As a divorce coach, mediator, and psychotherapist, I come across many couples and individuals who, despite the clear signs that their marriage is over, seem to be stuck in a painful limbo. I am rarely surprised by this as, after all, who really WANTS to go through a divorce?
Many people are so deeply (and, understandably) troubled by the very thought of ending their marriage that they choose to analyze, plan, discuss, strategize, mourn, review, and consider the possibilities, over and over again, even for years at a time, rather than take any decided action. Others do much of the same via pretending the marriage is somehow workable or is not ‘so bad’ while still others insist that whatever is ailing in the marriage is ‘just a phase’ (even after 10 or 20 years!) and will get better on its own. Some, in an act of desperation, decide that their marriage can somehow be made less important in their minds and just ‘lived’ with. Unfortunately, none of these responses seem to last or to solve the problem of an expired marriage.
The truth is that when you are in a relationship that is not working, you can pretty much count on the fact that it won’t change on its own and it cannot be ignored or left as is for too long. Relationships that are not working will inevitably take a toll on you (in terms of your health, both mental and physical) and on everyone else touched by it (ie, it can impact your children, friends, in-laws and relatives, even neighbors). A non-working marriage strains our physical health (with weight gain or loss, sleep disruption, blood pressure changes, more frequent illnesses and worse) as well as our mental health (via our moods, anxiety or depression, loss of our peace of mind, a negative outlook toward life, compromised decision making capacity, and decreased our ability to stretch ourselves towards learning and growth).
So, what are we to do if a part of our mind understands our marriage has breathed its last breaths but we simply feel unable to DO anything about it? How do we get unstuck? Here are some ideas that might help:
–Reclaim the positive aspects of your pre-marriage self. Think back to before you said ‘I do’. Remember what you liked about your life and about yourself then and what you have learned others liked about you too. Perhaps you enjoyed the thought of being independent, courageous, spontaneous, playful, hardworking…? Maybe friends and colleagues valued these or other aspects of you? Remind yourself that while parts of you have become sleepy or even dormant under the stress and strain of a failed relationship, you are still you. All of the good in you remains and can be reactivated and reclaimed with a bit of work and time.
–Circle the wagons around you with supportive friends and family members. Now is the time to call in all favors! Move toward more connection with the caring people in your life (some of whom you may have become a bit distant from due to the demands of your married life). Make room for more caring and more emotional support from those you trust and love.
–Broaden your social circle. If you feel you are lacking in friends and caring others, brainstorm a list of activities and organizations you can engage in that will expose you to new potential pals. There are opportunities to socialize within a particular interest area (skiing, book clubs, divorce discussion groups, cycling, etc.) as well as new learning opportunities that can expose us to new people (adult-ed classes, dance lessons, art classes at museums, lectures and workshops at libraries, senior centers and houses of worship—often these are listed in the local papers available in your community). While you might not feel like going out into the world to find new people or new pursuits presently, try to push through your own negativity and reach for connection as going it alone is never easier. It really does take a village to forge a new path for yourself and when you identify new and positive connections and experiences you can have, you might be very glad you have done so!
–Get help! If you are stuck in non-decision making, heavy sadness, self-doubt, or you keep coming up with a long list of worries and concerns at every turn, get yourself some professional help. There are lots of capable and caring experienced pros out there who can assist you in this journey and there really is no good reason not to get some help!
–Stock up on resources and research. Make a list of what new info, resources, and skills you might need to live on your own successfully. Sit with yourself and take a good look at your life skill strengths and deficits, such as:
Financial info and resources: Perhaps your spouse was the family banker, taking care of the bills, tracking accounts, getting a mortgage, and other financials? You, too, can learn how to do all of these (it isn’t rocket science, truly!!). You can look on the web at the many articles there on running a household, budgeting, financial planning, tax strategies, etc. There are also plenty of trustworthy professionals out there who can work with/teach you the skills you might need to successfully navigate the financial aspects of life (tracking expenses, budgeting, saving, tax strategies, talking with loan officers, investing, etc.).
Parenting info and resources: Do you need some parenting advice or help with the kids? There are loads of books, articles, group discussions, and resources available online on how to parent through divorce as well as websites that list babysitters, nannies, and mother’s helpers (also see if your local public schools maintain lists of students who have taken a babysitting certification class). Chances are good that there are trained parenting coaches and child specialists in your area or a nearby city or town who may be of assistance to you. If you have specific concerns regarding how your children might do in the transition, why not have a conversation with your pediatrician too as they often have some insight as well as info on local resources.
Divorce Process info and resources: Do you need assistance in selecting a divorce process or a divorce professional that feels right and fits your situation and family? Many of organizations list local professionals who specialize in divorce coaching (to assist people just like you in selecting the best process for your particular needs) as well as specific professionals who provide services such as divorce and co-parent mediation, collaborative divorce, arbitration, litigation, etc.
–Take the best possible care of you. Now is the perfect time to consider building exercise, weight change, better nutrition, sleep habits, spiritual practice, artistic pursuits, spending time in nature into your regular routine. We needn’t wait for the ‘good’ times to incorporate these into our lives. We can enhance our care taking of ourselves at any time and what time could be better than as we prepare to make a major life change?
For more ideas and information, please contact my office. Wishing you all the best on your journey,