourself. Change can be scary and it can be an opportunity.
10. You will be okay, no more to say.
Paulette Janus, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of Janus Behavioral Health Services with offices in Chicago and Wilmette. Paulette has over 15 years experience providing individual, couples, and family psychotherapy, specializing in children, teens, and families. She is also trained in and provides alternative dispute resolution interventions including family/divorce mediation, collaborative divorce coaching and child specialist services, and co-parent coaching.