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Three Ways to Put Yourself First When Divorcing

We can’t be good at the many roles we play, if we don’t put ourselves first.  It isn’t being selfish, but being responsible.  Never is it more important than when getting divorced.  Three ways, explained in more detail below, are to take care of you, to imagine your future, and to choose a divorce process that helps you, such as mediation or collaboration.

Getting divorced is typically one of the most difficult things people go through in life.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the divorce was your idea, or your spouse’s.  Each party may feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under them.   You may feel physically ill, out of control, angry, or sad.  You will experience grief.  If the divorce wasn’t your idea, your instinct may be to hurt your spouse in an effort to exact revenge and make them hurt at an equal level to what you are experiencing.  I invite you to put those feelings aside, and focus on you.  We have all heard that the best revenge is living well.

1) Take Care of You.

Create a new habit that is all your own.  Find something that removes you from your regular routine.  You will have a new perspective and think different thoughts.  You may find that you are braver, which will come in handy during the difficult times ahead of you.  You may feel less angry at your spouse and be less reactive if you are cared for by yourself.  Taking a walk in nature, doing yoga, meditating, reading, bicycling, doing origami, or quilting are activities that may calm and nurture you.  Figure out what gives you joy and spend some time every day doing it, even though you don’t have any time.  I promise you, it will be worth it! 

There are many components to living a healthy life, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, finding good company and consulting appropriate sources of information.  We all know the right things to do, and yes, you should make an effort.  Although it may be tempting to deal with your stress by starting a cigarette smoking habit or drinking to excess, now is really not the time.  That wouldn’t be putting yourself first, but treating yourself quite badly.

It is difficult to care for your children when you are in pain.  It may be time to let some things slide and enjoy being in the moment with your children.  If life seems too hard, just focus on what you have to do in the next hour or two.  Life seems more doable in small increments.   When you are taking care of you, you will have the mind space for the second way to put yourself first.

2) Imagine Your Future.

Nobody gets married with the intention of getting divorced, so now that the unexpected is happening (divorce) you need to make a new plan.   This may be as difficult to begin as putting on your shoes and taking the walk or run you committed to in the previous section.  Putting yourself first means writing the next chapter of your story.  It is easier to blame your spouse and be angry, but that won’t give you the life you want.  During the divorce process, you will make many decisions that will impact your future life, so if you have done some dreaming and made some plans, you will make better decisions.

Do you want your children to be happy and healthy?  Do you want to be able to communicate with your spouse about the children?  No matter how old your children are now, there will be events that you will both want to attend.   Do you want to be able to do that successfully, so that your divorce doesn’t interfere with your children in the future?

Do you want to be as financially secure as possible?  The decisions you make now can have a big impact on your financial future.   Do you want to keep the house?  Can you afford to keep the house?  Do you need to go back to school so you can support yourself? 

Do you want to welcome a new partner into your future life?  We humans are social creatures and even though you may be saying “never again” to another relationship, you probably don’t really mean it. 

Visualizing a future life for yourself will make the present easier to endure.  You will have something to live for.  You need to figure out how to make your dreams come true.  Now that you are firmly in charge of taking care of you and planning your future, it is unlikely that you will want to choose a divorce process that strips you of control.  It is unlikely that you will allow someone else (a judge) to make decisions about your future.   Now that you have given yourself permission to put yourself first, hopefully you will continue to, with the very important decision of how you will get divorced.

3) Choose a Divorce Process That Helps You.

You have options as to how you get divorced.  Learn about them and decide which one is best for you.  Then you will need to communicate with your spouse to make a final decision together.   Mediation and Collaborative Practice can make things better. 

Mediation and Collaborative Practice allow you and your spouse to make all the decisions, with the level of support you need from appropriate professionals.  Each of you has opportunity to share what is important to you.  Understanding what your spouse wants is critical to arriving at a plan for dividing assets and debts, determining support, and crafting parenting schedules.  Additionally, you need to change the relationship you have now into something brand new.  This requires communication and problem solving. You can talk about what happened in the marriage, if you want to.  The purpose of this is not to blame, but to evaluate.  Apologies, if warranted, can help each of you start the next chapter of your lives.   It may be painful to be at a meeting with your spouse, either in person, or virtually, but the meetings will help you reach better agreements more quickly. 

When you go to court, you don’t really get to say what is on your mind.  Typically, the conferences prior to a trial consist of the lawyers talking to the judge or referee.  Lawyers report to the clients what happened during the conference.  What is important to you may not be on the court’s agenda.  Most cases settle, but if you actually have a trial, you will likely be disappointed with what you are able to say when you testify.   What is important to you is generally not relevant and won’t be allowed.  Most importantly, whatever relationship you had with your spouse will be damaged even further, which is not a healthy thing, whether or not you have children.         

Mediation is an intimate, private, powerful process.  If couples commit to mediation, and choose a skilled mediator, they can have very good outcomes.  Couples begin their marriage with a high degree of intimacy.  Mediation is an appropriate way to end a union that began in love and respect.  Some people believe that they need to get along with their spouse and have everything decided before they go to mediation.  Not true!  Good mediators have had a lot of training in dealing with conflict and problem solving.  A good mediator has many ideas for you.   Mediators are impartial and neutral, but he or she may also be omnipartial, caring about both of you reaching a full settlement that you each can live with.             

For those who need the support of an attorney at their side, Collaborative Practice provides a bigger team than mediation.  Everyone on the team is committed to avoiding court. The participation agreement contains a disqualification clause.  If a party decides to terminate the Collaboration and go to court, both parties must begin with new lawyers.  This changes everything for the better.  The only agenda of the team is helping you and your spouse get to an agreement with terms that you both can live with.    

The discomfort of the present can, and will, ease.  Putting yourself first will help you get through the present and create your best future.

Nina L. Giardina, Esq. is a mediator and collaborative lawyer.  She puts herself first by running and hiking in nature, and reading fiction.  She has experienced the damage that litigation can cause to families and knows that there is a better way.  She offers free process consultations to help you choose the divorce process that will begin the next chapter of your happily ever after.