“How do I heal and begin to rebuild my life after divorce?”
Divorce is quite possibly one of the toughest decisions you will ever make. Because of this, it is best not to take this decision lightly. Chances are, you spent much time dwelling on the choices you had to make to take this most courageous of steps. During the long process it takes to divorce a couple, it very likely that moments of self-doubt may have overtaken your mind, and the choices that were once so clear may have become muddied by emotions, regret, or the fears associated with idea of moving on with your life independently. On the other hand, there may have been times when mental clarity arose to its pre-divorce levels, and the shear will to persevere to re-engage your life and dreams in a meaningful manner became the battle cry for you to face your fears and move through the emotional torrents that arose during each step of the divorce process.
Divorce is not a simple process. While the legal aspects of a divorce are pretty standard (1) dividing assets and debts as it relates to the marital estate, (2) and dividing the time and responsibilities of parenting your children), the emotional journey behind a divorce is all but standard. It is a grieving process, and because of this, it will take time, perhaps even longer than the actual legal process to severe your marriage will take in the eyes of the law. In divorce, there are lives at stake, emotions to sort through, property to divide, time schedules to manage (both your schedule, your spouses, and your children’s schedule), and thousands of other intricately intertwined emotional, financial, and family occurrences you simply may have never of thought through as what was once just the normal chaos of family life is now divided into two separate and competing schedules with your children’s needs placed at the forefront.
After you decide to divorce, you may be initially hit with a sense of relief, one that although normal, may also be very short lived. The legal aspects of divorce are pretty straight forward. Either you, or the court will have the rights to divide the assets and liabilities assumed during your marriage “in kind.” If you choose to end in an amicable fashion, you and your spouse will have the determination of how to divide the marital estate and arrange for fair and compensatory custody arrangements. However, if you choose litigation, you will be forced to declare, divide, assume, and even let go of some of those things you you acquired during your marriage that you may hold most dear. As you begin to sort through the mountains of memories, paperwork, assets, and liabilities you have assumed during marriage, secondary grief grief patterns can arise, causing emotions such as anger, despair, hopelessness, helplessness, and sadness to become your new norm. These overwhelming feelings can overtake you personal sense of security, self efficacy, and hope for a brighter future, all during a time where you will undergo one of the most technically divisive and objective processes you will ever undertake.
What can possibly help? How can you rebuild your life after your have chosen to divorce?
- Develop your team – Undergoing divorce, it will be imperative to have social supports to keep you up during the process. We are not talking Facebook in this case. Your social network must be people you can fall back on, not one of 1200 friends who will post inspirational quotes on a daily basis. Divorce is personal, and you must have people to help you through the process. The process in California will last at least six months. During this time, there can be many ups and downs you may face, and having a good social network, or just someone you can vent to will come in handy as your emotional state may get the better of you during a time you need to remain objective and impartial to your current circumstances.
- Know your personal and family finances – Even if you are preparing for divorce, you should have a financial plan. Sometimes, temporary spousal support can help you (consult your attorney). However, do not be dependent on this to get you through the tough times. It takes six months in California to get divorced. Knowing what it will take for you to live independently will help spur your journey towards personal and financial independence forward. It may be difficult, but as you learn to take care of your finances independently, you will also develop necessary skills needed to successfully separate from your spouse. If you are financially dependent, you may want to open your own accounts prior to taking the steps necessary to divorce, and begin to attain the funds and the contacts needed to assure your transition towards your independence.
- Consult an attorney – This is quite possibly one of the most important steps you can take during your divorce. Law governs the division of the marital estate, the finances, and the welfare of children. It is not always based upon what may be right or wrong; nor is it based upon any single fault one party may have in the causation of the divorce. An attorneys will help to assure that your legal rights are not impeded upon, and will assist you with the steps needed to successfully divide your marital estate and reach a child custody / visitation arrangement.
- Seeking professional help to sort through your emotions – While normal to seek solace and understanding from your family members, you must remember, they are part of your family and cannot give you objective advise. They are on your side, and because of this, they will always side with your thoughts and emotions regarding what you believe to be right, wrong, and / or fair. They cannot be impartial, and can even spur on poor decisions due to their misconceptions about divorce. In divorce, emotions run high. However, there irrational nature greatly impedes your ability to make rational thoughts, the key decision making elements needed to successfully undertake a divorce. This is not about “getting even,” it is about “getting back to even,” ground that is, as you will undoubtedly face a number of ups and downs a licensed therapist can help you with. Remember, your attorney, although titled a counselor, is a counselor at law. They are payed to divide, and are also non objective parties, that must 100% side with your positions. A therapist can step into this objective role and help you sort the emotions can affect, if not derail the important decisions you will have to make during the divorce process.
- Find your new health habits – During your marriage, you have undoubtedly set yourself into routines. Routines can be good, if they promote overall emotional, spiritual, and physical health. However, sometimes the habits that affected your marriage, can also derail your journey towards optimal health during your single life. During divorce, you should shy away from habits that can promote further depression or anxiety: these include drug and alcohol use. Engaging in healthy habits, such as exercise, getting involved in community events, re-engaging a spiritual path, and meeting with a therapist can help you overcome the emotional difficulties associated with depression, keep anxiety at bay through the release of much needed endorphins, and help you begin to make meaning about the overall journey your life has undertaken.
- Give yourself time to forgive – You will never forget this journey, but you can eventually forgive. This will stand as the catalyst of letting go of the emotional constraints divorce can cause. If you tie your emotional state into feelings of retribution, or “getting even,” then your emotions continue to be married to your spouse, even though you may be long separated. This stands as the catalyst for continued custody conflicts, which ultimately hurt your children, and the expense of what is perceived to be protective factors. You may as well still be married. By learning to forgive, even though it may take time, you take your emotions back, can rebuild healthy, unilateral relationships with your children, and can begin the process of healing you seek to undertake.The process of healing after divorce is long and complex.
Divorce 101 will be an examination of the emotional journey undertaken to heal from the ravages of divorce. Feel free to comment, or to ask questions regarding this blog. Dr. Thomas Maples is a psychotherapist, marriage and child counselor, and has 16 years experience working with individuals, couples, and children that have undertaken divorce or have family conflicts. He is married to Anna Y. Maples, Family Law Attorney, and founder of The Family Advocacy Center, a law firm based on finding solutions to the complex nuances associated with family law cases.