Mindset Matters in Divorce: How to Go from Scarcity to Abundance

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Every sports or business coach will tell you that mindset matters. Your mindset determines, to a large extent, whether you win or lose; whether you fail or succeed. It determines whether you’re happy or you’re miserable.

Yet somehow, when it comes to divorce, most people think that their mindset doesn’t matter. That is … if they think about their mindset at all.

The truth is that when you’re going through a divorce thinking about your “mindset” isn’t very high on your list of priorities.

You’re much more worried about figuring out whether you can pay your bills and when you’re going to see your kids than you are about whether or not you’ve got a “positive attitude.”

Yet, “mindset” is so much more than just your “attitude.”

What is Mindset?

Before we go further, it helps to understand what “mindset” means.

According to Wikipedia, mindset is … 

… a set of assumptions, methods, or notions held by one or more people or groups of people. A mindset can also be seen as arising out of a person’s world-view or philosophy of life.

In other words, your mindset is the way you see the world.

Because of that, your mindset matters in an enormous way. It affects everything … including your divorce.

Two Types of Mindsets

Although the concept of “mindset” has been sliced and diced in various ways by various people, the two types of mindset that matter most when it comes to getting through divorce are the “scarcity mindset,” and the “abundance mindset.”

Back of a man's head. Man is looking at a sunset. Saying: Stop worrying about what you ahve to lose and focus on what you have to gain.

The Scarcity Mindset

People with a scarcity mindset see life as being a zero-sum game. They believe that there is only so much to go around and that if one person gets MORE, that automatically means that everyone else will get LESS.

As Steven Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People explains,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

…People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. They also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

The Abundance Mindset

People with an abundance mindset operate from a completely different world view. They believe that life offers more than enough resources for everyone. Instead of seeing everyone as having to share scarce, limited resources, they see us as having access to abundant, unlimited resources.

In other words, just because you get more, that doesn’t mean that anyone else will get less.

Again, as Steven Covey explains,

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

Fear Triggers a Scarcity Mindset

One of the primary emotions that divorce triggers in everyone is fear. Unfortunately, fear creates and reinforces a scarcity mindset.

Just thinking about divorce makes you afraid that:

  • Your spouse is going to lie/cheat/hide money andthat you won’t get as much money as you should get from your divorce;
  • You won’t have enough money to live on afteryour divorce;
  • Your divorce will screw up your kids so badlythat they’ll need therapy for the rest of their lives;
  • You’ll miss something or make a mistake thatwill cost you dearly later;
  • Your spouse will turn your divorce into the nextWorld War;
  • You’ll spend through your entire retirementaccount and your kids’ college fund on attorney fees; and
  • You’ll never find another partner and you’ll bealone for the rest of your life.

All of these fears are normal. All of them are understandable. Yet, none of them are helpful.

That’s because they trigger a scarcity mindset that continually feeds on itself. That mindset throws you into what is known as “The Scarcity Loop.” 

Illustration of Scarcity Loop: Fear, Anxiety, Poor Decisions, Negative Outcomes

The Scarcity Loop

The Scarcity Loop is the vicious cycle of fear, anxiety, and negative outcomes that you get trapped into when you’re going through a divorce (or any other fear-inducing state). Here’s how it works.

Your brain is hardwired to look for anything in your environment that is or could be wrong. Back in the day, reacting immediately to anything unusual was literally a matter of life or death.

If you didn’t react to the rustling in the grass, and it turned out that a saber tooth tiger was stalking you, you got eaten.

So when you encountered something unknown, you became afraid. That fear released powerful stress hormones into your body. Those hormones made you either fight, freeze, or run away from the potential danger.

They saved your life.

Those same stress hormones work exactly the same way in your body today. The difference is that today, instead of worrying about getting eaten by a wild animal, you’re afraid of getting destroyed by your soon-to-be-ex-spouse in a divorce.

The fear you feel is the same.

But your responses don’t work as well when you’re fighting your spouse instead of a tiger.

Your fear triggers anxiety. That anxiety stresses you out and clouds your thinking.

When you can’t think clearly you start to make poor choices. Those poor choices lead to negative outcomes.

The negative outcomes reinforce your fear. That fear increases your anxiety. The more anxious you are the more you make more poor choices.

More poor choices create more negative outcomes.

And on and on the cycle goes.

Illustration of Abundance Loop: Gratitude, Peace of Mind, Wise Decisions, Positive Outcomes

The Abundance Loop

The Abundance Loop works in exactly the same way as the Scarcity Loop, except that it has a very different trigger and a much different effect.

The Abundance Loop isn’t triggered by fear. It’s triggered by gratitude.

When you feel grateful for something, it gives you peace of mind. That peace of mind allows you to relax, think clearly, and make wise decisions.

Wise decisions lead to positive outcomes.

When you get those positive outcomes your brain lights up and says, “Wow! This is awesome!” You make the connection that your decisions led to something positive and good. You see that you can trust your judgment. What’s even more important, you feel good!

When you get positive outcomes and you feel good, you become even more grateful. That triggers another abundance loop. The cycle continues.

How Can You Feel Grateful When You’re Going Through a Divorce?

“Gratitude” is not the number one emotion most people feel when they’re going through a divorce. As a matter of fact, gratitude is pretty much the LAST thing most people feel when they’re getting divorced.

But just because you don’t automatically feel grateful when you’re going through a divorce, that doesn’t mean that you can’t cultivate that feeling.

In fact, you can become grateful right now.

Think about something that you are happy or excited to have in your life. Think of a blessing that you have right now.

Maybe you’re grateful that you have food to eat. Maybe you’re grateful that you’re healthy. Or maybe you’re grateful that you have access tothe internet, which puts a world of information at your fingertips.

The bottom line is that, no matter who you are or how much your life might suck right now, you have SOMETHING you could be grateful for if youwanted to be grateful. All you have to do is to CHOOSE to focus on that.

The problem is, our ancient brain doesn’t WANT to focus on what’s right. Focusing on what’s right won’t save you from getting eaten bythat tiger. Focusing on what’s wrong will.

So our natural tendency is to focus on what we DON’T have, not on what we DO have. We count our misfortunes instead of our blessings. Welook for what can hurt us, rather than seeing what can help us.

What we don’t realize is that what we focus on is a choice. 

We don’t believe that we can change our mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance simply by looking at the world from a different perspective. Most of the time, we don’t even think our mindset matters – especially in divorce.

Why Your Mindset Matters

As the late Wayne Dyer said,

If you believe that the divorce courts are corrupt and that the system is unfair, you will find injustice everywhere.

On the other hand, if you focus on getting through your divorce in the healthiest way that you can, and you believe that doing that is possible, you will dramatically increase your chances of getting more of what you truly want and need in your divorce.

But you can’t create that positive outcome if you’re stuck in a scarcity mindset.

But Wait a Minute! Isn’t Divorce a Zero-Sum Game?

The hallmark of a scarcity mindset is believing that the pie of life is only so big. If you get a bigger piece of that pie, that means I get less.

Nowhere does that type of thinking occur more than in divorce.

After all, you and your spouse only have a certain amount of money. If your spouse gets more of it, you get less. Period.

… except that’s not exactly how divorce works.

Contrary to what most people think, the marital “pie” you and your spouse have to divide in a divorce is not necessarily fixed. That’s because the “pie” involves more than just money.

What’s more, in certain situations, it may be possible for you and your spouse to even expand the monetary “pie” you’re working with.

Your Marital “Pie” Involves More than Just Money

Saying that money doesn’t matter in divorce is ridiculous. Of course money matters. It’s one of the two things divorcing people fight about the most.

But money isn’t the ONLY thing that matters in a divorce.

Divorcing parents also care about their kids.

They care about spending time with their kids. They care about how their kids are raised. Most of them also care about how their kids will be supported, and how they will pay for their children’s expenses after their divorce too. But, dealing with kids in a divorce involves much more than just money.

There’s also a whole host of intangible things that divorcing people may care about.

They usually care about how long their divorce takes, and how much it costs. They may care about their reputation or keeping their private information private.

Contrary to what you might think, they may care about keeping a decent relationship with their ex so that they can co-parent more effectively after their divorce.

In short, there’s a lot more at stake during a divorce than simply a fixed amount of money. Expanding the marital “pie” to involve all of those things gives you the opportunity to go beyond the limited, fixed mindset of: If you win, I lose.

Broken piggy bank filled with coins and a hammer next to it.

Expanding the Monetary “Pie”

Even if you just look at the marital “pie” as just being money, there are still ways you can expand that pie, if you’re willing to letgo of your scarcity mindset and get creative.

That starts by acknowledging that money isn’t just money.

Money can be an asset. Or it can be income. Or it can be both.

For example, if you and your spouse own a rental property, that property is an asset. The mortgage on that property is a debt. The rent you get from that property is income. And what you pay to maintain that property is an expense. So one item has several different characteristics, and you can treat it several different ways when you divorce.

What’s more, taxes can also play a huge role in divorce.

If you and your spouse work together, you can divide your marital assets in such a way that you minimize the taxes that each of you will pay when you sell those assets. By doing that you effectively increase the amount of money you will each keep in your pocket from those assets long term.

Or, you can operate from a fixed mindset and fight over every dollar. If you do that, you will probably not be able to maximize the available tax benefits in your divorce settlement. That will limit the size of your marital “pie.”

Operating from a scarcity mindset can directly affect the outcome of your divorce. That’s why your mindset matters so much as you go through your divorce.

Woman with giant black balloon in front of her head with saying: Mindset Matters. Mindset is everything.

The Bottom Line When It Comes to Mindset and Divorce

If you and your spouse can be a little open-minded and operate from a place of abundance rather than fear, you can create a WIN/WIN situation in your divorce, instead of a WIN/LOSE one. (… or a LOSE/LOSE situation, which happens way too often!)

You can expand your marital “pie” so that when you divide it, you both end up with more than you would have if you fought to the death trying to get the whole pie for yourself.

But you can’t possibly do that if you’re scared out of your minds and your brain is caught in a negative scarcity loop.

That’s why your mindset matters so much. Having the right mindset can literally change your divorce.

Even more importantly, it can change your life.


Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


divorce advice, divorce blog, divorce emotions, divorce tips, embracing change, growth mindset

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  • Karen Covy is a gem in the divorce world. Her advice is always on target and focused on what really matters, the wellbeing of everyone in the family. This article on mindset is so important for every divorcing and divorced couple to read and digest. Thanks, as always, Karen!

  • That’s all very well and I’ve tried to negotiate but my ex husband but he is having none of it. If he’s not a narcissist then he must be borderline disorder or psychopath. The label isn’t important but his behaviour is appalling and he has a very expensive lawyer. My lawyer is worse than a man short. She has no clue who she is dealing with and how he fiddles the books and continues to cost me as much money as he can unless I walk away with nothing. He wants me to get nothing.. he already lives in the house that me and the two kids got put out of. I have started again with nothing and he wants to see me with nothing. You would think I was the one that was having the affair!! Which he has told everyone in a charming and victim way that it was me that was abusive and cheated which is utter rubbish. My reputation has been ruined because of this vile creature.
    How can you ever reason with a man that wants me to prove we were engaged and made up stories that implies he put me up as I was desperate and it was never a marital home etc etc.. the stories he tells are disgusting and untrue

    • It sounds like you’ve got your hands full with your husband! As for what you can do, that starts with your lawyer.

      If your lawyer is no match for your husband’s lawyer, and you’re losing badly in court, then you might want to consider changing lawyers. What’s more, you probably want to do that sooner rather than later.

      As for how you can reason with your husband, maybe you can’t. Maybe you would be much better off not even trying. Live your own life. Get a better lawyer. Finalize your divorce so you can move on with your life.

      Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

      I wish you the best.


      • I found this article really helped me to clarify what I’ve been pondering about – that is how best to navigate through to a financial settlement that benefits both parties in the short and/or long term. I will now be able to formulate a proposal for a financial settlement and also to include the reasons why I am suggesting the way cash , pension and. capital assets could be shared in a way that would be difficult not to accept by the other party. It isn’t always as easy and straightforward when the Respondent is grasping after every penny , so I think it’s critical to put forward a settlement proposal with a strong, well thought out rationale.
        Thank you Karen!

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