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Eyes Up and Forward – Protecting your Mental Health after Divorce

The breakdown of a relationship and the separation that follows, married or not, children or not, is one of the worst times in anyone’s life – having to deal with solicitors and the legal process of untangling your relationship can, if you are not careful, become a corrosive process.

Even the most buoyant of personalities can be brought down.  Having been a divorce lawyer for 27 years, I have seen both men and women struggle with moving forward through this process – no matter how amicable and constructive both parties are trying to be. The situation becomes even harder when one party to this process is making it difficult or trying to solve old hurts through the separation/divorce/financial distribution process.

One of the problems I see time and again is where the person I am working with becomes entrenched in a “pain cycle”.   The further they look down and the more their mind revisits, time and again, a negative aspect of the process, the more deeply they drill into that negative aspect and uncover further layers of negativity and that person can very quickly find themselves spiralling, almost without being able to stop as they drill down deeper and deeper into negativity.  This is very easy to do at a time when you are hurt and your emotions are heightened by the process in any event.

The legal process will reach its result and the outcome will always be in the same bracket and range of possibilities whether you are intensely negative about the process or intensely positive.  How you think about the process and your former partner  and how you feel at the end of the process, is very much a matter of perception and your understanding.

However, there are some “tricks of the trade” that will help you ensure that you can, as best as possible, skate over the difficulties and come to a resolution and an outcome that suits you.  Here are some ‘top tips’ that I want to share with you, that have helped clients of mine (and frankly, when I needed it, me).

Look to the future

Picture and picture very clearly, and in as much detail as you like, where you want to be in 3- or 5-years’ time.

Once you have that image in your mind, focus on it always.  It is difficult to look down into a pit of negativity if your gaze is not at your feet but looking forward to the future and a bright future at that.  Imagine yourself having moved passed this process, in a home with which you are happy spending time with your children and loved ones, with enough money coming in to be comfortable and at a point with your ex where you can be cordial and in the same room as each other.

This last point is particularly important if you are going to need to co-parent.  After all, well into the children’s majority there are going to be events (engagements, weddings etc.) where you and your former partner will need to be present and not be a burden or cause for worry for your children.

Having worked on where you want to be in a positive way in the future, this will help you keep your “eyes up” looking forward and so whilst there are points in this process which will be upsetting or angering, you can look up and forward away from those points and step over or around them, keeping your eye on the future prize.

Parties that can take that sort of view are less susceptible to responding intemperately to triggers and pressure that will occur in the divorce process and will ultimately have a better chance of achieving the successful outcome they want because they will not engage in the negative minutia and looking forward provides a realism that will enable you to accept the compromises that inevitably happen in order to achieve a robust and satisfactory settlement.

Keep busy

I cannot stress enough how easy it is for parties to fall into a pain cycle if there are not external diversions.  In this regard, it is easier for people who are working full-time or part-time as their employment means they are distracted.  But it also means ensuring that you have things to do in your free time.  For some parties, on relationship breakdown there is a sudden void.  What used to be time with your partner is now time which you are free.  This is a good time to be looking for other things to be doing.  Spending time with friends or starting a new hobby or sport, or getting back into the sport that you used to love but had set aside.  Taking up something new will enable you to meet other people and help re-establish who you are now that you have separated.

Avoid Emotional Vampires

There are people out there who feed on the negative processes others are going through.  These people often come disguised as help and support but actually, there is something about your situation that is feeding them and these people will often make your situation worse and not better.  Their helpful support and advice will turn to the negative and they will accelerate hostilities between you and your former partner.  Quite often, these parties will “come out of nowhere”, being acquaintances that you didn’t know quite so well before or even at all.  Suddenly there with such firm support at a time when everyone needs a crutch to lean on.  However, if you do not know this person well –  step back sometimes, and listen to whether the advice that party is giving you is helping, hindering or worsening the situation.  If what the person is suggesting is routinely conflicting with what your lawyer is suggesting has a way of keeping matters on an even keel and the temperature low, that might be an indication that this person is not best to help you.

Seek professional help

The end of a relationship causes significant changes.  It is true that people change on relationship separation as they try and re-find their feet as an individual, particularly if the relationship they have been in has been long.  Everyone needs help sometimes and speaking to a properly trained counsellor or psychotherapist or a psychologist is often of real assistance.  Sometimes these professionals can help you understand your situation a little better and a little less negatively.  People who go through this process invariably have a “nicer” divorce as they have a better perspective as to what is happening around them.  If your solicitor suggests it might be a good idea to seek some external guidance and assistance, it is advice that perhaps you should listen to.

It sounds a bit trite to say, you can’t have the rainbow without the rain, but unfortunately, in the divorce process that is very much the case.  I hope that some of the tips above, constructively applied, will help you get through a difficult time in your life and come out the other side exactly where you want to be.

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