I’ve been thinking of what underpins all the work I do with my clients, both privately and in The Absolute Academy. And, what it comes down to is this: it’s about living life on your terms. Even though divorce is hard. Even though your ex-spouse is a dipstick (no, I haven’t used that word since the eighties either!). Even though you need to support your children through it as well. It IS possible to divorce your way, even with all the curveballs life throws at you. Here’s how. Grab a cuppa and and notebook and work through these questions.
What do you need right now?
Let’s tackle the basics first:
- Do you have safe, secure housing?
- Have you enough money to live on?
- Do you feel emotionally safe?
Address these things first. If you are feeling threatened by your soon-to-be-ex, please seek urgent help. Refuge has resources and helplines to talk you through what you can do. Seek out trusted people to help you.
If you are not in danger, but feel unsupported or wobbly, now is the time to call on your loved ones. Please believe me when I say that while it might feel vulnerable asking for help, you absolutely are deserving of it. You may find the odd person lets you down. But nine times out of ten, people will do what they can – they’re just not mind readers. So ask, and be specific.
Whether it’s letting friends know you’re going to need a shoulder to cry on, whether it’s staying at your mum’s for a while, or asking for help with the school run so you can attend a solicitor’s meeting, most people will help when they can.
What do you want?
Once you have the basic foundations in place, it’s time to think about what you actually want from life. You need to put yourself back in the centre of your world – along with your children, if you have any. So often in marriage I see women sideline their own needs in service of their spouse, their family and other loved ones around them. Divorce, however you spin it, is a huge life event. It needs your focus, and it needs you back in your own game, not supporting everyone else’s.
It’s hard to find time to focus on what you actually want when you’re in the thick of the juggle: keeping on top of the house, struggling with grief at the end of your marriage, supporting your children’s emotions, pretending everything’s ok at work or with the neighbours. It’s exhausting. But please find 20 minutes for yourself, go somewhere quiet with a notebook and ask yourself:
- What do I really care about in life?
- If future me (you in five years’ time) could give me some advice, what would it be?
- If I didn’t have anything to worry about or take care of, what would I do?
These writing prompts will help you tap into some of your most foundational desires. They will help you get back to yourself, and what lights your fire. Give yourself permission to really let go with these – don’t worry about how practical they are for now. What’s important is you let it all out.
What are your parameters?
Once you’ve unleashed all your wishes and thoughts onto the paper, it’s time to get practical. But it doesn’t mean you need to crush all your dreams. Think about what are the non-negotiables for you in your life, and what impact they have on you. For example, your non-negotiables might be:
- Staying in the same location, because your children’s other parent is here too
- A particular level of income to live on
- Time visiting elderly parents each week or month
You know what commitments and obligations your life entails. Make the list, then review it. Are you sure these non-negotiables are as binding as you think they are? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to ditch your caring responsibilities and head off into the sunset! But maybe, in time, you could get that level of income from a different job. Or your could stay in the same area, but move to a cheaper, more rural home, giving you more disposable income and more of the great outdoors. You are the expert in your life – I’m asking you to give your life the reflection it deserves.
What are your opportunities?
So now you’ve thought through all the boundaries to what you want from the future. You may have dreams of living in a hut in the woods, for example. But with school-aged children, you’re parking that dream for a while. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on it entirely though!
Look back at the writing you did about what you really want. Why you want those things? Let’s take the ‘hut in the woods’ example. Maybe you want to live in a hut in the woods because:
- You want to get back to nature
- Escaping the pressures of the 9-5 feels right for you
- You want your children to have more time in nature
- Ditching toxic friends is a priority
- You want to cut back on housing costs so you have more money for adventure…
- …or lots of other reasons I haven’t put here.
Once you know what underlies your desires you can start looking for opportunities to bring those to life, even in small ways.
So maybe you can’t move to a hut in the woods, but you could:
- Build in a daily walk to get more fresh air
- Make it a family tradition to go for a forest walk every Sunday
- Join a walking group to find new friends who share your interests
- Look into downsizing or letting out a room to a lodger
- Research jobs that have an outdoors or nature element to them
You might be reading this and think ‘none of those things are possible for me’. And, you’re right: I can’t possibly know the ins and outs of your situation (unless you work with me!). I can’t give you the solutions, and as a coach that’s not my job.
I’m simply asking you to dig deeper – to work out for yourself what underlies the things you want, and then find tiny ways to bring that into your everyday life. Making those tiny changes will show you that you’re capable of changing your life. More possibilities will grow.
What’s your soon-to-be-ex up to?
It’s important you stay at the centre of your thinking and don’t get derailed by what your soon-to-be-ex wants. But, you will need to give them some attention. Divorce is a negotiation, and not everyone plays fair. Even if they do play fair, it will likely involve some compromise, where money or children are concerned.
The absolutely best way to get what you want is to know what you want. Not planned to the tiniest detail – because if you have your heart set on all the details you’ll get demoralised if it doesn’t all go your way. But knowing, for example, you want a life with freedom to be outside, means you can adapt the details of your plans in line with your negotiations.
The worst thing you can do is ‘go with the flow’. Basically that means you’re handing the reins to your soon-to-be-ex and their solicitor. You need a plan.
What’s your plan?
A divorce plan sets out everything you need to get the divorce you want. It takes into account:
- Where you are now
- Where you want to be
- How you will get there.
You’ve already done some work looking at where you are now, but it’s time to get focussed on the numbers. What’s your financial situation? What assets do you have in your marriage? What finances do you need to live your life?
This step should not be left to guesswork. You’ll most likely underestimate what you need. Take a look at your bank statements. Seek out any forgotten savings accounts and pensions. You need to get a full financial snapshot.
If there are children in your marriage, you also need to consider what’s best for them. This is where it’s essential to leave your ego at the door. Children have a right to a relationship with both parents (unless, of course, the court recognises abuse is at play). What arrangements can you and your soon-to-be-ex make that will support your children to feel loved and secure, both through the divorce process and after? Come up with your own ideas for this, but keep an open mind to what your soon-to-be-ex, and indeed your children if old enough, have to say. A family mediator is invaluable in taking the heat out of these discussions, and I highly recommend working with one.
Need some help?
This blog gives you the starting points for ensuring you get your divorce done your way. Ensuring that you come back to yourself, and your needs, and build a life from there. But it can be hard to do that alone.
It’s hard to see the woods for the trees, and to even know what you want. It can feel overwhelming deciding what to act on first, or when to push your soon-to-be ex, and when to let things slide. That’s where I come in.
Whether you want me in your back pocket for your whole divorce journey, or to work through a particularly tricky issue, or to support you alongside other fabulous women, I can help.
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