Why is it that, even when you know what you should do, you don’t do it? You want to do it. You intend to do it. But at the same time, the very thought of doing the thing you know you should do (like, get a divorce) terrifies you. So you wait, turned into stone by your fear of divorce.
Meanwhile, you do nothing – except beat yourself up for being a miserable slug who just can’t seem to get it together.
If your fear of divorce is paralyzing you, you’re not alone.
I get emails from people* every day who say things like:
I used to think of my husband and I as partners. But several years ago he got laid off and he hasn’t gone back to work since. I work upwards of 60 hours a week. I love my job, but I never thought I’d be the sole support of the family! Sure, my husband helps with the kids more now, and he brings in a little cash from handyman jobs. But he’s not even trying to get a job anymore. Meanwhile, I’m exhausted! I know I should give him an ultimatum. But I’m afraid that if we get a divorce my kids will hate me AND I’ll have to pay him alimony! What should I do?
I’ve been married for 20+ years. My wife and I haven’t been intimate for as long as I can remember. (Translation: it’s been years.) All my wife does is criticize me. We never go anywhere or do anything together. We don’t even talk much anymore. I know I should get a divorce, but what if I leave my wife and then never find anyone to be with again? And what if she turns the kids against me?
My husband and I have been separated for the past two years. He said he is in not in love with me anymore and now lives with another woman. My husband has been giving me money to help me pay the bills, but now he says he can’t do it anymore and wants a divorce. I can’t live on what I make. I’m hoping that he will change his mind and come back to me. I don’t want a divorce. Help!
The Hard Truth About Divorce
Getting a divorce sucks. It will change everything in your life, and about your life. What’s worse is that you have no guarantee when you start your divorce where you will be when it ends.
It doesn’t matter if you are the one spinning in circles trying to decide whether to get a divorce, or whether your spouse has made that decision for you. Either way, not knowing what the future will bring can make your present pretty freaking terrifying.
You’re worried about where you will live, and whether you will end up broke and homeless after your divorce is over. You’re worried about your kids, and whether your divorce will ruin their lives forever. You are afraid that you will spend the rest of your life alone.
You are afraid. Period. Full stop.
What Fear Does to You
As uncomfortable as it is to be afraid, fear is a normal human
emotion. It is probably responsible for our survival as a
species. (If they weren’t afraid of the saber-tooth tiger that was racing
towards them, our ancestors would have all been eaten.)
Yet, as life-saving as fear can be, if left unchecked, fear
can also be life-debilitating.
When we’re afraid, our bodies react differently. Our brain releases stress hormones that spike our blood glucose levels, raise our heart rate, and raise our blood pressure. Our breathing gets quick and shallow. We go into a state of hyper-arousal.
While all of those reactions are appropriate when you’re
facing an immediate physical threat, when you’re dealing with a longer-term problem,
your body’s normal reaction to fear becomes much less helpful.
Living in a constant state of fear, or hyper-arousal, activates
the body’s stress response. As a result, we experience headaches, stomach
upset, high blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, and a host of other negative
symptoms. Living that way for an extended period of time can directly affect
So, not only does stressing out over whether you should get a divorce or not cause you emotional turmoil, but it can also take a toll on your health.
No matter how you cut it, dealing with your fear – and overcoming
it – is vital to your well-being.
The bigger question, of course, is: How do you do that?
How to Deal With Your Fear of Divorce
It’s easy enough for the gurus (and your friends) to tell you that, “You just have to face your fears and move forward!” They’re not the ones whose lives and families are about to implode.
The truth is that there is no magic pill you can take that will turn you into a superhero, or make dealing with your divorce easy or fun. No matter what you do, your life is going to be shrouded in uncertainty and ugliness for some period of time.
That will feel awful.
But, living in a horrible marriage, while you are worried about (or thinking about) divorce 24/7, doesn’t exactly feel fabulous either.
If you find yourself caught between the terrible marriage you know and the terrifying divorce that you don’t, these tips can help.
10 Tips to Help You Deal With Your Fear of Divorce
1. Get the Facts.
Once you start to make the unknown known, it stops being so scary. Take the time to educate yourself about divorce. Learn about the various ways you can go through a divorce. Find out how the divorce process really works. Investigate your own finances.
While you may be afraid that learning about divorce will only make you more scared of it, the opposite is usually true. The more you demystify the divorce process, and the more you understand what you are facing, the more confident you will be.
2. Connect With Your Power.
Everyone has a source of power that they can draw on when times are tough. Some people get strength from their faith. Others are bolstered by their connection to their friends and family. Still others become empowered by keeping their eye on a better future, and by remembering the reasons why they wanted a divorce in the first place.
Whatever your source of power is, tap into that. If you don’t know what your source of power is, now is the time to find it. What do you do that makes you feel strong and confident? If you’ve never felt strong or confident, try imagining what might make you strong and confident. Get into therapy. Work on yourself. The stronger you feel, the more you will be able to manage your fears and put them behind you.
Deep breathing has been scientifically
proven to affect the heart, brain, digestion and immune system. It helps
you relax and brings more oxygen into your brain and body. That, in turn,
helps you feel better and think more clearly. Both feeling better and thinking
clearly are vital if you want to deal with your fear of divorce in a productive
Many different types of breathing exercises will help calm your body and your mind. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong all have breathing exercises you can use to get control over your body and fight your fears. You can also use a simple, belly-breathing technique. Just close your eyes, place your hand on your belly, and focus on breathing so deeply into your belly that your hand moves outwards as your belly expands. Breathing into your belly for as little as a minute or two will automatically make you feel better, calmer, and more in control of yourself and your situation.
4. Get Out of Your Head and into Your Body.
Your physical body – how you feel – affects how you think and how you act. When you find yourself in a mental and emotional twist over what the future holds, getting physically active does more than just distract you. It can actually help see your life very differently.
No matter how down, depressed, stressed out, or confused, you feel, make the time to move! Exercise. Eat healthy foods. Get enough sleep. It’s way easier to face your fear of divorce when you are feeling physically strong and healthy than it is when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed.
6. Clear YOUR MIND
Facing your fears takes mental strength, clarity, and energy. While it may be tempting to try to take the edge off your fears by having a few extra glasses of wine, or a mixed drink or three, at dinner, medicating yourself into a stupor will not help you deal with your real problems.
The same thing is true for prescription medication. While the right prescription drugs can help you sleep and deal with debilitating depression or anxiety, if your medication leaves you tired and fuzzy, it may be time to visit your doctor and readjust your medication.
6. Get Yourself Into Action.
There is a reason people say, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” When you spend too much time obsessing over all things that could go wrong in your life if you get a divorce, it’s easy to scare yourself so badly that you do absolutely nothing. Ever.
Instead of spending your time catastrophizing about what might or could happen if you do or don’t get divorced, try getting yourself into action. Start educating yourself about divorce. Actually look at your personal finances. Get yourself into therapy. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve actually decided to divorce or not. Just doing something will often help you move through your fears.
7. Think of the Best Instead of the Worst.
Part of the reason that fear controls us is that it makes us focus on all of the negative things that could happen while minimizing the positive ones. What most people don’t realize, especially when fear of the unknown has them in a chokehold, is that they can choose what to focus on.
Instead of thinking of the 10,000,000 ways your life will suck while you are going through a divorce, spend time thinking of all the ways that your life could be awesome if you were finally able to live it on your terms. If you could create the life you wanted, any way that you wanted (except by getting back together with your ex) what would it look like? Focus on that.
8. Minimize Your Downside.
What’s your biggest fear about divorce? Is it that you will end up broke and homeless? Or, that you will be alone for the rest of your life? Or, that your kids will be messed up for life? Whatever it is, admit it. Say the words: “If I get divorced I’m afraid that I’m going to end up being a crazy cat lady, living alone in a tent, while my kids will have to spend the rest of their lives in therapy.” Now start thinking about what you can do to make sure that whatever it is that you’re afraid of doesn’t happen.
Think you will be broke? Talk to a financial planner. Map out a solid financial plan. Worried about your kids? Talk to a child psychologist. Obviously, doing this won’t guarantee that the worst won’t happen. But seeing that you can take action to make it less likely that your worst fears will materialize, can help you get past them.
9. Join a Support Group.
Surrounding yourself with people who have walked the path you are about to walk on, and have come out the other side, can be both inspiring and empowering. Plus, by talking to others, you will probably find that, before they divorced, they had the same kinds of fears that you did.
Divorce support groups exist in all parts of the country. There are local divorce support groups and online communities. Some support groups work with religious organizations. Others are completely secular. If you look, you will find a divorce support group that is a good fit for you.
10. Get a Therapist.
Helping people manage and work through their fears is what therapists do.
If you have been tied up in knots for months (or years!), trying to get up the courage to file for divorce, working with a good therapist can help you untie yourself and move forward. As an added bonus, many therapists take insurance. So, working with a therapist may not cost you as much as you might think.
Moving Past Your Fear of Divorce
Being afraid to divorce is a very real fear. Denying it, or pretending it doesn’t exist, won’t help you move past it.
While using these tips won’t instantly turn you into a fearless superhero, they can be an effective way for you to start to manage your fear of divorce. Hopefully, they will help you can move forward through this tough time, and create a better life for yourself and your kids.
Another way you can move past your fear of divorce so you can move on with your life is to attend the Decision Day Retreat. It's a small, private one day retreat that will give you the time and the tools to dig into what is stopping you so that you can get past it. CLICK HERE to check it out!
* These stories are based on real people, but they are composites of several people’s stories. I have also tweaked and changed the facts in each story to protect everyone’s identity. Any resemblance you may see between these facts and your life is just a coincidence. Really.
Revised and updated on January 13, 2020