Excerpt from my book Divorce Done Easier by Carol Delzer
Tools for the Journey of Divorce: Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” I can’t take that step for you, but I do have a number of tools that will make your journey easier and less painful while producing more positive outcomes for you and your family. These tools are not legal strategies or recommendations about how to divide your assets. They’re more powerful than that. The tools offered focus on your most important asset during this process: you and your emotional and mental capacities. You have a power that for many people is usually only tapped in times of crisis. Divorce is a time of crisis and requires the use of that power you have within. I want to make sure you have the tools to tap into that power you have.
A.A. Milne put it, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Tool #1: Embracing Change—A Transformative Opportunity
Divorce is a huge change in ones life. But we must remember life is all about change. Sometimes it is welcome, but other times it’s terrifying. Many of us are adamantly averse to any type of change. Whether our current circumstances are good or not good, we would still prefer to keep things the way they are, within our comfort zone. People even stress over seemingly positive changes such as financial windfalls or career promotions. The life we know just seems safer than that big unknown out there.
Getting divorced and becoming single usually fall into the not-so-welcome change category. The physical, emotional and financial adjustments of divorce can be overwhelming. Right now, your life may seem broken beyond repair. It may be hard to imagine, but over the years I’ve seen that this can be a positive turning point in a person’s life. Besides, right now, you don’t really have the option to keep everything the same, do you? So rather than resist the changes coming, let’s learn to be good at moving through them!
People who are good with change embrace it. They don’t waste their time kicking and screaming about it, whining to their friends or complaining to their coworkers. Instead, they focus on asking questions like, “What’s next?” or “How can I grow from this experience?” or “How can I make this change as positive as it can be?”
If you’re willing to fully embrace the changes that your divorce will bring to the best of your ability, you’ll have the opportunity to create a rewarding new life for yourself and your family. So take a deep breath, and let’s get started.
Tool #2: Audit Your Attitude
More than anything else, the one attribute that separates people who adjust well to change and those who do not is attitude. Change is inevitable, but you have the choice to make this change better or worse for yourself. Highly successful people are always looking for opportunities to change because change is growth. Here are some ways you can shift your own attitude so that it serves you better:
Alternative Attitude Statements: Ask yourself, “What is my cur- rent attitude about the changes because of this divorce?” Be honest with yourself. Do you feel fearful? Overwhelmed? Resentful that you have to make these changes? Sit down and make a list, put- ting all of your current attitudes into statements such as: “Change stinks.” “My life will never be as good as it was.” “I can’t handle all of these problems.” Leave a few spaces between each statement. If you have any positive attitudes about this change, great! Write those down too.
Now, looking at your list, what are some different attitudes, new ways of thinking and feeling, you can adopt? What attitudes would be more helpful and feel better? These alternate attitudes may not come to you immediately. Think about people you know who are great with change. How would they think about this? Imagine yourself feeling benefitted from this change. What would you be saying to yourself and to people around you?
Take each statement that reflects your current attitude and write an alternative statement. For example, you might counter “Change stinks” with “Change rocks!” How about switching from “My life will never be as good” to “My life can be even better.” Maybe “I can’t handle all these problems” can become “I’m fully ready to go on this adventure!”
I know that your alternate statements may seem phony at first, a Pollyanna wishful thinking kind of thing. But try saying your al- ternate statements a few times. Stand up straight and take a deep breath as you say them. Don’t you feel a little lighter, clearer, more powerful? Doesn’t it feel that you could make better decisions and interact with others more effectively with that attitude?
If you are feeling stuck trying to come up with alternative statements, here are a few to try on: “I have everything I need to move forward positively.” “I am fully capable of handling whatever comes to me.” “I am entering a new chapter of my life, a new adventure.” “Others have made positive changes after divorce and so can I.” “I will grow stronger, more aware and more capable through these changes.” “I am surrounded by people who love me and care about me.” “This divorce will be a positive transformation for me.” “I have the energy and resources I need.” “I know that when one door closes another one opens.” “I know I can and I will succeed.”
Watch Your Language: Attitude is reflected, and actually gets embedded, by the language we use to ourselves and others. Notice how you currently talk about your divorce and the changes it is creating. Are you using words like “problem,” “difficult,” “worried,” or “impossible?” Think about it. If you keep telling yourself and others that your situation is “impossible” or “overwhelming,” what does that do to your ability to move forward? It makes you feel less capable and powerful, doesn’t it? Though it may not seem like much, changing the very words you use can have a big effect on how empowered you feel.
Years ago, success coaches started having us use “challenge” to replace “obstacle” or “problem.” Why? Because a challenge can be fun. When you meet a challenge you feel heroic, brave, creative. A challenge takes you to the next level. Handling “problems” on the other hand is a burden. “Problems” means some- thing is wrong and you have to fix it just to get back to normal. Can you feel the difference? Pay attention to your internal and external language. It may feel awkward at first, but catch yourself when you use negative words and start substituting more empowering ones.
Will you immediately experience a 180-degree shift in your attitude through these exercises? Probably not. But you don’t need 180 degrees. Even small shifts will help you embrace the changes of the divorce process and beyond. Take small steps if you have to. If you’re starting with, “I can’t possibly handle this!” your new statement doesn’t have to be “I am awesomely brilliant and extraordinarily powerful and I can handle anything!” You may want to start with, “I’ve handled challenges in the past and I’m pretty sure I can handle this one.” As Oprah Winfrey put it, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”
Tool #3: Mindfulness
What is mindfulness? Originally a practice in Buddhism, mindfulness was adopted by Western psychologists as an effective therapeutic technique. In modern psychology as well as Buddhism, mindfulness means to bring your total attention to the present moment. To be mindful is to purposefully pay attention to this moment with all its thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment of right or wrong. Everything is accepted just as it is.
T he nature of mindfulness is to become more present to your life experience and more alive in the moment, more intentionally responsive and less reactive. In a mindful state, you let go of pre- conceived notions about yourself and others; you simply experience what is in the present moment. You open yourself to a greater sense of creativity and connectedness.
Mindfulness basically means awareness. Now more than any other time, it is important to be fully aware of what is going on. With the stress of your marriage breakup and changes in your life, it may feel more challenging to be aware and mindful. There are many things you can do to change your unawareness to a more mindful awareness.
Mindfulness has a way of sounding complicated. It is anything but. It is as simple as paying attention in the moment to information you receive without judging it. The minute you begin to judge information you receive, your mind is entangled in judgment and is not fully present to receive the information. You receive only partial, inaccurate information because you’re distracted by your judgments and reactions.
For example, many couples have a dynamic of splitting the responsibilities. So you may enter into the divorce process not having information about your spouse’s responsibilities. You may not have financial details or may lack information about the children. It’s important that both of you have full information about everything involved in the settlement. But often, as information is revealed, one partner or the other becomes reactive or overwhelmed. One spouse may feel overwhelmed because they do not understand the financial aspects of their marriage while the other spouse may feel angry about the additional responsibilities they will have with the children. Our anxiousness takes on a life of its own, little problems become big problems and then grow to even bigger problems. Being mindful is critical in order to continually process new information.
By using mindfulness, you can be fully present. You receive all of the information you need. You are able to respond rather than react. You consciously choose rather than make choices on autopilot or by default. You can listen more deeply and express yourself more authentically. Mindfulness is one of the best tools you can use for any of life’s challenges.
Because I believe that mindfulness is so powerful and helpful, I will refer to it throughout this book. But to get you started, here are a few tips and exercises to train yourself to become more mindful:
1. Practice mindfulness during routine activities. Try bringing awareness to your daily activities that you may currently be doing on autopilot. For instance, try being mindful as you do the grocery shopping. Pay attention to details in the store and be really observant. Like an explorer discovering a new land, seek to leave the store with information that has always been there but you never noticed before. Notice colors throughout the store, the check stands, clerks, shopping carts. Give your full attention to products, the color and smell, the detail of each product. Without judging “good, bad” or “what I like, or what I don’t like,” simply observe all the grocery store has to offer.
2. Practice being mindful first thing in the morning. Set the tone for your day. As you wake up, notice your surroundings. Take in the colors, smell, texture and experience of your bedroom. Notice how you move from your bed to beginning your day. Don’t judge, observe. Practicing mindfulness first thing in the morning helps set your nervous
system for the rest of the day, increasing the possibility of other mindful moments throughout your day.
3. Build your mindfulness ability. Keep your practice times relatively short when you begin. Your brain will respond to being attentive to information for short periods of time at first. When you start, set a period of time aside where you commit to being mindful with information for 15 minutes three times a day. After one week of doing the practice regularly for 15 minutes, increase it to 30 minutes twice a day. After one month, increase your practice to one hour at least once a day. You are preparing yourself to be mindful for when you are in meetings about your divorce that will often last between one to two hours.
4. Practice mindfulness while you wait. In our fast-paced lives, waiting is a big source of frustration—whether you’re waiting in line or stuck in traffic. But while it might seem like a nuisance, waiting is actually an opportunity for mindfulness. It is also one of the best opportunities you can use to begin noticing information about other people. While you’re waiting, bring your attention to the people around you. Notice if they appear frustrated, sad, happy, easy-going or uptight. Notice their facial expressions and their body posture. Practicing this will be of great help to you as you go through the divorce. Learning how to read body language is being mindful, paying attention, and being committed to practice.
5. Use an affirmation when your attention starts to drift away from listening for information. Whisper a silent affirmation to yourself and use it as a reminder to turn your attention back to the information at hand, for instance, “I am aware, I am listening, I am free of judgment and fear.”
6. Follow a good plan like you follow your goals: do not run on automatic pilot, be consciously applying mindfulness with continuous effort.
7. Think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how what you say will impact the listener. If you have a chance, write it down first. Or ask to take a break so you have time to think through what you want to say before you say it. You can also wait until you have had the time to work with a coach or talk to a professional about how to express what you need to say. This is Mindful Speech.
8. Mindfulness is about being reasonable and just. Don’t un- reasonably withhold an agreement. Remember agreements beget agreements. Being reasonable and just also extends to yourself. There is no need to agree to anything until you have had the time to determine its reasonableness for you. Be mindful in reaching agreements.
Mindfulness is not a luxury—it is a practice that trains your brain to be more efficient and better integrated, with improved focus and less distractibility. It minimizes stress and even helps you become your best self. There is now an abundance of neuro- science research to support that mindfulness practice helps our brains be more integrated, so your everyday activities, thoughts, attitudes and perceptions are more aware. The best way to become more mindful is through learning to meditate. There will be a fur- ther discussion on meditation in Chapter 5.
Tool #4: Stay in This Time Zone
As we discussed earlier, when a marriage falls apart, it is human nature to look back and ask, “What the heck happened?” It’s a healthy process to delve back into the past when you use it to learn and grow. But it is not healthy to take up residence there! After you’ve gleaned the lessons that your history can teach you, rehashing it over and over simply saps your energy.
Can you change what happened in the past? No. Can you make the past different or better? No. Can you erase what you said or plug in what you should have said? No. Can you undo the decisions or choices you made? Nope. The only place you can make things better is in the present to lead toward a more positive future. Put your focus and energy on the here and now. Ask yourself,
“What can I do or say right now to feel or interact or communicate or make decisions better?” As Buddha said, “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.”
And though it is good to look forward, you don’t want to operate from there either. You may be anticipating a bright future or dreading an unknown one, but the only place you can really affect it is now. Your future will be determined by what you do, say and choose right now.
Often in the initial phases of a divorce process, my clients tell me that they simply d on’t like the present. Maybe they had to leave a beautiful home to live in a tiny apartment. Maybe they’re having trouble handling the bills or stressing about their children’s emotional upheaval. Maybe they’ve lost friends or connection to family members that were important to them. I fully understand that. But dwelling in the past or dreaming of the future will not help you feel empowered. Staying in the present, doing whatever small thing you can do now for yourself and your family, will give you a greater sense of purpose and stability. If there’s an uncomfortable circumstance in your present that you can fix, fix it. Get that haircut, spruce up your new living space, start a workout program, take up a new hobby or volunteer in your children’s schools or programs. But if there are things in your present over which you have no control, accept them and let them go.
Remaining in the present can be tricky. But if you stay aware and pull yourself back into your current “time zone” when you drift off, you will reap great benefits, feel much more capable to do what needs doing, and have a much easier time throughout the entire divorce process. As author Denis Waitley says, “Learn from the past; set vivid, detailed goals for the future; and live in the only moment over which you have control: now.”
Tool #5: Live in the Present, Plan for the Future
Okay, as Yogi Berra said, “The future ain’t what it used to be!” Consciously or unconsciously, you probably had a future mapped
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out based on your marriage. You knew where you would live and had ideas about the when and where of your retirement. Maybe you had vacations planned or trips to visit colleges for your kids. Perhaps you had visions of being grandparents together. But now all of that has come undone. Much of the pain of divorcing is that the future you envisioned disappears. It feels like a death of sorts, doesn’t it?
Take a deep breath and acknowledge that the future you had in the past is gone. Honestly, it wasn’t the only possible future for you, was it? What if you had not met your spouse or had married someone else? What if you had chosen a different occupation or had injured yourself in an accident? We all have crossroads in life that, depending on the choices we make, lead us to a different future. Right now, you’re at another crossroad. One path is no longer available to you but several others are.
Often, when clients begin this process of looking into their new future, the outlook seems pretty bleak. They are still attached to that old future and what they’ve lost. As Alexander Graham Bell said over a century ago, “When one door closes, another opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.”
Rather than focusing on what isn’t, spend some time investigating what could be. Get curious. What are the possibilities? What could be next for you? In doing this, you’ll want to stay open and loose. Imagine what is possible, not what (based on your current state and circumstances) is probable. Think big for yourself and your children. Raise the bar. Help your children create a new vision for their future as well. Though you definitely want to operate in the present, having a big, juicy vision of the future will be inspiring. It will challenge you to move beyond mere coping and surviving to living fully again.
Tool #6: Go for the Goal
Right now, it may seem exhausting to even think about setting goals! You might feel overwhelmed just trying to handle your
day-to-day tasks. Adding a goal on top of that? Not gonna happen! But the truth is that goals, when done properly, actually energize us rather than expend energy. Just like a vision inspires us, well- structured goals activate all of our cylinders and get us moving again. “Coping” and “figuring out how to get through another day” will sap our energy, but goals refuel and refresh us.
Though goals are things that you accomplish, they are not to- do lists. And though goals should be a stretch for you, they are not as broad as your visions and dreams. For example, “I am healthy, slim and fit, loving my body” is a vision. “Go to the gym” is a task for your to-do list. But a goal is, “By June 30th, I am 15 pounds lighter and have developed a regular routine of working out 3-4 times per week.” Or, “I consistently eat four servings of vegetables every day.”
You may or may not be familiar with the science of goals. As Zig Ziglar once said, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” So here are a few characteristics of effective goal setting:
1. Measurable: Your goal must be something that you can measure so you will know when you have accomplished it. “Slimmer” is not a goal. “Size 8” is.
2. Set in Time: You need a specific “by when” for your goals. Without a deadline, it’s much too easy to put off doing what needs to be done!
3. Present Tense: When you write your goals, experts say to put them in present tense, for instance “I am” rather than “I will” or “I want….” Why? Because your unconscious mind (which is a great asset in achieving goals!) takes you liter- ally. If you say, “I will be this and that,” your unconscious mind assumes that the goal is always beyond the present time.
4. A Stretch: Good goals help you expand and grow. Don’t you feel great when you’ve accomplished something that is just a bit beyond what you’ve ever done before? This sense of being challenged is part of what makes goals energizing.
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5. Realistic: If you have never run in your life, participating in a marathon that is three weeks away is not realistic. A goal that is too big of a stretch can be discouraging and stressful rather than energizing and enjoyable. Besides, your uncon- scious mind will know if your goal is too far out there and it will sabotage your efforts.
6. Personal: By this I mean that the goal, like your vision for the future, has to be something that is important to you. Other people may have ideas about what we should be or should want, but you’re the one living your life, right? Make sure that you aren’t setting your goals for your mother or the Joneses next door. Good goals are focused on what makes you feel fulfilled and happy.
What should you set goals about? In some ways, it doesn’t mat- ter. Just the act of setting a goal and moving toward it will make you feel better about yourself, more confident, and more capable—all qualities that are important as you proceed through the divorce process.
Tool #7: Let Go of the Past
We’ve discussed staying in the present and looking toward the future. Because attachment to the past is such a big stumbling block, it is worth exploring at more depth. During the divorce process, it is critical to thoroughly let go of the past as quickly as possible. If you don’t, your decisions and choices will be colored by whatever hurt, anger, resentment, disappointment, and humiliation you still cling to.
Arrgh! This may not even seem possible just yet! However, the sooner you step into the process of letting go of all that negativity, the sooner you will return to your capable, loving, rational, creative, powerful and positive self. Isn’t that the person who should be making all the important choices before you? Do you really want that crazy, bitter, reactive self to make decisions that will affect you and your children for many years to come? Do you want that resentful, vengeful self to undermine all the good you could do in this process?
While letting go of the past is important for the divorce process, letting go of all its pain is important to your own healing as well. Letting go of the past doesn’t mean simply telling yourself to get over your emotions and get on with it. It doesn’t mean that you should pretend your relationship never happened or that you’re not hurting when, in fact, you are. What it does mean is learning to live each day in the present without constantly let- ting negative emotions such as blame, anger, and resentment run your life. It means processing through the pain in whatever way works for you, so that you come out on the other end feeling whole and complete.
During this critical time, many of my clients have benefitted from counseling or working with a divorce coach. They’ve picked up books (like this one!) to get thoughtful advice from people who have traveled this road before them. Whatever you choose, make this letting go process a priority. It will benefit you more than just about anything else you do. And to assist with this, try saying these affirmations (and others that come to you) aloud, breathing deeply as you do:
I let go of resentment. I let go of anger.I let go of humiliation. I let go of fear.
I let go of disappointment.I let go of past conflicts.I let go of emotional wounds.I let go of blame.I let go of lashing out.I let go of what might have been. I let go of the past.
Tool #8: Your Support System
We’ll discuss how to build your professional support network in Chapter 9, but here, let’s talk about your personal support. These are the friends and family who can help pick you up when you’re down, act as good sounding boards for your issues and ideas, and encourage you as you move forward with your life. Optimally, these people believe in you, your capabilities and potential. They are the cheerleaders, not the naysayers. They care more about supporting your present and future than rehashing your past.
Do you have such a network? Many of my clients did not initially have one when they came to see me. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for couples to form a tight unit and ignore the friends they had when they were single. Or they build a network of couples as friends and during a divorce these friends may take sides or feel uncomfortable interacting with you separately.
I strongly urge you to not try to go it alone. If you don’t currently have a good positive network of friends and family, put some effort into developing one. Invite the mother of your child’s playmate to lunch. Meet people by doing activities you enjoy. Join support groups or a spiritual community of your choice. Building a network of supportive friends, or even just one supportive relationship, can be vital to your wellbeing. The more people you have in your life, the more likely you are to have truly supportive relationships with at least one of them. Some people give off positive energy that makes you feel good. Others give off negative energy that is draining. Pay attention to your intuition to find a healthy social circle. Ask yourself, do you feel they truly understand and accept you? Do you truly understand and accept them? Do you feel energized or energetically depleted after spending time with them? Do you include them in your life for the positive qualities they bring out in you, or not? For a free copy of Divorce Done Easier come to Family Law Center at 1722 Professional Drive Sacramento