Divorce often feels like an unraveling. Of a relationship. Of the family. Of the home. And, more challengingly, of yourself.
The one relationship becomes two people with separate, yet often still intertwined, lives. Especially with children.
What was one family becomes two, with the balancing act of the “new” and the “old”. The newness of a different schedule with separate parenting time, versus minimizing disruption to routine and consistency. Both with a dash of reinvention of habits and traditions.
One home becomes two. At the least with one moving out and dividing the contents and “stuff” of daily life. More challenging, with both moving, establishing new homes, and perhaps selling another.
One’s self. Out with familiarity and the known. And in with a spectrum of feelings – from loss and grief, to uncertainty, and to (at best) the opportunity of change. Often with both spouses at different emotional stages. One’s trust – in a partner and one’s self – is often shaken.
This unraveling need not be your undoing. Divorce is a process. Difficult as it is to remember (much less feel), it is a temporary process that will end. Opening the door to your new, after-divorce life – when the pieces come back together and the new becomes the familiar.
In my 15 years of representing clients in divorce, I have picked up on a few suggestions to help clients weather the unraveling:
1. Educate yourself. Education and understanding of the process and the law are empowering. Educated decision-making is empowered (and often better) decision-making. Navigating an unfamiliar process in the dark is asking too much of yourself.
2. Communication with your attorney is key. Selection of an attorney who fits you and your needs is a topic all its own. Communication is the key to attorney representation. If you feel any uncertainty or “red flags” about communication with your attorney, this is unlikely to improve over time because the process often becomes harder before getting easier. Does your attorney listen to you? Understand you and your concerns? Answer your questions? Do responses reflect an understanding of your concerns and goals? Is your attorney accessible? Communicate in the ways you want, whether in-person, by phone, mail, electronically, or a combination? If not the right fit, trust your instincts and find the right-fitting attorney. If representation is under way, raise communication concerns and see if communication improves. If not, find the right-fitting attorney.
3. Reflect. Much as the pace of life seems to call for snap decisions and responses, take the time to reflect. Give yourself the opportunity to identify and understand your goals, needs, and priorities. Give yourself the opportunity to make informed decisions. Give yourself the space to react and respond thoughtfully. Then respond. This makes for fairer expectations of yourself and better communications with your spouse and attorney.
4. Get help. If everything is all too much, seek counseling or help from other professionals. Friends and family are wonderful, caring resources, but often do not have the training (and certainly not the neutrality) to help you understand, process, and cope with the emotional unraveling of divorce.
5. Self-care. Often the most difficult, because on top of everything else, you are often at the bottom of your priorities. Whatever you choose – mediation, journaling, yoga, exercise, a hobby, or other “me time” – carve out time and start in manageable steps. Calendar and commit to it. Far better to do one nice thing for yourself a week – if only for 10 minutes – than nothing at all. No amount of “me time” is too small.
6. Trust yourself. Friends, family, and acquaintances have opinions and advice on everything. You know what you need and why, based on your priorities. Your divorce and – more importantly – your life are uniquely yours. Listening to and comparing yourself with everyone else take a toll. Trust yourself and your instincts. Especially when combined with education, communication, reflection, professional help, and self-care.
What feels like an unraveling of who you are and what you know is…change. The unfamiliarity and uncertainty will pass. The divorce will end. And your new life will begin. The unraveling need not be your undoing.