It’s easy to feel like your life is spinning out of control while you’re going through a divorce. So much is up in the air. So much is unclear. You feel like you’re at the mercy of the lawyers, the court system, your ex, and a million other things outside of yourself. How can you stop the spinning and take control of your life … and your divorce?
Are You Ready to Take Control?
The first question you need to ask yourself if you want to put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life is: Are you ready to take back the wheel? Are you ready to regain control of your life?
That question is deceptively simple.
Most people will immediately answer: “Yes! Of course I want to be in control of my life!” I mean, who wants to be out of control, right?!
Yet, when your divorce is still fresh, you may not be able to think about controlling anything. You’re just not emotionally ready to do that. You simply don’t have the emotional capacity. (And that’s okay!)
Here’s the deal.
You can’t regain control of your life when you’re spending your days sobbing on the bathroom floor or binge-watching Netflix movies because you can’t do anything else. Taking control means taking action – constructive action!
Taking constructive action is almost impossible when you’re still grieving the loss of your marriage!
That’s why step number one, before you even think about taking control of ANYTHING is to let yourself grieve.
Until you deal with your grief and let your head start clear, you CAN’T take control of your life.
(That applies, by the way, whether you’re the person who initiated the divorce, or the person who was blindsided by it. Almost everyone who goes through a divorce will grieve the death of their marriage at some point. You’ll probably grieve it at many points. The only difference between being the divorce initiator and being the person who is being divorced is that if you’re the one who decided to divorce, you will have started grieving long before your spouse – who may not have known that a divorce was coming.)
How to Take Control of Your Life (and Your Divorce) Once You’re Ready
Once you’ve worked your way through at least some of your grief, your capacity to deal with life will start to expand again. Little by little, you’ll start to be ready to regain control of your life. When that happens there are seven areas you’ve got to take control of in order to get out of the chaos and back in the driver’s seat of your life.
1. Take Control of Your Body
This sounds simplistic. But the quickest way to start feeling better and more in control of your life is to take care of your physical body. That means you need to:
a. Eat Right.
The more you eat healthy foods that will support your body, the better your body will feel. While loading up on sugar and carbs might feel good in the moment, it will make you feel fuzzy and tired later on.
You don’t need to start training for a triathlon just because you’re going through a divorce. But you do need to move. You need to get your blood flowing. Even taking a brisk walk every day can dramatically affect your mood and mindset.
c. Get Enough Sleep (… and sleep on a regular schedule).
When you’re going through a divorce you MUST be able to think clearly! Lack of sleep can make you act and feel like you’re drunk or drugged. It affects your memory, your cognitive ability and your mood. That’s why finding a way to improve your sleep is key if you want to feel better and take charge of your life again.
d. Don’t Over-Indulge in Anything (alcohol, drugs, medications, food, sex, etc.)
This just makes sense. Indulging in any numbing behavior won’t hurt you once in a while. But if you indulge yourself too often, you’ll create a horrible habit. Then you’ll have two problems to overcome: getting divorced AND beating an addiction.
None of this is rocket science. But where you’re going through emotional hell, it’s easy to stop taking care of yourself. It’s easy to get so consumed by your emotions that you forget to pay attention to anything else.
The challenge is that when you don’t feel good, it’s hard to think clearly. When you can’t think clearly, you can’t control anything – including yourself.
That’s why the most effective way to regain control of your life during your divorce starts with taking control of your body.
2. Take Control of Your Emotions
Emotions drive divorce.
The problem is that – if you’re like most divorcing people – you base YOUR emotions on your spouse’s behavior.
When your spouse does something stupid, you get mad. When s/he ignores you, you feel hurt. And on and on it goes.
The trouble is that, when you allow yourself to be triggered by your spouse’s behavior, you put your life in your spouse’s hands. You become reactive rather than proactive.
If you want to get back in the driver’s seat of your divorce (and your life!) you’ve got to take back control over how you feel.
While that may seem impossible, the truth is that the ONLY person who can control your emotions is YOU.
So, how do you regain control over your emotions? How do you keep yourself from spinning out of control every time your spouse says or does something stupid?
Here are a few tips.
It doesn’t matter how emotionally healthy or together you were before your divorce. Going through a divorce is emotional hell!
Having a therapist who you can talk to will help make your divorce journey easier. It will also help you figure out how you got to this place in your marriage too. That, in turn will keep you from repeating that pattern in your next relationship.
b. Set clear Boundaries with your soon-to-be-ex.
Decide in advance what your physical and emotional boundaries with your spouse will be. Then stick to them.
That means that you don’t let your spouse come in and out of the house whenever s/he pleases after s/he has moved out. (Even if you can’t legally keep them out, you probably can require them to give you advance notice that they’re coming.)
Sticking to your boundaries also means not calling your spouse and crying on his/her shoulder when something bad happens in your life. You’ve got to start breaking the ties that bound you as a married couple.
c. Join a Divorce Support Group.
Trying to go through your divorce alone makes everything about your divorce 100 times harder. Being part of a group of other people who are going through the same thing you are will give you a place to vent and share ideas. It will also help you feel less alone.
3. Take Control of Your Mind
You can’t control your life if you can’t control your mind.
While most people will argue that they can’t help what they think, they forget that they CAN change their reaction to their thoughts.
If you try, you can manage your thoughts and control your focus. Doing that alone will make you feel so much more in control of your life and your divorce!
Of course random thoughts about how you never thought you’d be in this position, and how sad you are that divorce is happening to you, will creep into your consciousness. Of course you’ll catastrophize about how, after your divorce, you may be living on the street eating cat food from a can.
The key is to catch those thoughts BEFORE you spend three hours creating a story in your head about how horrible your life is.
a. Get off (or at least seriously limit!) social media.
Being on social media while you’re going through a divorce carries with it a TON of risks.
The obvious one is that you are potentially creating evidence that can be used against you in your divorce.
The less obvious one is that social media is largely negative media. You don’t need any more negativity in your life right now.
b. Be careful who you hang around with (Let go of energy vampires and make new, positive friends.)
If you’re lucky enough to have friends who will be your emotional support as you go through your divorce, that’s awesome!
But chances are, at least some of your friends will turn into “Negative Nellies” who fill your head with stories of every bad thing that can happen to you. Or they will pump you for all the ugly details of your divorce so they can live vicariously through your drama.
You don’t need either of those kinds of friends right now.
c. Learn to say “no” to people and activities that are draining you.
When you’re going through a divorce you need to learn to set boundaries. That applies to your spouse, as well as to your friends and family.
Right now, you need to focus your energy on your divorce. You need to focus on getting yourself back together again.
Saying “no” to things that are sucking your energy right now isn’t rude. It’s healthy.
d. Take 100% responsibility for everything you do.
If you want to take control of your life again, you’ve got to also take responsibility for your life.
Taking responsibility means owning your life. It means owning the part you’ve played in creating the life you have now.
That doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up or make yourself wrong. It does mean that you need to wake up to the fact that you’re in charge.
If you see yourself as a victim of circumstance, you’ll feel powerless. But if you see yourself as being responsible for (and capable of!) creating the life you want, you’ll put yourself back in control of your life.
e. Make decisions and follow through.
When you’re going through a divorce you will be faced with making more important and life-changing decisions than you will during any other similar time period in your life.
If you refuse to make those decisions because you’re afraid of making a mistake, you will be stuck in the middle of your divorce for a very long time. (… MUCH longer than you would if you made in a timely way.)
The same thing is true if you make a decision and then change your mind … and then change your mind again, and again. Make a decision. Stick to it. Then follow through.
4. Take Control of Your Environment
a. Make sure you’re safe.
It’s hard to control anything if you’re worried about your physical safety or the safety of your children.
If your spouse is physically abusive, you need to get help immediately. Get yourself and your kids to a safe space FIRST. You can worry about everything else afterwards.
b. Keep things clean and organized as much as possible (declutter)
It sounds crazy, but you will feel so much better about everything in your life if your space is neat, clean and organized.
Going through a divorce gives you the perfect excuse to clean out your closets and purge the things that no longer serve you.
Even if you’re still living with your spouse, you can still start cleaning things out and getting yourself organized. That will come in handy later when you’re trying to divide up your stuff (and tyring to remember what you have stored away in the attic and the basement!)
c. Create a personal sanctuary for yourself somewhere (especially if you’re still living with your STBX).
A great way to start taking control of your environment if your spouse has moved out of the house is to make your space your own.
Rearrange the furniture. Put away the things that remind you of your spouse or bring back unhappy memories. Turn your home into YOUR home.
If you and your spouse are still living together, you may not be able to make the whole house your own, but you can definitely find a space you can call your own.
Whether it’s the spare bedroom or an office, or a corner of the basement, find some space you can claim as YOUR space. Then turn that space into your very own sanctuary (or man cave!)
5. Take control of your divorce process
a. Make sure you have a solid divorce team in place (lawyer, coach, therapist, financial advisor)
It takes a village to raise a child AND to get a divorce.
Trying to go through the divorce process alone, or only with a lawyer by your side, will cost you more in time, energy and even money than you could possibly imagine.
While the size of your team will depend on how complicated (or not!) your divorce is, what’s most important is that you HAVE a team.
b. Educate yourself about what’s going on
It’s hard to take control of your divorce when you’re locked in fear about your future.
Investing the time to understand how the divorce process works, how your finances work and what your options are, will all help you manage that fear.
You don’t need to get a PhD in divorce. But the more you can start to understand what’s going on in your divorce, the more you’ll be able to manage your divorce process.
c. Stay on top of your professional team.
Having the right team in place is only one part of staying in control of your divorce. The second part involves managing your team so that you’re all going in the same direction, and no one drops the ball.
While you might wish that one of the professionals could manage your divorce team, the truth is, that rarely happens. (…unless you are willing to pay one of those professionals a whole lot of money to quarterback your divorce for you!)
That’s why it’s so important for YOU to be the CEO of your own divorce. Remember, no matter how good your team is, no one is going to care more about your divorce then you do.
d. Do your homework.
No matter how big your professional team may be, YOU still need to be actively involved in your divorce. That’s because you have access to more information than any of your divorce professionals. You also know your spouse better than any of your divorce professionals.
It’s important, therefore, for YOU to do what needs to be done to keep your divorce moving forward.
Get the professionals the documents they need when they need it. When your lawyer or financial professional needs a decision from you, think about it, talk about it, then make the decision.
e. Talk to your spouse.
It’s hard to feel like you’re in control of your divorce when you’re stuck in the middle of the divorce process, you’re bleeding money, and there’s no end in sight.
If your divorce feels like it’s stalled out, see if you can talk directly with your spouse. Chances are s/he wants your divorce to be over just as much as you do.
You would be amazed at how many issues you can work out on your own once you’ve both had your belly full of the divorce system!
(Obviously, if your spouse won’t talk with you, or does nothing other than scream at you, this won’t work. But if you CAN talk with your spouse, it’s always worth a try.)
6. Take Control of Your Kids
Taking control of your kids may seem like an oxymoron – especially if they’re teenagers!
Yet, while you’re not going to be able to control what your kids DO, you can put systems in place that will help control their environment. When your kids’ environment is more under control THEY will feel more in control. When they feel more in control, they won’t act out as much and will be better equipped to make the changes that divorce will require them to make.
How can you control their environment?
a. Find a way to communicate about the kids that works.
Nothing will rock your kids’ world more than having parents who are always fighting, or never seem to know what’s going on with them.
As a parent, you can’t refuse to talk with your ex and expect your kids NOT to suffer. Kids get sick. They miss the school bus. Their activities get rescheduled. Things happen that you and your spouse/ex MUST communicate about.
You don’t have to talk face-to-face. You can text, or email, or use a parenting app. You just need to be able to communicate with your ex about the kids.
b. Make a Calendar so the kids know where and when they’re supposed to be. (BONUS: Make it a shared calendar if you can.)
Divorce is hard on kids. They’re usually the ones schlepping from house to house every week.
Not knowing where they’re supposed to be at which house can be a huge source of anxiety for kids. Keeping a calendar where they can SEE all of their activities, and where they can SEE which house they’re at on which day, can ease that anxiety.
The calendar can be digital or on paper, or both.
In a perfect world, you and your spouse/ex will share that calendar with each other. That way, your whole family will be on the same page even though you no longer all live together.
c. Do your best to give your kids a calm, peaceful home.
Kids (even older kids!) need stability. They need to have a place where they feel safe, and where they feel heard.
No matter what craziness is going on in your life (or in your divorce) you can still provide them with the safe haven they need.
You can do that by not fighting openly with your spouse. Don’t bad-mouth your spouse to your kids.
You also do that by paying extra attention to your kids right now. Listen to what they say. Watch what they do. Hang out with them.
The time and energy you spend to create a peaceful environment for your kids will help them adjust to their new family. It will also ease your own anxiety that your divorce is going to ruin your kids’ lives. It will also help you feel like you’re more in control of your family.
7. Take Control of Your Finances
It doesn’t matter whether you were the one in charge of your finances when you were married or not. Now is the time to start actively managing your money.
What does that mean?
a. Make a budget
No one likes to budget. No one likes to live on a budget. But if you want to take control of your finances, there is no better way than to start with your budget.
You MUST know how much money you have coming in and where it’s going every month. Basic accounting software like Mint.com can make your budgeting simple.
Once you start understanding your budget and managing your money, your financial confidence will skyrocket. That will give you the foundation you need to start taking more control of your entire financial life.
b. Do your best NOT to overspend.
Divorce is expensive. It can add thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to your expenses in any given year.
It’s only natural then that divorce can be a HUGE source of financial anxiety.
That’s true no matter how much money you make. (…unless you’re a billionaire. Then your financial anxiety isn’t likely to be about how much money you spend, but about how much money you’re going to have to divide in your divorce.)
Either way, now is not the time to add to your financial stress by going on a spending spree. Spending money may make you feel better in the moment. But the hangover you get when you get the bill just isn’t worth it.
(And if your spouse starts spending money like it’s water, talk with your lawyer about what you can do to stop the excess spending.)
c. If you don’t understand your personal finances – Get help now!
Divorce triggers everyone’s most primal fears about survival.
Every divorcing person asks themselves “Am I going to have enough money to make it after my divorce?”
That’s true whether you’re the primary breadwinner, a stay-at-home parent, or if you and your spouse are both working and making similar amounts of money. It’s especially true if you’re facing retirement or are already retired.
The best way to deal with your fear is to understand what you’re dealing with. Take the time to learn about personal finance and learn about your own financial situation.
Do it now.
If that seems overwhelming, hire a financial professional and get help.
The bottom line is that you can’t take control of your finances if you don’t even know what you have, or how your money and investments work.