How to divorce-proof your relationship during lockdown
Divorce-proof your relationship? You might think, as a Divorce Coach, my goal in life and business is to get as many women happily divorced as possible.
Not true. The goal of my business is to help as many women as possible live happy and fulfilled lives. That might be as a divorced woman. It might be as a married woman. Yes, I work with people who are exploring, or who have decided to, divorce. Not every client will go on to get divorced though. To divorce-proof a relationship self-awareness and reflection are required.
For some women, divorce seems like the answer when they are feeling lonely, frustrated, unheard and unfulfilled. It can be an answer. Equally, it may be that you and your spouse can resolve your issues and work through all those difficult emotions.
Lockdown tends to magnify the stresses we already had going on in our lives. If you were already frustrated that you were doing most of the parenting, or your other half never puts a load of washing on, or remembers birthdays, then being cooped up together will bring those issues even more to the fore. There are lots of couples all over the globe swearing under their breath (or not under their breath!) at their inconsiderate partner.
It’s not always true that relationships are irretrievable. If you loved and cared for each other well before, there’s every chance that you can get back to that – with some emotional and practical work on both sides.
In How to divorce-proof your relationship during lockdown I share the lessons learned from working with women who found a way to make their marriage the fulfilling, happy union they had always wanted.
These are crazy times indeed. If you’re feeling all over the place: emotions up and down like a rollercoaster, ‘what ifs’ blasting away in your skull, you’re not alone, and it’s totally normal. It does mean, though, that’s both harder than ever to communicate with loved ones well, and more important than ever.
It’s important to be deliberate – to create time and space to talk. If you have children around you constantly, that can feel hard, but make it a priority. Once the children are in bed, talk. Share what’s going on with you.
If there are worries on your mind: financial, practical, educational, spill. Marriage is about being in it together. Sharing your feelings creates intimacy and it creates the opportunity to get support. It helps divorce-proof your relationship.
Listen to understand
Communication involves two equally important elements: sharing thoughts or information and receiving them. How we receive is just as important as how we share, and that means being a good listener. It’s harder than it sounds – often we listen to respond, to get our next point across, rather than to truly understand.
Your partner is likely to have their own stresses and worries. Ask questions. Check you’ve interpreted what they’ve said correctly.
Find out and also share whether you are just off-loading or whether you want solutions. One of the easiest ways to diminish what someone is feeling is to jump straight in with answers when really they just want to be heard in that moment.
You are not a mind reader
We are all guilty of this sometimes – we think we know how the other person thinks and feels, especially when we’ve lived with them for years. And we can often be right. But that’s where the danger lies. We think we always know and then we can get it wrong. Very wrong. Particularly when we are anxious or stressed, or they are.
If things haven’t been great in your relationship, you may have started to see your spouse through a particular lens, “Oh, of course they forgot about their mum’s birthday, they’re so selfish.” You gather the evidence to suit the judgement you’ve made. If you want to truly communicate and understand – to divorce-proof your relationship, those assumptions need to stop.
Rather than assume you know how your spouse feels, or why they acted that way – ask them. Check your thoughts and get the information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Are you projecting?
When our mental health is being challenged in some way, as it likely is in lockdown, it’s easy to project our feelings onto someone else. What you think is going on with them is really going on with you. For example, you might be thinking, ‘They’re so withdrawn, they’re not talking to me at all.” when that is exactly what you are doing.
So check in with yourself first. What’s really going on with you? Do you need help and support with your emotional well-being? Asking for help in a pandemic is good practice. Since the Coronavirus Pandemic more and more therapists are working online so seek out coaching or counselling if you need it. To divorce-proof your relationship, you need to start with you.
Perfection doesn’t exist
When you fall in love, you are blinded by the ‘perfection’ of your partner. Looking at it scientifically rather than romantically, it’s an important part of the ‘falling in love’ process. But it doesn’t last. Research shows that at approximately 18 months the heady ‘in love’ experience begins to settle as you and your partner begin to see each other for who you really are. This is when ‘real’ love can begin. If a relationship lasts, you compromise, you learn to accept, to forgive, to negotiate and you build a solid foundation that isn’t built on perfection per se – it’s an imperfectly perfect creation the two of you build together.
When we are tired, stressed, frustrated, scared or overwhelmed, we can become easily irritated by those around us and our spouse is a sitting target for our emotions. Sometimes we can feel so angry that even the rhythm of their breathing annoys us when our anger has nothing to do with them at all. You want them to be perfect again because you convince yourself this is all their fault (even though you know it isn’t).
Remember your spouse wasn’t perfect before and you accepted them. Chances are you’re as stressed out, tired and scared as each other. So cut both of you some slack. Make time for talking. If there’s an area of the house that’s triggering you, get to a more neutral room and have your conversations there.
Value the whole package
What can you be grateful for in your spouse today? Gratitude in a relationship is so underrated in my opinion. It’s easy to take each other for granted. Especially if you’ve let things slip, it’s easy to notice all the negative, annoying things and shrug off the positives. So how can you flip that around?
If your knee-jerk reaction is “but Emma, s/he takes me for granted and doesn’t value me”, stop. Just stop for a second.
This is not a competition. It’s not a game of who is right and “why should I?”. It’s an opportunity to reset. If you want to divorce-proof your relationship in lockdown and get your marriage back on track, be the bigger person and just start appreciating your spouse for all they bring – good and not so good.
Using open communication you can ask for what you want or need, and be kind but clear about what’s annoying you (remember they’re not a mind reader either!). How you say things can set you up for creating a positive future, or spiralling into more negativity. For example, snapping, “You never unload the dishwasher!” is miles away from “I feel taken for granted when I’m always the one unloading the dishwasher. Shall we take it in turns?”
Divorce-proof your relationship with gratitude
If they make you a cup of coffee, say thank you. If they changed the baby’s nappy or put the bins out, show your gratitude. You are role modelling how you want to be treated too, and you can change the whole tone of your relationship by bringing out the good. Feeling valued builds intimacy and intimacy builds on connection at every level.
Focus on the positives your partner brings, rather than what they lack. Remember, nobody’s perfect. Though know your boundaries here too – read on to ensure you don’t become a doormat.
Value yourself as an individual as well as a wife and mother. If you’re considering divorce, you’re likely to be feeling a whole spectrum of sad, lost, lonely frustrated emotions. What’s changed? What can you do even in lockdown to get the woman you used to be back?
If you’ve been watching the media over the past few weeks, you’ll see that many people are coming up with fantastically creative ways to have fun and relax in lockdown. Remember that you can order supplies of pretty much anything you might need online, so have fun! You are important and need to treat yourself as such. Hearing and meeting your own needs can show others how to do the same.
Focussing on the positives, making time for communication and role modelling respectful behaviour with your spouse can work wonders. It can be the reframing needed to get you both back on track. But it’s not a magic spell, and I am not suggesting you ignore your partner’s bad behaviour and turn yourself into a doormat. If they’re not playing their part, that’s not your fault.
Value yourself enough to know when it’s time to move on. In my ‘7 Simple Steps’ email programme we look at how to know if your marriage is over. It’s about taking responsibility for it 100%.
Taking 100% responsibility isn’t about you shouldering blame. It’s not about blame at all. It’s about accepting you can only change you and, only you can shift and move things for you. You’ll never change your spouse – that’s up to them.
So ask yourself have you done all you can to support your marriage? Is it time to move on? It’s about doing what’s right for you and moving on if necessary.
Leave without looking back
Remember that you take yourself with you when you leave. This means that if the issue is within you and you are fundamentally unhappy, you’ll still be unhappy without your marriage. So be honest with yourself. Take an inventory of you – are you happy? What can you work on? Is there something you need support with? What would you love to be different and how can you make that work?
If there’s nothing and yet you feel unhappy, unfulfilled or lost, is it your marriage? What can you influence? If there’s nothing, or you feel you’ve done all you can, it’s ok to leave. This is not something to feel guilty about.
When you have taken the time to consider what you have done for your marriage, what your partner brings (good and bad), what you bring (good and bad), and what you are willing or not willing to do to keep things going, it’s easier to make a decision without looking back. You’re not leaving off the back of a single row, or because emotions have flared, you have weighed up all the evidence, you recognise things for what they are.
You may not want to leave during lockdown. It’s harder than normal right now. But if you are experiencing abuse, making yourself and your children safe is your first priority. Ring 999 then 55 and the police will know you can’t speak. Seek advice from WomensAid remembering to click the ‘cover my tracks’ button before you leave the webpage.
Get your ducks in a row before you go
If you’re not experiencing abuse, use lockdown to get your ducks in a row before you go. There’s plenty you can do. Gather your thoughts, consider your values, plan for the future. Get your financial information together – ‘knowing your numbers’ is crucial and you can start digging out paperwork and records now.
Reading ‘How to be a Lady Who Leaves: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready’ is a great starting point. Getting some divorce coaching so you understand where you’re at and what you need to do is likely to save both time and money in the long run. I’m going to be running Get Divorce Ready, an online Group Coaching programme in the coming weeks, which is your one stop shop for everything you need to do, with my support each week guiding you through. That will also give you three months complimentary access to the Absolute Academy where you’ll receive even more guidance and support (all covered in the price of the course fee).
Above all, be kind to yourself
Above all, be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself generally helps you to be a kinder person. This will show up in your relationship. Encourage your spouse to be kind to themselves too. You are in this together.
So many marriages could be saved if communication and kindness flowed freely. Life is really tough right now and it doesn’t appear that things will radically change anytime soon. That may mean that you have time to reflect on what’s not working in your relationship and set about making positive changes. Divorce-proof your relationship whilst you have the time.
Where your attention goes, the energy will flow. If you need support to make sense of all of this, reach out – I can help. Not every woman I coach ends up divorced – some find their way back to a happy marriage. As long as you feel more fulfilled, happier, heard and alive, both can be great outcomes. Which one will you be?
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is 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. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com