Your old life is over. Here's how to start your new one.
When you find out your spouse has filed for divorce, it’s pretty normal to feel disbelief — like there must be some mistake.
There’s no way they would just throw in the towel like that ... would they?
Once they confirm that they do want out, you’re overcome with despair.
You wonder if you’ll survive this completely unwanted destruction of your life.
And as reality begins to sink in, your fears start to rise up. In the midst of your despair, you’re overcome with dread because you begin imagining what your life (and your kids’ lives) will become.
All you can see is misery, destruction, and legal bills.
Some of your fears are true.
Divorce will destroy your life, but only the life that used to exist — not the life that’s ahead of you.
And believe it or not, despite how terrifying they are, your fears are actually trying to help you survive your divorce, and create a new life for yourself that will really work for you.
Despite the terror they induce, your fears are warnings.
They are the absolute worst-case scenario and alert you to a risk or threat you’re facing that you need to do something about.
There are umpteen million years of evolution that also come into play when you’re afraid. So, you’re going to automatically react to each of your fears by freezing, fleeing or fighting because that’s the fear response taking control.
How to keep yourself sane, even when it feels like everything is falling apart:
The trick to maintaining your sanity through the overwhelming changes of divorce is to become aware of how you’re responding to each of your fears, and choose to respond in the most appropriate way to dispel the fear and protect yourself from the risk or threat.
Yes, that seems like a big task. But you can handle it.
For example, you might find yourself continuing to deny that your ex is really going to go through with the divorce, despite their assurances that they are (and the letters you’ve received from their attorney).
You're afraid to face the end of your marriage because the future is so uncertain and the divorce is so unwanted. And that is understandable.
But because you’re denying the situation, your automatic response to this fear is to freeze.
You’re hoping that by ignoring the threat that it won’t happen — that your ex will come to their senses.
Unfortunately, playing ostrich and sticking your head in the sand isn’t the most appropriate response. And not the one that's going to help you most in the end.
A more caring and supportive response would be to start getting into action.
Begin thinking about what you would like your post-divorce life to be like. These thoughts don’t need to be elaborate.
A great place to start is thinking about how you would like the pain of rejection to be less sharp in the future, and then go online to see what advice is out there.
Recognize that the most productive fear response isn’t a reflex, but a choice.
A choice to thoughtfully fight, to take well thought-out action, in facing your divorce.
Unfortunately, recognizing that this is what you need to do doesn’t make it easy or natural to do.
So here are 3 tips to help you become more adept at changing your instinctual fear response:
1. Change the story you’re telling yourself.
Fears are scariest when you focus on the worst-case scenarios they conjure up — the negative "what-ifs".
What if I wind up living on the streets?
What if I can’t find a job that pays a living wage?
What if the divorce destroys the kids?
What if I’m alone for the rest of my life?
What if I really am unlovable?
Dwelling on the negativity of all these fears isn’t going to help you beyond identifying what you need to reduce the threat of.
It’s just self-inflicted torture.
Instead, come up with five positive what-ifs for every negative one you’re struggling with.
What if I go to school to improve my skills? What if I work two jobs? What if I start my own business? What if I take out a loan to tide us over until I get back on my feet? What if I move in with my parents until I make enough?
These examples may not work for you, and that’s OK.
Whatever fear you’re trying to disarm, just find some positive what-if’s that inspire you to act.
That way you can respond to your fears from a place of confidence, instead of victimhood.
2. Act to start making one of your positive what-if’s a reality.
There’s no one right answer here for what you need to do, in order to start making your positive what-if a reality.
You might choose to start creating a plan to achieve what you want, asking for help, or getting back to what you’ve already decided to do.
Once you get started, you’ll surprise yourself with how quickly you start to feel better.
Working to make what you want to happen a reality will decrease your fears more than you could ever guess.
3. Be thankful for what you do have.
You might think this sounds cheesy, but choosing gratitude for what you do have, instead of living in fear of what you don’t (or soon won’t) will completely change your mindset.
You’ll realize that you have a lot more than many other people do.
You’ll also realize that lots of other people have made it through divorce too. And with this knowledge it’s so much easier to be thankful instead of fearful.
You’re probably thinking that these tips sound like mind games.
And you’re absolutely right.
The thing is that living in fear of what might happen because your spouse has filed for divorce is a mind game too.
A horrible mind game that will have you wondering if you’ll survive or lose your mind trying.
So, which mind game would you prefer — one that gives you hope and sparks the determination you need to make the rest of your life even more wonderful than the past or one that leaves you whimpering in fear and pain?
The decision to divorce may not be yours, but how you’ll let the divorce shape the rest of your life is 100% yours.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach who helps people just like you who want support in dealing with the pain of divorce. You can join her newsletter group for free advice or schedule a FREE 30-minute conversation with Karen directly in her Time Trade calendar.