I used to be a therapist. Now I practice family law, which in some ways is not very different. I consider it part of my job to help my clients find solutions that have the best long-term results. Legal outcomes depend on legal rules. Likewise, a good personal outcome requires applying some rules as well. Here are a few suggestions that can help you maintain your mental and emotional health as you separate or divorce.
1. Remember you once loved this person. You may not love this person anymore. You may want to hit this person with a frying pan. However, you cannot undo the fact that the two of you chose to be in a relationship. You do not have to be friends now, but you do not have to think of him or her as a sorry rotten liar either. Essentially, that is saying to yourself, “I am someone who will choose a sorry rotten liar.” or “I am someone who does not know how to discern a good person from a sorry rotten liar.” Both lead to either avoiding new relationships or racing into them to prove those thoughts are wrong. Letting the relationship go while maintaining some positive feelings is a much easier transition anyway. Hope the best for this person you are leaving behind.
2. Fight fairly. Yes, you should get the numbers on the table, talk about your assets and debts, and walk away with what is yours. However, any part of you that wants to walk away with what is his or hers is not a part of you that you should feed. Ten years from now that extra money, or car, or furniture, or whatever it is that you felt so powerful wresting from this other person will not make you any happier. Looking back and seeing that you stood up for yourself but dealt fairly will.
3. Remember that your children were not married to this person. They have a very different relationship than you do with your ex. Maybe your ex cheated on you, yelled at you, cleaned out your savings account, ran over your flower garden and said they were glad to be free of you on Facebook. These things do not make a bad parent. Maybe your ex is a bad parent, but it is not because your ex was a bad partner. Are you trying to limit their custodial time? Are you saying it is in the children’s best interest? Be honest; are you really doing that because it is in your best interest? If so, stop it. All of you deserve better.
4. Have fun. Spend the day with an old friend. See a movie. Eat some chocolate. Have a picnic. Listen to music. Paint the bathroom your favorite color. Do things you were not able to do when you were with that other person. Do things that help you believe your new life is a good one.
5. Find support in and outside of yourself. You need people to talk to, complain to and cry with. You need people who will distract you, cheer you up and take you out for ice cream. You also need you. Sit with yourself. This is the you that you have been since the day you were born and will be until the day you die regardless of who you marry or break up with. What are you going to do with you?
6. Feel your feelings. Your feelings are important. If you do not let yourself feel them, they will pile up and come out in other ways. They are also not facts. You do not have to let them make your decisions.
7. You are not a vending machine. Don’t act like one. You do not have buttons that someone can push to get a certain response, like a bag of Yelling Chips or a Destroy Your Stuff bar. Regardless of what anyone else does, you still choose your response. Take responsibility for your choices, good and bad. True strength comes from knowing no one can make your choices for you.
8. When you really do not know what to do, ask yourself this question: If 20 years from now I was looking back at today, what would I want to have seen myself do?
Kelly Fairman, M.S., L.P.C., J.D., is a certified family financial court mediator and certified parent coordinator who practices law in Durham, N.C.