Why divorce is like crossing the road

If you’re a child of the 1970’s, you remember the Tufty Club right? The Tufty Club was all about road safety for young children. The motto was Stop! Look, Listen Think! It helped children develop the awareness they needed to keep themselves safe when crossing the road. Lack of awareness leads to poor decisions and puts you at risk. It’s the same in your divorce. Divorce is like crossing the road.

Firstly, stop!

It’s often scary to just stop. Excruciatingly so. When you feel scared or nervous, your ‘fight or flight’ response wants to get you taking immediate action to protect yourself. This is when you react rather than respond. Your body is filled with adrenaline and cortisol – this prevents you from thinking rationally and calmly. Stopping in the fear allows you to experience it and deal with what’s really going on for you right now.

My mantra is do nothing at the start of your divorce journey until you’re ready with your plan. I also advocate do nothing throughout the process when you feel overwhelmed or you are thrown a curved ball this may not be appropriate if you’re in a high conflict  situation). 

Many of the ‘curved balls’ you receive in divorce are not about you – they’re about your soon-to-be-ex-husband and his fear. If he’s being difficult, angry, pushy or non-communicative, lazy and ignoring you, there’s a very real possibility that he’s scared. Possibly even more scared than you are.

In my experience, many soon-to-be-ex-husband’s, will let you lead. Even if they are the one who left. Even if they are in a new relationship. This is particularly true if you were the one who did the organising in your relationship. The chances of them Googling ‘divorce’, ‘how to divorce’ or similar is small. Why? Because they know you will, and you will get the ball rolling.

It’s not all about you

Is this always the case? No of course not. But, the majority of women I work with come to me because they know they will  get organised, take action and to get a sense of what their divorce will look like. As they get educated, and do the work, as they understand what needs to happen next, they feel calm and confident. And then? Then they start talking to their soon-to-be-ex-husband about divorce with confidence and clarity. They feel good, empowered and ready.

And their soon-to-be-ex-husband? He often feels panicked and out of his depth. He realises the enormity of what he doesn’t know. Your soon-to-be-ex-husband is often scared and becomes angry. Your soon-to-be-ex-husband may become hostile or arrogant and mean. This throws you because you’ve done all the work – you’ve calmly told him what needs to happen and he hasn’t had to do anything. But he’s triggered and it triggers you. You start to doubt yourself and start to believe the things that are coming out of his mouth. You panic. Feel familiar? If this is you, stop. When you stop, you get the opportunity to step back and look at what’s really going on here.

Look at what’s really going on

Look at what’s really going on – this can’t happen when you’re reacting. It can only happen from a place of stillness. Write a list of all the comments that your soon-to-be-ex-husband has said. Go through the texts and emails and write out the points he’s made. Once you’ve written them down, leave them be and, when you feel calm (only when you feel calm), go back and really look at what’s written. Is there any truth in what’s written?

Knowing what you now know about the divorce process, how it works and the law surrounding disclosure and settlement, is there truth in what’s he’s saying? If there is, these are the things you’ll need to negotiate. You may consider family mediation for this. What about the things he says that you know aren’t true? Recognise they aren’t true and park them. When he says: “my solicitor says xyz” your best response is: ‘thank you, I look forward to receiving that in writing directly from them’. There really is nothing more to say.

Listen to what’s really being said and not said

We find it hard to truly listen when we are scared. This may be what’s going on with your soon-to-be-ex-husband. He could be listening to horror stories from friend’s, colleagues or worse still, friends of friends in a ‘Chinese Whisper’ type scenario about a man who lost ‘everything’ in his divorce and now lives in a cardboard box eating cold baked beans. He’s not able to hear what you’re actually saying because his fear has shut him down. This can be true for you too, particularly if you are already fearful about how your soon-to-be-ex-husband responds.

It’s easy to misinterpret what he’s saying because you’ve anticipated the worst. Really listening takes effort and practice. It means taking what’s actually said and hearing it for what it is and checking that you’ve understood correctly. In any communication, it’s your responsibility to check the other person understands what you mean and that you’ve interpreted what’s being said. Here’s the thing however. It doesn’t make what they say true! It’s their point of view.

Think about your reality

When we are scared and in ‘fight or flight’ we can lose sight of reality, choosing instead to get sucked in the view of reality that our soon-to-be-ex-husband has. It becomes so real that we believe his point of view is the way it is. Equally, we can do this too. We become convinced, for example, that the only solution is that we keep the house and that ‘of course the judge will agree’. This rigid thinking isn’t helpful. It doesn’t allow for flexibility, negotiation, or take into account the reality of your situation (and it might). Thinking about the reality of your situation – that the house may have to be sold, or you might have to work longer hours than you’d previously agreed with your soon-to-be-ex-husband is hard. The sooner you can come to terms with reality, the easier you’ll find it to cope.

Reality checking also means stopping, looking and listening to what’s really going on and not assuming that he is ‘right’ about what he’s saying. Family mediation is a great place to ‘reality check’ before you get a solicitor’s advice – particularly if your soon-to-be-ex-husband is resistant to getting a solicitor of his own. Family mediation is less expensive. It’s quicker and it gives you an opportunity to see and hear together the legal information (not advice), that the mediator will share – thus helping you to handle the veiled threats and angry outbursts that come from your soon-to-be-ex-husband. You may find that his own anxiety reduces and he begins to engage with the divorce more appropriately.

Why divorce is like crossing the road

When you’re learning to cross the road, you have so much information to take in all at once. Traffic coming from all different directions. You need to judge distance and speed. Above all, you must keep yourself safe. It’s an awareness skill that needs to be learned and it takes time. Even when you have learnt, your job is to keep the awareness going to ensure you keep making the best decisions. It’s the same with your divorce. Stopping, looking, listening and thinking are key in reality checking where you are and what you need to do next to keep yourself safe for the future.

If you’d like to chat about how working with me can help you, drop me a message here.

The Divorce Alchemist

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 practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma is featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com