When you’re CEO of anything it can feel overwhelming. It can feel as though it’s all on you. And when you’re going through something as stressful as divorce, that goes double. Friends and family can be your biggest asset when you’re hit with the double whammy of divorce and ill health. Or they can be yet another thing to manage. In this blog we look at using the power of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and keeping a civil distance to protect your health when it comes to friends during divorce.
First, get honest with yourself
Whether you have a chronic/long term health condition, or you’re experiencing a particular episode of ill health, the most important first thing to do is be honest with yourself. Divorce does bring additional burdens and stresses, there’s no getting around it. There’s the mental load of decision-making and planning for your future. There’s the emotional load of managing the rollercoaster of grief and other feelings that inevitably comes with divorce. There’s the practical load of processing the divorce paperwork, and maybe additional childcare responsibilities. It’s a lot.
Your health won’t be helped by you pushing through – you already know this. You need to survey your landscape. You’ll have heard me talk about ‘knowing your numbers’ by doing an assets and liabilities analysis (read more here) so you can have a clear financial picture. Now’s the time to do the same for your health and divorce.
What assets do you have around you with regard to your health? Who do you have to support you? What professional expertise can you buy in? What systems are already in place to help you?
And what liabilities do you have? What in your life is a cost to your health? This might be anything from additional tasks associated with divorce, or particular people.
Once you know your personal picture as far as managing your divorce and health goes, it’s easier to prioritise. Here are a few guidelines to help.
It can be tempting to think we need to do it all ourselves when in the midst of divorce. Especially if you’ve, rightly, adopted the mindset that you want to do this on your own terms, after living in a marriage that wasn’t. But being CEO doesn’t mean taking everything on yourself. The very best leaders recognise that they need support around them. Here are the different ways you can say yes to to the support you need:
To offers of practical help:
If your mum offers to come over and cook, or do your washing, don’t feel the need to prove that you’re on top of everything. Let her! Equally, let your friends help with school pick ups, or taking the children to swimming after school.
To being looked after:
I will keep repeating that divorce is one of the most stressful life experiences anyone will ever experience. So if there was ever a time to be looked after, this is it! Let your sister treat you to that spa day while her partner takes all the kids to the zoo. Don’t kid yourself that you don’t have time for the relaxing things in life. Believe me, taking time out will save you time in the long run. You will be clearer-headed and more productive after some downtime.
To trusted advice/expertise:
If you are mulling over whether to pay for services or do them yourself, if you have the resources, pay. I’m not saying just throw money at your divorce without thinking. Be judicious in your spending. But now is a time to let others take the strain if at all possible. You probably don’t need to pay a lawyer for every step of your divorce. But if you can pay for legal representation at the point at which you know what you want from divorce, do. Reserve your time and energy for the decision-making, and for keeping the show on the road.
It might be that family members offer to support you with the costs during your divorce. You are the expert in your family, and whether offers like this come with strings attached. Check-in with yourself about how you feel and what the dynamics are. If it’s only pride getting in the way of saying yes, then say yes. Accepting help from loved ones at a stressful time when you are also unwell is a very sensible strategy. People like to help. There will doubtless be opportunities for you to reciprocate in the future.
To unsolicited advice
Friends and family do like to help in all sorts of ways! And some of those ways, however well-intentioned, may be inappropriate. Don’t take your aunt’s decades’ old memories of divorce as your guide. Don’t listen to your best friend’s advice about dealing with your ex-spouse: you are you and your ex-partner is not her ex-partner. Plot your own course and stick with it.
Remember that most offers of help come from a loving place. Simply let your loved ones know you are handling your own divorce your way, and redirect them to other ways they can help (see above!).
To additional work
Sometimes we feel like we need to go the extra mile. Join the PTA. Take on that project at work. Do some CPD. This is not one of those times. When your health is poor, pacing is vital. You simply can’t do everything. It (usually) doesn’t mean you can do nothing, but you have to be realistic about what’s workable.
You need to allocate your divorce some time in your life. Which means you can’t allocate that time elsewhere. Be firm in your boundaries. Your divorce won’t last forever (I promise!), but while you are managing it, you can’t manage lots of other things too.
Keep your distance
Finally, what happens when friends and family aren’t supportive? Or if they are supportive, but only on their terms, not yours? It may not be realistic to cut them out entirely. But, at the very least, keep your distance.
Don’t give them access to you, information about your health or your divorce story. If they ask, use the ‘grey rock’ technique to fend them off, until they realise you’re not going to open up to them.
It can be harder to maintain emotional distance. If they are questioning whether you are really ill, or whether you are making the right choices, you might find yourself giving them a lot of headspace. Even if you’re maintaining distance in real life. But remember, your self worth doesn’t come from them.
You don’t need their approval. As long as you are acting with integrity, the only person’s approval you need is your own. Actively remind yourself daily that you can only control what you do, not what other people do. What they think is up to them. Your priority is yourself, your family and your health.
Want the support of women who get it?
Divorce can be lonely and confusing. Even more so when you’re experiencing ill health too. A community around you helps. Knowing there’s a group of people who get it, who won’t call you lazy, or give you bad advice can be sanity-saving. Having a place to ask, ‘Is it just me or…’ can give you the strength to stay the course. That’s what The Absolute Academy offers.
And it’s not just about support. You get access to my expertise, resources and advice, both as a coach and an ex-lawyer. Believe me, I’ve seen it all as far as divorce goes. I know the pitfalls, the roller coaster and the minefield inside out. And I can help you make progress, your way, at your pace.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com