“We are getting a divorce.” Did you really just say that out loud?
There are no “top 10” lists or spiritually enlightened comments that I can offer to calm the tsunami of emotion and mental gymnastics that are now flooding your body and brain. For some, it is the shattering of how one defined oneself, for others it is the fear of being alone, or the fear of being financially challenged, or not being able to parent the same way. For many it is dominated by rage and betrayal, and in some cases, it brings a feeling of profound relief and liberation. No matter what the situation, it is for everyone, uncomfortable change.
I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. So here is the enlightened comment I can offer, life happens. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to stop it from happening. Whether it is cancer, a life-changing accident, a business failure, or even a natural disaster, significant life transitions, like divorce, happen. It happens to family, to neighbors, to colleagues, to your boss, to your child’s school teacher, to your bus driver, to so many people. It happens. The problem is, you definitely never thought it would happen to you. So, now what?
As a major life transition comprised of emotional layers, a complex business transaction and an entirely new family dynamic, the weight of it collapses us. From day one of just thinking about it to many months or even years later when it has been completed, it is a painful process of change to absolutely everything that was.
Some people are wired to embrace change and thrive with it. Others are thrown into a complete tailspin because stability supports and protects them. The key to divorce, and likely a factor that contributes to the chaos and systemic failure, is that it is different for everyone. The mindset, the facts, the emotional impact, the family situation —everyone has a different experience and a different reaction and response. But for everyone it represents change.
Divorce professionals can be unintentionally insensitive to the anxiety we feel around change. They will casually toss around the fact that you’ll sell the house or a parenting schedule where you don’t get to take the kids to school activities, or the fact that you have to go back to work full-time. Whatever the scenario, it is the profound and sometimes psychologically debilitating change that is being forced upon you due to circumstances beyond your control. For many, this is the essence of divorce – the emotional response to the upheaval and uncertainty and endlessly uncomfortable change.
So, how to embrace change? Divorce brings grief over a significant ending, but it can also represent new beginnings and hope. Even the smallest step forward each day is a step toward establishing new routines. It is a chance to redirect our day with a new approach to time and schedule, open new doors, create new relationships and re-define the parts of us that may have been set aside in a marriage. It is important to acknowledge and work through the grief and any resistance to change, which for some might be through work with a mental health professional, reaching out to friends and family for deeper connection, or indulging in an activity or interest you haven’t been able to pursue. In a divorce, many people spend a lot of time looking backward, but it is essential to also look forward. The changes brought on by divorce are undoubtedly uncomfortable but as a hopeful optimist, I believe in the transformation of uncomfortable change to unimaginable happiness for the long-term.