Nothing triggers homicidal thoughts like going through a divorce. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Breaking up, separation and divorce hurt like hell. There are few events in life that are more painful and traumatic, not to mention draining, than when one becomes two again.
The idea that two people meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after is one of the biggest myths ever believed. The reality is two people meet, fall in love, move in together, and then do just about everything they can to weaken and destroy their love for each other. We think that if we are really in love, everything will work in the end.
The sad fact is: you have a better chance of surviving cancer than making a relationship last "until death do you part". Unfortunately, while there seems to be tons of information on how to make a relationship work, there seems to be a lot less advice on how to get through a divorce, with your sanity intact.
Here are my best tips to help get through what may be one of the greatest emotional challenges of your life:
1. Process your pain (while sober…)
I know, I know. This is the last thing you want to do. You would rather drown your sorrows in a bucket of wine while stuffing your face with crap food, and binge watch Netflix. You need to mourn the life you thought you were going to have, so you can move on, and create the life you were meant to have.
Unfortunately, the only way out is through. The more you try to numb it, stuff it down, or screw someone else to make it go away, the more it festers deep down inside like an infection. I believe that divorce can be one of the greatest opportunities for growth to identify what is stunting you and holding you back.
If you are struggling to move on, you may be also unconsciously mourning a loss or trauma from your past. If you are hysterical, it’s probably historical. Did a loved one leave you as a child or young adult? Answer this question:
I have felt this way before, when____________________________________________?
When someone abandons us or betrays us when we are young, we don’t have the maturity to make logical sense of it. We blame ourselves, and in order to make meaning of our traumas, we create negative beliefs that can hold us back when we get older. Beliefs like “I’m not good enough,” or “people will always abandon me,” or “I am unlovable,” can cause us to overcompensate, be insecure, fake, or passive-aggressive in relationships.
When someone breaks up with us, it confirms our biggest fears, and we re-experience the pain of the trauma that caused the harmful beliefs in the first place. Know that some of the pain you are feeling is also unprocessed pain from the past. I highly recommend finding a good therapist who is experienced in helping people get over a break-up, even if for only a couple of sessions. Investing in your mental health is well worth the cost.
2. Get a good lawyer (and possibly an accountant) if you have assets to split
It’s important to know you rights and have someone to go to bat for you. Ask around for referrals and know that money spent on a good lawyer will pay off in the end. It makes a huge difference to feel like you have people, who have your back, and are on your team.
In saying that, no one knows your case like you do. Do your research and go over all documents and take notes. Don’t ever assume your lawyer will pick up on every detail and know how to defend you on certain topics. Make sure you write down and address every point that is brought up by your ex in any legal documents so your lawyer knows the whole story.
3. Stop fighting with your ex
You may think you’re standing your ground when you tell him off for his bad behaviour, but if it’s been a few years and you’re still having massive arguments with your ex - what you’re actually doing is keeping a miserable marriage alive. If you’re still having screaming matches five or 10 years later, what I often tell people is ‘you’re still married!’ You may be physically separated but you’re still married through your anger.
So, the next time you’re tempted to tell them off when they make a nasty comment, take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that you don’t need to get into it, since you’re not married anymore. Staying calm and not reacting is one of the most powerful positions you can take with any conflict.
4. Keep the kids out of it
I know it’s tempting to tell the kids why you’re splitting up, what a jerk your ex is and how you’re arguing over child support. Kids aren’t emotionally equipped to support you in your relationship troubles, and it stresses them out worrying over things that they have no control over.
Do not talk to your kids about the conflict you’re having with your ex (your child's other parent,) or about your ex’s new relationship or new partner unless it's in a supportive way. It’s okay to acknowledge how your child feels about things but refrain from disclosing negative thoughts or interactions you have about your ex or their partner.
It is psychologically more damaging to speak badly about your child's other parent than it is to say something nasty to your child about them personally. When you criticize a child’s parent, they feel like you are putting them down too and, in a way, you are — they do share DNA after all.
Be the bigger person, which I know from experience is easier said than done. Your children will remember the things that you said, and the more positive you are, the more positive
they will be and behave. It may be hard now, but comfort yourself with the fact that in ten or twenty years your child will be able to thank you for your integrity, and your resolve to do the right thing and protect them.
Moving on with your life and finding love that makes you happy can be great for you and your kids. You deserve a fulfilling relationship that gives you a chance to model for your kids what a healthy and happy relationship is all about.
5. Don’t have sex with your ex
If you want closure in your relationship, start with your legs. If you continue to sleep with someone you're not in a relationship with that you are trying to move on from – it’s just going to delay the process.
Respect yourself as well as other people enough to not do things that will cause hurt. It is one thing to compromise, it's another thing to compromise yourself.
Once it’s all said and done: the property sold, the assets divided up, and the papers signed -ask yourself what it is you want for your life and future. A goal that’s helpful, is to aim for indifference when it comes to your ex, their choices and their new partners.
The goal of divorce is not to win, the goal is indifference.
Unlike your secret wish that they’d disappear into thin air, to be able to feel indifferent and not let your ex get to you is a long-term goal that’s achievable.
Breaking up is messy, and divorce can be hell but it’s also one of the best times for figuring out who you are, what’s holding you back and what you really want out of life. Divorce is an opportunity to become a stronger version of you and change your life for the better. A you that is more aware, more confident and more capable of lasting love.
Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz. Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.