Like it or not, there’s a brutal truth about getting divorced that some people refuse to accept: You have no control over how your ex feels about the breakup or how they behave, and you cannot control all of the things that are changing in your life.
I see people in my capacity as a divorce coach and mediator who do not like the hand they have been dealt. Admittedly, for some, it’s a pretty rubbish hand, and if I were in their position, I too would want to throw it back and insist on a re-deal. Unfortunately, when at least one party has decided to call time on the relationship, a new hand of cards to work with is seldom an option.
Generally speaking, it’s the people who’ve been dealt the shoddiest hand, who seem more able to quickly recognise they have limited options and focus their energy on what they have left to work with, rather than what they have lost.
In stark contrast, there’s another type of person who struggles to move forward and doesn’t have the skills to overcome their overwhelm and anxiety. Again, generally speaking, these people have choices; their financial futures will change but still be relatively secure, they have their health, can spend time with their children, and although their ex may not be their most favourite person, with the healing of time there is a good chance their relationship will become ‘tolerable’.
Even with all of these things stacked in their favour, this person carries a tremendous amount of stress and worry. Almost always, their circumstances are nowhere near as daunting as they imagined them to be. Until they learn the skills to stop worrying and start working towards creating their future, worry creates problems that do not need to exist. Paralysed by fear, they stall on making decisions, which in turn creates more issues for them. Perhaps there is something in the expression ‘spoilt for choice’, in that the luxury of choice might make decisions more difficult.
What I notice most about this worrying type of person, (and I recognise it so clearly because it was me too), is that rather than focus on what they still have, they focus on what they are losing; namely, they focus on the loss of control in some form or other.
You cannot retain control over all aspects of separation. Things must change. Even if you maintain the status quo, the other person’s behaviour often forces change and you will be affected by default. You cannot control the other person’s feelings or actions.
If you resist this truth, you run the risk of running yourself into a bitter control freak trying to right the wrongs and claw back control.
Control freaks micro-manage
Control freaks have an unrealistic idea of their own importance, entitlement or indispensability. Perhaps they feel their parenting style is the only one with any merit, or they are the only person who knows how the family finances work. They try to force their ex to abide by their expectations, or they attempt to alienate their ex. People who worry about losing control imagine that if they can somehow gain enough control over other people and the situations they are experiencing, then they will be able to avoid outcomes that they don’t want to face.
Some of us know we can’t prevent bad things from happening, but we still can’t stop ourselves worrying anyway. This type of worrier agonises about everything from what people will think about their marriage failing to how their ex is spending their time. They know they can’t control it, but they can’t let it go. These people have difficulty accepting the inevitable. There is something going on in their psyche that says, if I worry enough, I may be able to find a way, or convince someone else, to change the outcome, take the pain away, or most often, to hold the other person accountable for the grief they have caused.
Worrying keeps them occupied, but ultimately, it is a waste of time and energy because worrying does not change a thing – except perhaps sleeping patterns and blood pressure.
If you find yourself wasting time and your energy worrying about things you can’t control, here are six tips that might help.
HOW TO STAY CALM DURING YOUR SEPARATION
1. Determine what you can control
When you find yourself worrying, take a step back from your circumstances and examine the things you do have control over. What could you change for the better if you applied yourself?
You can’t control the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails.
Sometimes, all that you have control over is your attitude. You can’t control someone else’s actions, but you can always control how you react.
When you focus your energy on identifying and dealing with the things you can control, you’ll be more effective and ultimately happier. Once you identify what you can do, take the steps to put your plan into action. You will most likely find this also frees up a lot of your time.
2. Focus your influence
You can’t always force things to go your way or force other people to behave how you think they should, but you may be able to influence people and circumstances to some extent in your favour. So, while you can plan a good holiday itinerary, you can’t always make the travellers enjoy it.
The best way to gain influence is to focus on changing your behaviour. Be a good role model. Set healthy boundaries for yourself, especially if you are a parent. Make time to seek out laughter and fun, especially when you are least feeling like it.
When you have concerns about your ex’s choices, you might consider sharing your opinion, but only share it once.
Your relationship has broken down, which is a fair indicator that you and your ex are not communicating very well, and you are perhaps the least likely person they want to take counsel from right now.
If you do have the opportunity to share and they are willing to listen, when you have made your point, stop talking. Better still, unless there is a risk to you or another person, resist the urge to make your point in the first place.
Focus your influence on healing yourself and providing support to your children if you are a parent.
3. Identify your fears
What are you afraid will happen? Ask yourself; what is it that I fear?
Are you predicting a disastrous outcome? Do you doubt your ability to cope without your partner either financially, emotionally or as a parent?
Try to the extend that thought; let’s say you are right to be fearful of inevitable negative outcomes, then what is the worst that could happen?
Usually, the worst-case scenario isn’t as catastrophic as you might imagine. There’s a good chance you’re more resilient than you think. And, I am almost certain that your children will take their lead from you and they will surprise you with their ability to cope with change if you present a calm front.
Sometimes we are so busy thinking things like, ‘I can’t cope if I have to sell the family home,’ that we don’t take the time to ask ourselves, ‘What will I do if I have to sell the family home?’ Perhaps there are alternatives you had not considered that might be better for you both emotionally and financially.
List the options, get information and do your research about possible paths forward and the pros and cons. Yes! Believe it, there will be pros.
Identifying the worst-case scenario helps you plan strategically. Identifying what can happen helps to accept that there may be undesirable outcomes but also that you have a plan to minimise the impact and the knowledge that you will survive. When you have a plan, you will be better able to put your energy into focussing on moving forward with your new life instead of getting stuck in bitterness, resentment or fear.
4. Differentiate between ruminating and problem-solving
Replaying negative conversations and scenarios in your head or imagining disastrous outcomes over and over again, isn’t helpful, but solving a problem is.
Ask yourself whether your thought processes are productive. Are your thoughts actively working towards solving a problem? Are you trying to find alternatives and ways to increase your chances of success or are you just replaying the same story of gloom and doom and etching your pain deeper and deeper with every viewing?
Try to keep your thinking focused on brainstorming and refining solutions.
If you find yourself wasting energy ruminating and rerunning the same old movie in your head, you need to find a way to short circuit your thoughts; to switch channels and watch a different movie.
Acknowledge that your thoughts aren’t helpful, and physically move to do something else, an activity you engage in to get your brain to shift its focus on to something more positive or productive.
5. Create a plan to manage your stress
Do whatever it takes to manage your stress levels so that you can function more efficiently, make the decisions that need to be made and keep yourself future focussed. If you don’t, you can very quickly get yourself into a downward flat spin.
Find healthy stress relievers like meditation, an enjoyable hobby or spending time with friends or family.
Actively stop yourself from engaging in unhealthy coping activities like drinking too much or staying in bed during the day.
Be aware that no one, just no one, is as interested in your divorce as you are and stop complaining to others. Every time you tell someone else of your woe, you are reinforcing it to yourself which only adds to your stress.
Seriously, just stop it!
It’s tedious, and if you persist, you run the risk of losing valuable supporters as they tire of the emotional drain that spending time with you and your constant complaining places on them.
6. Develop healthy affirmations
Find quotes and phrases that work for you to help remind you to either calm down or kick your own backside into action.
Place them around your home, car, office and other places where they will act as constant reminders.
I have three favourites. The first is what I remind myself when I feel worry creeping in:
‘Like all things, both good and bad, this too shall pass.’
When I need to spur myself into action I rely on;
‘Don’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.’
‘Life rewards action’.