Divorce is full of powerful – and mostly painful – emotions. Anger, sadness, grief and fear are just a few of the “regulars” that show up in every divorce. You know that letting those emotions take over is a bad idea. But how do you keep your divorce emotions from driving your divorce?
While you can’t keep yourself from having strong emotions when you divorce, you can work to manage those emotions in a healthy way.
Here are 7 tips you can use to get your divorce emotions in check so that you can get the outcome in your divorce that you really want.
7 Tips for Dealing With Your Divorce Emotions
1. Start By Using Your Head, Not Your Heart
Most people believe that their head has nothing to do with their emotions. After all, emotions are the heart’s territory.
Yet even though your heart seems to have a mind of its own during your divorce, that doesn’t mean that your brain has to go on an extended vacation. If you focus your brain correctly, you can use it to help steering your heart in a more positive direction.
How do you do that?
You start by letting the head do what the head does best: think.
Instead of using your brain to try to tell your heart what to feel (which never works!) you use your brain to think and let those thoughts slowly influence the way the heart feels.
Think about what’s at stake in your divorce. Brainstorm ways that you can get through your divorce in an intelligent way.
Instead of focusing on how you FEEL, focus on what you can DO right now to make your situation better. Instead of focusing on what you CAN’T do, think about what you CAN do. More specifically, focus on what you can do right now that will move you forward in a positive way.
Ask yourself: “What’s my next right step?”
If you can’t think of an answer then ask yourself “What can I do right now in order to figure out my next right step?” Keep your brain engaged by thinking about concrete actions you can take to move forward.
[HINT: Even small actions count. Don’t sabotage yourself by thinking you have to solve every problem you have right now.]
2. Don’t Try to Go it Alone.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes several to get you through a divorce.
Divorce affects almost every area of your life. It affects your finances, your family, your friends and your future. Expecting yourself to become an expert in law, finance, psychology, real estate, parenting and more – especially while you’re going through a huge emotional upheaval at the same time — is unrealistic.
It’s not going to happen.
If you want to give yourself the chance to get the best possible outcome in your divorce, you need support.
You need a therapist to help you deal with your divorce emotions. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to a therapist before. It doesn’t matter if you never saw yourself as one of “those” people who would go to a therapist.
Therapists help you deal with your emotions. They help you grieve, heal, and move on. That’s exactly the kind of help you need while you’re going through a divorce. So, get over whatever idea in your head that’s stopping you from getting the help you need and go find yourself a good therapist.
[HINT: Having a good divorce support group can be helpful too.]
3. Do Your Own Inner Work.
Divorce may be emotional for everyone, but what sets you off on an emotional spiral is often unique to you.
Take the time to figure out your own emotional triggers. What makes you crazy? What does your ex say or do that transforms you from a normal human being into a screaming maniac in 10 seconds or less? Those things are your emotional triggers.
(If you can’t figure it out, or you’re not sure what your triggers are, get help. A good therapist can help you uncover your emotional triggers, too.)
Once you know what your own personal hot buttons are you can start dealing with them more effectively.
For example, you may know that when your spouse brings up something that happened years ago (again!), you’re going to get sucked into having the same argument that you’ve had a thousand times since then (again!). Knowing that is actually a good thing!
Armed with that knowledge, you can consciously create a different response to that trigger. You can visualize yourself using that different response when your spouse pushes that button. If you do that enough times, eventually you will actually respond differently when your spouse pushes your buttons.
Interestingly, once you respond differently to your spouse, the dynamic between you changes. Suddenly your spouse (who may be confused at first) will be thrown off balance. While s/he may still react in the same way for a while, eventually when your spouse sees that pushing a certain button doesn’t get the response s/he wants, s/he usually stops pushing that button.
[HINT: Responding differently when your spouse pushes your buttons isn’t easy. It takes practice. But you can’t practice until you know what your hot buttons are and you consciously create a different response to them.]
4. Let yourself feel your divorce emotions.
No one likes to be in pain. It’s a lousy way to live. But, unless and until you feel the pain, you can’t let it go. (Sorry!)
Ignoring your emotions, or pretending they don’t exist, only makes them stronger. Then, they muck up your divorce by coming out in other ways.
For example, maybe you’re furious because your spouse takes the kids to all kinds of cool places that you can’t afford. But you say nothing because you don’t want to ruin your kids’ good time.
Later, your spouse introduces your kids to his/her new squeeze and they all have a great time together. Again, you’re spitting mad, but you say nothing.
After all that, your spouse asks if s/he can switch the time with the kids over the weekend by a half hour and you absolutely lose it!
You have a full-blown melt down over a 30 minute time change.
You look like a lunatic, and your spouse looks like the hero.
… because you’re not really arguing over 30 minutes. You’re arguing about all the things you didn’t address in the first place. You’re arguing over all the things you pretended didn’t matter.
Instead of burying your emotions, let yourself feel them when they come up. After that, you’ll be in the best position to let them go and move on.
[HINT: Another trick for controlling your emotions is to use the 3 hour rule. Unless there is a real emergency, don’t react to anything your spouse says or does for at least 3 hours. That will give you time to feel your emotions, but not take action until your head is clearer.]
5. Find a healthy outlet for your emotions.
Allowing yourself to feel your divorce emotions doesn’t mean that you also allow yourself to do stupid things just because you’re angry, sad, frustrated, depressed, etc.
Yet, at the same time, emotions are energy. They need to move.
If you don’t have any way of letting your emotions move through you, they’ll get stuck. When that happens, you can get wound up as tightly as a pogo stick with a 300 pound man standing on it.
That’s when you’re primed and ready to blow up over things that you don’t even care about.
Thankfully, there are other ways that you can let off some emotional steam besides just screaming at your spouse.
For example, one of the best emotional releases is exercise.
No matter how busy you are, doing some form of strenuous exercise for an hour a day can completely change your life. (… not to mention your body!)
Kick-boxing, running, biking, swimming, martial arts and any kind of hard-driving cardio exercise will help you take out your aggressions. Weight lifting will wear you out. All of those can be great emotional releases.
If you prefer something a little gentler, you can try yoga or tai chi. Even simple breathing exercises can provide an amazing outlet for your emotional energy.
[HINT: To be the most effective, you need to exercise consistently. So choose an activity that you at least like. Also, try to do your exercises at the same time every day. Choose a time when you’re at least somewhat fresh. Exercising at 11:00pm when you’re a morning person is not going to promote consistency!]
6. Control your environment.
What’s outside of you directly affects what’s inside of you.
Research has shown that if you are stuck in traffic, or are irritated or angry, you will make different decisions and will interact differently with people than you will if you’re happy. What’s more, it doesn’t matter what caused your anger or frustration. Just experiencing those emotions affects your mood, and your actions.
With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to eliminate as many outside stressors as you can.
If watching the news makes you anxious – stop watching it. (Or, at least limit yourself to watching just the headlines for 15 minutes a day.)
If you’re in a toxic environment because you’re still living with your spouse, consider moving out sooner rather than later. If you can’t do that, at least find somewhere that you can go for a few hours each day where you can have a little peace and quiet.
Even if you can’t control your environment every day, at least try to control on important days.
For example, make sure that you choose a neutral place when you’re negotiating with your spouse. Make sure that you talk when the kids aren’t around and can’t interrupt or overhear your conversation. Also, make sure you have set aside enough time to have your conversation without feeling rushed.
In short, if you know you’re going to have an important meeting, either with your spouse, your lawyer, or anyone else, control your environment to set yourself up for success.
[HINT: Your inner environment is as important as your outer environment. Try to make sure that, on important days, you are well rested and well-fed, too!]
7. Get Your Expectations in Line.
Most people don’t realize it, but your expectations play a HUGE role in your divorce!
When you don’t know what to expect in divorce, you become afraid. When you’re afraid and you act from that place of fear, you make mistakes. You cause more conflict. You work so hard to try to protect yourself financially that you end up bankrupting yourself instead.
Not knowing what to expect in your divorce also causes a tremendous amount of frustration. You expect things to go one way. When they don’t go that way you get angry and upset. Making decisions when you’re angry and upset rarely gets you the long-term results you want.
Another problem with expectations in divorce is that they add a whole extra layer of pressure to an already emotionally-charged situation.
For example, if you expect your divorce to be amicable, and your spouse starts to fight, you end up doubly upset. Not only are you upset by the fight itself, but you’re also upset because fighting wasn’t “supposed” to happen in your divorce.
When you reign in your expectations – especially your unrealistic ones – you automatically make your divorce way less emotional.
[HINT: Before you can start controlling your expectations, you need to know what they are. Talking to a good divorce lawyer, or others who’ve gone through a divorce before, can help you get your expectations in line quickly.]
Keeping Your Emotions From Driving Your Divorce
Trying to keep your emotions from driving your divorce is hard.
Unless you are a robot, you won’t succeed all of the time. But, if you at least try, you will have a better chance at managing your emotions. When you do, you will be on your way to a less conflictual, less expensive, and less damaging divorce.