“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela
Nothing in the world can prepare you for the conversation that fundamentally ends your marriage.
The morning after my ex husband and I had that conversation, we both woke up feeling like we were on an alien planet.
You may have had serious talks leading up to this one, you may have known that things were heading dangerously in this direction. But that one defining conversation seals the deal and leaves no more room for wondering.
And now, the marathon begins.
If you are in this place now, my heart and sympathies are with you. I understand it all too well.
Divorce is like a death, only it’s one that you have chosen to happen. How are our minds supposed to deal with that? We only have a limited amount of bandwidth that our brains and hearts can deal with at once.
The difference between divorce and death?
Death is out of our hands. Divorce is not.
Even if things have reached a point where you absolutely know that you cannot salvage the relationship, there is always the internal voice that asks on loop:
Have you really tried everything?
Are you sure you’ve exhausted every avenue?
Are you really going to do this to your kids?
What if I’m making the biggest mistake of my life?
I feel confident to say that anyone at this point would’ve had these questions eating them alive for at least a year.
Nobody makes the decision to end a marriage on a whim.
All of a sudden, in the midst of shock, emotional turmoil, grief, guilt and fatigue, you are expected to start making important life decisions that will affect everyone forever.
Who is moving out? How are we going to tell the kids, our friends and extended family? How are we going to afford it? When is all this going to happen?
It feels as though someone has asked you to sprint through quicksand.
Yet, plans must be made. Dinners have to be cooked, kids dropped to school, dogs walked, bills paid, lawyers consulted, and somewhere in amongst all of that, you have to organise your new life on this alien planet.
There are three universal ways you can be blindsided during this time. Dodge the bullets by following these tips.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail — Benjamin Franklin
You may have heard of the term ‘baby brain’. A condition where cognitive function declines in pregnancy or early parenthood.
Separation fog is very similar. You are now trying to function while processing grief, confusion, anxiety and shock.
All the while turning up to work, keeping the household running, navigating coparenting, engaging with family, and all of the other responsibilities and commitments that don’t stop just because of the decision you and your spouse have made.
Is it any surprise that your ability to think straight is severely compromised?
During this time I put a packet of crackers in the freezer, forgot to pick my daughter up from preschool, and left my car door wide open all day in the car park at work.
It pays to make a concerted effort to focus and keep on top of everything you need to remember. This is absolutely vital if you have children and are adjusting to a new custody schedule.
Pro tips: Write lists on a whiteboard where you can see everything you have coming up. Somewhere like the fridge, or your bedroom door is best so that you can’t help but see it every morning.
Update it before you go to sleep each night. Set reminders in your phone for every appointment, with a few reminders beforehand.
If you have children and are sharing custody, consider setting up a shared calendar with your ex spouse so you both have access and reminders for the changeovers, and for any events or appointments for the kids.
Count how many things you need each day when you leave for work or the school run. Phone, water, laptop, charger, lunch etc. Take a moment before you get into your car and mentally count that you have each of those things before you leave for the day.
Set yourself up to succeed with good reminder systems.
Be very mindful of your physical health at this point. Two weeks after my ex and I decided that we were going to separate, I slipped a disc in my neck just getting out of bed one morning.
I didn’t make the connection at the time, but of course, this was caused by severe stress. I’d been living in a state of high emotional distress for many months.
In the weeks leading up to a separation, adrenaline and cortisol have been wreaking havoc on your body. It’s only natural that you are going to suffer the physical effects of this.
Headaches, insomnia, irritability, digestive problems, back pain. These are all symptoms of being under acute stress. I even had a client who was grinding his teeth without realizing it, and had to go to the dentist to repair a broken molar.
The subtle ways that our bodies try to give us messages are important. Make sure you’re listening to them.
Pro tips: Exercise daily. Drink water. Eat well. Sleep well.
It may sound like standard advice, but if you actually commit to following it, your body and mind will function more effectively, enabling better decision making and higher energy levels to get things done.
Exercise can be as simple as a 15 minute walk. Just make sure you move your body every single day without fail.
If you can afford a massage or two, book them! If you can’t, take 5–10 minutes to do some stretching and deep breathing every night before you go to bed.
We all have them. Some are more detrimental than others.
If your way of coping with stress is to go for a run or do some yoga, then you may not need to be overly concerned about relying on your go to strategies.
However, if you tend to turn to alcohol, over or undereating, recreational drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, long hours at work or endless hours watching Netflix to avoid what you need to get done, then now is the time to identify these unhealthy crutches and do your best to eliminate them.
It’s not rocket science that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with emotional overwhelm. But actually being able to choose the better option when you’re in a world of pain, brain fog and debilitating fear is a big ask.
I chose long hours at work and too much alcohol to try and numb my pain on the weeks when my kids were with my ex. I also started dating too soon.
I paid a hefty price for this.
With the benefit of hindsight, I know that I would’ve moved through this time and got my life on track a lot faster, had I understood that trying to avoid the pain was going to drag out my emotional and financial recovery longer than necessary.
Pro Tips: Write down the ways you are trying to cope. Be honest with yourself. Does one drink lead to many more? Have you noticed that you are gaining or losing weight? Are you already trying to date or sleep with other people?
Spend some time reflecting on why you are choosing these options, and then do a brainstorm of the things you can do in lieu of strategies that you know are not good for you. Make it a priority so you don’t slip into denial and unhealthy distractions.
Divorce is one of those major life events that can change the entire landscape of your world and everything in it overnight.
How you travel through the first weeks and months of a separation is entirely up to you. You may not have control over many things, but you can absolutely master these three experiences to accelerate your journey through the initial stages of shock, and begin to build solid foundations for a new life.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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