What’s Your Divorce Story? How To Recognise It – And How To Change It
Stories are what make us human. They’re not just for children, or bedtime. They are how we make sense of the world, and our place in it. So your divorce story is vitally important. You have one, whether you realise it or not. In What’s Your Divorce Story? How To Recognise It – And How To Change It we discover the power of your story, and how to change it if you need to. So, what’s your divorce story?
What’s your story about yourself?
We tell ourselves stories about the world all the time. About ourselves, the people around us. What we are like and are capable of. What others are like and are capable of. It’s not just about divorce. Whatever roles you play in life right now – whether in paid work or not – stories got you there.
Didn’t apply for that dream promotion back in 2019? That’s, at least partly, because of a story. Yes, maybe you weren’t fully qualified for the job. But men are more likely to apply for jobs when they only have 60% of the essential criteria. Women are more likely to hold back unless they have the full 100%. What’s going on there? Stories. We count ourselves out of the running. So the stories we tell definitely have a role to play in the actions we take. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, or not ready, or not capable. And we hold ourselves back.
What’s your story about your ex?
My clients are often amazed at how they can spend years happily married to someone. Only for it all to fall to pieces and the relationship completely deteriorate. And I don’t just mean the marriage. I mean the way the two of you relate to each other as you proceed with divorce.
Things can get messy. Nasty. And stories have a role to play here too. For some, their ex does turn out to be the bogeyman. And was all along. Those with narcissistic or high conflict traits can often control and manipulate cleverly, and we don’t see it until we have a bit of distance. So you find the story you had of a loving marriage falls apart when you look back at how they were pulling the strings.
For others, communication simply gets unpleasant. On both sides. In the past, you might have given your spouse the benefit of the doubt if they spoke out of turn. Or you’d have asked what was going on and been able to sort things out without tempers flaring. But now? Different story. You are seeing them through a different lens. Emails are scrutinised for aggression. This goes both ways. And it’s not always helpful. Of course, you don’t want to be taken advantage of. But you don’t want your story about your ex to slow down divorce by getting derailed into power games either.
I’d like you to set aside your stories about your ex for the moment. I’m not saying forgive them for any wrongs, or just let it all go. That might not be what you need for your wellbeing or your divorce. But it is important to focus on yourself. Because that’s how you get your power back.
Your divorce past
What’s happened has happened. There’s not much you can do about it. But you can do two things. You can choose how to frame the past. And you can choose how to respond to it. And those two things help re-write your story. They also give you power.
Whatever life events happened in your marriage, you will have a story about your role in it all. Maybe your role was innocent victim. Maybe it was frustrated adventurer. It could be you’ve cast yourself as the evil villain, even.
I’m asking you to unpick that role now. Take a moment to think about your divorce story so far, and how you see yourself. Chances are, it’s a simplistic view. Like a caricature rather than a true portrait. One of the reasons humans use stories is to make sense of the world – to put things in order. So it’s easy to stereotype ourselves and others, when, in reality, life’s more nuanced than that.
Unpick your divorce role
If you’ve thought of yourself as the victim so far, realise that role denies you much agency or power. You may have been on the receiving end of great wrongs. No one will deny that. But you don’t have to be a victim any longer. You get to choose what to do next – more on that in a moment.
If you’re the adventurer, longing for more, you may be feeling frustrated that life’s still not as you want it. And you may lose hope for your happy ever after. As we know, in reality, life isn’t like that. There isn’t a fairy castle at the end of the story. But there is the opportunity to do the right thing for you, every minute of the day. Sometimes that means making the boring choice – like chasing down the paperwork. Sometimes it means admitting you’ve had enough – even when that’s terrifying. Know that it’s worth it, and keep going.
If you’ve cast yourself as the villain, chances are you’re giving yourself a hard time now. And maybe even making life more difficult by living up to the role! Stop. Give yourself a break. Whatever crimes you’ve committed in the past, they aren’t the whole of who you are. Give yourself space to be kind to yourself.
And you may have taken on another role entirely. Can you spend some time exploring how you have characterised yourself so far?
Choose your thoughts
Now you’ve created some distance between you and your story about yourself you have more options. You’re not bound by the rules of the character you’ve been playing. You get to decide what to do next.
So many of our decisions are made by default – unthinkingly. It’s a clever function of our human wiring so everything going on in our lives every single second doesn’t fry our brain. Barack Obama was famous for his minimal style choices as president. It was to free up his brain. As he told Vanity Fair,
“I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
It’s easy to get sucked into approaching life the way we always have, or viewing others the way we always have. Our brains are used to it. That’s fine when it comes to your wardrobe. It’s not helpful when it comes to your future. But now’s the chance to pause and reset.
What if, instead of telling yourself you’re disorganised, you told a new story instead? One along the lines of: “I am capable of getting everything together for this divorce and I can seek help if I need it.”
What if, instead of telling yourself you’re being taken advantage of by your ex you thought, “I can see what they are doing. And I can’t control that, but I know I can stand up for myself and what’s right. And I know I have people to support me.”
What if, instead of telling yourself that you are worn out and this will never end, you thought, “Every day I am doing something that brings me closer to my divorce. And I know I can keep taking small steps to get there.’
If it helps, you might decide to take on a new role. Think of a word that sums up the person you want to be going forward. Survivor? Leader? Warrior? How would that character see the world? My readers tell me that one of their all time favourite blogs is ‘You Are The CEO Of Your Divorce’. Have a read and see if it resonates with you too.
Choose your actions
So now you’ve changed up your role and how you frame your story. What are you going to do differently? You can make the decision to act based on what’s important to you, rather than defaulting to set patterns.
It might be as simple as not replying to that email in the heat of the moment. It might be that you decide you’re worthy of getting help or support – from friends or professionals. Or you could decide to have a day off from thinking about your divorce so you can come back fresh.
Whatever it is, your story frames your actions. And you get to choose.
Need help rewriting your divorce story?
One of the most powerful things I can help you with is gaining new perspectives. Helping you see further or more clearly about your future than you do currently. I bring my coaching expertise, years of legal experience and a safe space to let it all out. Together we can rewrite your divorce story. You’ll be stronger, more empowered for it.
Just book in a free chat to explore how I can help you.
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