Divorce - coping when it feels like a war zone
Firstly, if this is you, my condolences. Any separation is difficult.
Difficult because our society demands we are at our pragmatic and logical best, despite being emotionally bereaved or overwhelmed. Add in our still largely adversarial legal system, and for many of us it can feel like life in a war zone. Symptoms such as low self-confidence, extreme stress, anxiety, depression and even panic are typical. This is not a good time to be making major life decisions. Yet that is exactly what we have to do. Finances, housing and parenting all need to be renegotiated and with long term consequences. Put simply, we were not designed to be logical and emotional at the same time, and we are not very good at it.
So can your therapist help?
Okay, as a relationship therapist I am biased here. However I have been privileged to work with a range of individuals as they coped with really tough, messy relationship ends. Not only coped effectively, but also acted with great humanity. People who afterwards felt proud of how they coped and what they achieved. So if you feel overwhelmed, I’d like to encourage you to talk with your therapist and see how they can help.
...and in particular ask them about three crucial areas:
1. Managing emotions: Ideally we need to give necessary expression to the feelings of hurt, anger or loss. However at the same time we need to ensure that their expression does not get in our way. The old cutting up your ex’s suits in the face of an affair may feel good at the time, but might be used against you at a later stage.
2. Self-care: When we feel our world has suddenly collapsed it can help to check in with the basics on a weekly basis. Are we eating okay. Exercising. Doing our best to sleep well. Being careful with use of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or drugs. This is just the time when we might use these to prop us up, yet some will have the opposite effect.
3. Coping with the practicalities: While as therapists we offer no legal advice or views, we are experts in human communication and emotions. We can explore how you would like to respond when that loving partner seems to have turned so against you. How to present yourself in court. What to say to children, etc.
But is this really therapy?
Good point. Perhaps a better description would be, ‘helping me get the best from myself in a really tough situation’. Perhaps it is more coaching and practically focused. Helping you get through what needs to be done today, tomorrow and before the next session. Moving forward one step at a time.
Ask your lawyer if they think a good therapist might help. In my experience family lawyers are often acute observers of not just the legal, but also the emotional. And may even be able to recommend a divorce therapist for you.
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