Divorce’s Traumas & Their Impact on Decision Making

by | Jan 7, 2020

Divorce is a globally traumatic experience. For spouses over the death of their relationship. For parents and children over the unraveling of their family, structure, responsibilities, and routines. For their extended families, friends, and community with the separating and redefining of their social structure.

Add to this the trauma of separating homes, finances, and property. Plus the challenges and stresses of the legal disentanglement.

Ideally, major decisions occur when one is informed, clear-headed, and not pressured. Decision making during divorce rarely feels this way.

First, there is the feeling of failure. No one likes to fail. And most often, that’s where most spouses and parents start the divorce process. Questioning one’s own self makes us lose trust in ourselves. A continuing fear of failure can set in when decisions are called for, and can lead to decision paralysis – an inability to make decisions.

Second, there is the “fog” of sustained trauma. This can occur both during a dysfunctional and abusive marriage and during the divorce process that follows. When one’s day-to-day life has become “survival mode”, going from one trauma to the next, a “fog” sets in and we don’t even realize it’s there until well after the fact. So, we think we’re coping better than we actually are. We think we’re making clearer decisions than we are.

Finally, divorce is a compounding of traumas. Loss of the marital relationship, loss of the family structure one has known, loss of home and finances, loss of friends and extended family. We tend to think of divorce as one, single traumatic experience. But, we need to recognize that divorce is many, in quick succession. Each of which individually and all of which as a whole, sabotage decision making.

What’s a spouse or parent to do?

  • Recognize that you may not be at your decision-making best.
  • Be gentle with yourself as the process unfolds and with each decision that must be made.
  • Give yourself the space, time, and tools to try to make the best decisions you can as each decision arises. Don’t make decisions just for the sake of getting them out of the way.
  • Let go of perfection and fear of failure; focus instead on making the best decision you can in the circumstances in which you find yourself.
  • Acknowledge that some decisions require choosing among bad options.
  • Seek the help of professionals, whether a therapist, attorney, accountant, etc. This both supports and educates you.
  • Own that you’re not ready until you’re ready. Don’t force yourself into premature decisions. It’s okay to slow down and take the time you need.
  • Honor yourself, your needs, and your priorities. Avoid comparisons with other divorcing or divorced families.

As traumatic as the divorce process is, it is also the start of something new. Each decision during the divorce process builds the foundation of your new life and future. Build yours with care.

Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke and University of Baltimore School of Law. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.

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