What to Expect When You're Divorcing - Part II
This post is a continuation of last week’s post What to Expect When You’re Divorcing. If you haven’t read that one yet, I highly recommend reading it. That post was written more for the person who doesn’t necessarily want the divorce or wasn’t the one to initiate it. This post is written for the one who has asked for or initiated the divorce proceedings. Or even for someone who is in the contemplation stage of asking for a divorce. There will be quite a bit of overlap as each side has some similar experiences in the process, but often at different times.
So, what can you expect?
Emotions, emotions, emotions. And more emotions. You may have been contemplating divorce for a long time (even years) before you said anything to your spouse. Many people internally contemplate the idea of divorce, start to distance and withdraw, and grieve the loss of the marriage without the spouse knowing it is occurring. You may have wrestled with the decision to even ask for a divorce and struggled with anxiety and tension while deciding. Other emotions you may feel are sadness, anger, hurt, pain, humiliation, betrayal, heartbreak, fear of the unknown post-divorce life, resentment, and sorrow. Asking for the divorce may bring relief, hope, excitement, and a sense of freedom.
To be clear, most people who ask for a divorce don’t really want it, but have made the difficult decision to end the relationship because it is unhealthy or their spouse won’t attend couples counseling or changes that need to be made in order to make it healthier aren’t happening. They are just as devastated about the relationship ending – it just may not appear that way to their spouse.
There will also be similar grief experiences as your spouse. You will mourn the loss of the relationship, the future dreams and plans, and other changes that occur: time away from your kids, potentially a new house or living situation, loss of family traditions and holiday traditions. These feelings need to be acknowledged, named, felt, and worked through. If you are the type of person who tends to stuff emotions down, expect that you’re either going to be constantly finding ways to avoid these (which usually results in negative coping mechanisms) or they’re going to give you no choice but to face them because they are intense and powerful. And I do promise that if you try to avoid them, you’re likely to be engaging in destructive behaviors which you will eventually have to confront because the emotions won’t disappear until you work through them.
Feeling like a failure.
Similar to last week’s post, the spouse who initiates the divorce can also feel like a failure. You made the commitment, said the vows, and believed whole heartedly at the time of marriage it was forever. You never imagined yourself here, asking for a divorce. Remember, marriage is a complex dynamic between two people and it is not entirely one person’s fault the relationship is ending, even if there is infidelity. I encourage you to look at the relationship through the lens of healthy and unhealthy rather than success or failure.
What were you able to accomplish over your time together? Creating and raising children together, supporting careers, taking vacations, making memories, navigating life’s challenges, having fun experiences, etc. Those are all “successes” or “wins” over the course of the marriage that need to be treasured and held on to. There is so much emotion and grief in divorce because you love someone and care about them. All of the good does not have to go out the window because the time together has come to an end. It may take a while to get to the place of being able to frame it this way, but if you can work towards valuing what was, it will help you adjust to end of this chapter in your life.
Shame and/or guilt.
Many people feel guilty over asking for a divorce because they don’t want to hurt their spouse, leaving is difficult, they understand how it will change their loved ones’ lives and don’t want to cause pain. Or they feel responsible for their spouse’s happiness or they don’t believe they have enough worth to get out of a relationship that isn’t healthy. Guilt can also be associated with the religious values around divorce. Challenge yourself and ask if the guilt is appropriate. Are you doing something wrong or are you doing something that is good and healthy for you?
Shame and guilt can also be spurred by feeling as though you’re not meeting the cultural and societal expectations of staying married forever, hence you’ve failed or you’re not good enough. Or maybe as the child of divorced parents, you were determined not to repeat that and felt as though you were doing everything you could to protect your marriage and your children from experiencing the same thing.
Shame is “I am a bad person,” and guilt is “I’ve done something wrong.” If you are experiencing shame and guilt related to your divorce, I encourage you to do some challenging around these belief systems that are leading to these emotions. Are you really a bad person? Where is the evidence? Have you done something wrong? We all make mistakes in relationships. This tends to go back towards the failure beliefs described above. Work towards a place of acceptance and forgiveness – of yourself and your spouse. Spend time focusing on the new life you want to create. Reach out to a counselor to help you work through these topics and challenge your belief systems because staying stuck in shame and guilt will not allow you to move forward with your life. Perhaps this is what is keeping you from even asking for a divorce.
Worry about what others will think.
This is the same as what your spouse experiences. Many people keep the fact that they are going through a divorce a secret. Or they put off telling friends and family members because of fear - “what will they think?” They are worried that people will judge them, not understand, be unsupportive, etc. They are concerned that people will feel sorry for them or they will be a source of workplace gossip. They try to put on a brave face that everything is ok, but it is pretty difficult to hide something this devastating. In my experience, most of the time when clients eventually tell friends and family members, they actually receive support and empathy from others. They don’t get what they feared, instead, they get a support system. Divorce is so common that we all know someone who has been divorced. We know either first hand or from observation how difficult and painful it is. People around us want to support us and be there for us in difficult times. And if you do have people in your life who are not supportive and are not going to be a positive resource for you, then distance yourself from them during this time and find others who will be.
Feel at a disadvantage.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from your spouse, often times once you ask for a divorce and have the relief of that step, you are ready to move forward with action steps. It may be frustrating and irritating that your spouse does not want to take any steps. This is because you are much farther down the emotional processing road than they are and they are the beginning of the grief road. It may feel like it is taking forever and you are ready to have it over! This can get evened out with the help of professionals such a divorce coach, a divorce/separation counselor, or attorneys that are skilled at navigating and balancing the dynamics of divorce.
Overwhelm with tasks.
Similar experience to your spouse. People don’t realize how intertwined their lives are until they start the divorce process. There will be lots of documentation to gather. Tax returns, W-2s, pay stubs, mortgage statements, credit card and bank statements, insurance policies, retirement plans, stocks and investment accounts, documents for loans (cars, boats, student loans, HELOCs), medical debts, all expenses related to the house, and the list continues. Typically, the attorneys or team helping you with the divorce will want to look at 2-5 years of financial history.
Preparing budgets. Often times there is one person in the marriage who has managed the finances and the other has not been involved as much. Or they haven’t needed a budget or perhaps not having a budget led to marital conflict. Whatever it is, for many the idea of tracking all income and projecting their future expenses based on speculations is overwhelming and they often time want to avoid it. But it is a necessary part of this process for many reasons.
You may decide you want to sell the marital residence. This requires getting the house ready, hiring a real estate agent, making necessary repairs, putting it on the market, going through the selling process, securing a new place to live, packing up, and moving. Moving is a stressful event without the added stressor of a divorce.
All of these tasks, plus scheduling meetings with professionals and making decisions about your future are overwhelming. Meanwhile, you have to tend to the necessary daily tasks of raising kids, working, cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, etc. Too much!! Ask for help. Let your support system help you!
This is similar to your spouse. In the divorce process, you have numerous decisions to make about your future, which can be exhausting. Which legal process do we want to use – what are our options? Where do I want to live? Am I going to be able to afford it? What do we want our co-parenting time to looks like? Does he want Christmas Eve, does she want Christmas day? How do we split the retirement accounts? What do we do with investment properties? Who is going to pay for the credit card debt? Who is getting the big leather couch downstairs? What amount do I need for spousal support? And some decisions are made even more difficult by the fact that they are informed by future budgets made on estimates of expenses and you don’t have 100% accurate information. So. Many. Decisions. Take them one at a time and rely on a team of professionals to help.
Adjustment to many changes and transitions.
Also a similar experience to your spouse. Everything changes when divorce enters your life. Your family system and structure get rearranged, your daily routine changes, your social circles may change (losing some and adding others), new living space, different standard of living, you may not see your kids every day or have them on all the holidays, your role and identity as a husband or wife changes, separate family vacations (or maybe you still do them together – it’s possible!), seemingly mundane things like where you work out may change… it is an entirely new landscape when you rebuild your life. And as we know, change can be difficult and most people don’t like it. Reach out to your support systems, keep your healthy coping mechanisms in place (exercise, meditation, hobbies, journaling) and if you can find anything positive about the changes (maybe your new house has a feature or room you’ve always wanted), then hold on to those elements and try to find the little joys in life.
Children will be impacted.
Hopefully this will be a similar experience to your spouse because regardless of what is happening between the two of you, your children’s needs are of the utmost importance and need to be prioritized. It is important for the two of you to be on the same page and present a united front with them. A question people often wrestle with and ask me in the divorce process when they are discussing how to share the news is “How will my children be impacted?” or “Are they going to be ok?” My response is Yes, they will be impacted and how they respond is most importantly influenced by the level of conflict between you and your spouse before and after the divorce. The divorce is changing their entire world as well and they need to go through their own grief process. However, the negative impact can be mitigated if the adults can navigate the process with respect, cooperation, and put their children’s well-being first. Many people will say that is their intent and then act the opposite. I will go into further detail on this in upcoming posts because it is a topic all on its own but know the divorce does not have to be a long-lasting trauma in their life if you and your spouse navigate it in a healthy manner.
Don’t go through this alone. Reach out and seek support systems through therapy, friends, co-workers, family, church, divorce recovery groups, and seek qualified professionals to help you and your spouse navigate this divorce in a way that is not going to destroy your family.
The East Tennessee Collaborative Alliance is a group of professionals committed to and trained in Collaborative Divorce. We help families navigate this process in a healthy way. Even if you do not do a full collaborative divorce, choosing attorneys, financial professionals, and coaches that understand this approach can make a huge difference in your divorce experience.
I am available to provide divorce/separation counseling to the couple, individual counseling, divorce coaching, mediation, and collaborative divorce. How can I help you? Courtney is available to provide coaching on how to talk to your children about divorce and therapy for your children. We’d be honored to hear from you and guide you through this difficult journey..