Last time on the blog I shared a deep dive into why your divorce stories matter. You do have them: it’s whatever you say to yourself and others about your divorce. They can cover anything from what went wrong, to what sort of person you are, or your soon-to-be-ex is. As I explained last time, we need stories to help us make sense of the world, it’s how our brains work. But, they can also get in our way. Your divorce story might actually be stopping you from moving forward. So here are my top five ways to stop sabotaging your divorce.
1. Recognise whether your story is helpful
As humans, we have a negativity bias. We’re hardwired to hold on to the difficult or scary stuff, and not register the positive comments and experiences so strongly. It’s a relic from our evolutionary past: early humans really did have to watch out for the sabre-toothed tiger, or they could get themselves killed. Human civilization has advanced extraordinarily since then. Basic safety is no longer such an issue for most people. Yet our brains are still wired to look out for every possible threat. They can’t tell the difference between snarky criticism and a predator attack.
This means our brains are whispering ‘be careful’ at us all the time. They’re trying to keep us safe. But sometimes the whispers are pretty cruel. Whispers like ‘you’re a failure because you quit your marriage’ or ‘you’re rubbish at money’ can feel a lot like truth if that’s what you’re telling yourself all the time.
But they are just stories. They aren’t the truth. And, even if you have some evidence to back them up, it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. You may feel like you’re rubbish at money, or a failure. But there’s room for more. Your story is a story, not destiny. If it’s not helpful, don’t try and just not think about it, that won’t work. The thought exists, and pushing it down is like pushing a balloon under water. It will just pop up again. But you can take a lot of its power away by recognising it’s just a thought you’re having. Other thoughts exist too.
2. Decide what you want from the future
We can get stuck thinking we’re stuck. But there’s always choice, however tricky. So rather than giving your attention to what’s going on right now, spend some time thinking where you’d like to be. Be ambitious with this, while being realistic about what’s right for you and your circumstances. It’s easy enough to say you’d love to live alone in the Maldives, but if you have two children and it’s important to you that you stick around until they’re at college at least, that Maldives dream will have to wait!
Understanding your values is a great way into setting a direction for your future. They serve as a compass for decision-making. You can get clarity on your values with a free values sort exercise, like this one. Once you know what your guiding values are, benchmark any divorce decisions against them.
3. Focus on what you can control
One of the great frustrations in divorce is that you can’t control it all. You don’t get to control the process: everyone has to wait 20 weeks after application before applying for the conditional order, for example. And, worst of all, you have no control over how your soon-to-be-ex behaves. They may try to derail you at every turn. They may refuse to engage. You may feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.
Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to change the behaviour of others. You can influence it, with a carrot (such as effective, de-escalating communication) or a stick (such as a letter from a solicitor). But you can’t control what anyone else does. And it’s a huge waste of energy to try (think about holding that balloon down in the water).
So, instead, focus on what you can control. Acknowledge your frustration, and vent with people you trust (the ladies in The Absolute Academy are great for this!). And then, accept the situation you’re in, and figure out what you’re empowered to do about it.
4. Dole out self-kindness
Divorce is many things. A marathon, a rollercoaster, sometimes a nightmare. It’s something you want done and out of the way, yet it can be draining and emotionally exhausting to process. You must be gentle with yourself. Being gentle is your ticket to keeping going.
It’s fine to take breaks. I recommend scheduling in divorce free time daily: an hour a day where you give yourself permission to relax and play and not have to worry about divorce at all. That’s not to say divorce should be front and centre for the other 23! But ring fencing an hour is like a safety valve for your brain: it’s a safe place to play.
And, on the other hand, if you’ve been avoiding your divorce, because it’s too big and scary to get a grip of, you’ll know by now that avoidance doesn’t feel good. Avoidance isn’t kindness. You don’t want that feeling of dread looming over you. Get a plan in place. Breaking it down into more manageable tasks is the only way to get through your divorce. All the members of The Absolute Academy have access to Get Divorce Ready, a self study programme that walks you through exactly what you need to do when to take charge of your divorce so it doesn’t take charge of you.
5. Get support
One of the most sabotaging things you can do in divorce is to try and take on everything yourself. It can be hard to ask for help and to open up. If you’re concerned about money it is difficult to know what support to pay for, and where to go it alone. But you absolutely need to draw on all the support you possibly can. Let your friends know you will need time to cry and rage. Ask them for help with childcare, or batch cooking.
Unless you have safety concerns or are in a high wealth marriage, instructing a solicitor shouldn’t be at the top of your to do list. Getting your own head around your divorce is your priority. That was you won’t be using the solicitor as a very expensive counsellor. And when (if: not everyone needs legal advice) you do instruct them, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what you want and need from post-divorce life.
How do you get that clarity? And how do you get a circle you can trust? The Absolute Academy ticks all the boxes! When you join you’ll get:
- Access to Get Divorce Ready: the step by step guide to taking charge of your divorce
- Weekly live Q&As with me: ask me anything about your divorce and I’ll answer
- Live training and exclusive workshops: on anything from creating a divorce plan to preparing for court
- A fantastic private community: a safe, supportive space for women in the midst of divorce
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