Top 10 Divorce Tips

Divorce is hard…
You can choose not to make it worse.

Are you preparing for divorce? Research shows that divorce is the second most stressful event that people can encounter in life (the first being loss of a close loved one). It is a time when people are called on for their best ability to manage conflict and the uncertainty of major life changes, while being under a tremendous amount of emotional pressure, anger, fear and grief.

Below are the top 10 tips for preparing for divorce, taken from research, twenty years’ experience of guiding families through divorce, and reflections of people whom have completed their divorce.

1. Safety First

If you fear for the safety of yourself or any of your family members, get professional and legal assistance immediately. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-SAFE. Portland area Domestic Violence Resource Center is: (503) 469-8620.

2. Attend to Your Health

Due to the amplified emotionality, grief, and stress of the unknown, this is a time when people are highly prone to accidents and picking up addictive substance habits. By increasing your awareness and care for your diet, exercise, and sleep, you can maintain the mental, physical, and emotional strength needed to navigate the difficult decisions and circumstances.

3. Focus on Your Children

Whether or not they express it outwardly, divorce is usually traumatic for children. They experience anything from intense guilt (blaming themselves) to rage and blaming one/both parents, to fears of abandonment. It is a time your children need you the most, yet a time when parents are typically struggling with little to give. Thus, children are more susceptibility to violence, drugs and sexual activity. The divorce transition period is the most important parenting you will do in your life. By giving them the security and reassurance of extra attention and care, and maintaining the continuity of household rules and daily structure, you can minimize their risks during the transition.

While parents often have tremendous hurt and anger towards each other, it is extremely damaging to children when they are put in the middle of conflict. Children consider themselves one-half of each of their parents, and in bad-mouthing the other parent, parents un-knowingly are asking children to dislike or distrust a part of themselves. Parents that protect their children during divorce develop ground rules and agreements between them, clarifying how they will talk to the children about the divorce, the other parent, and larger family decisions.

4. Build Your Support Network

Connection and community are essential elements of resilience. This top divorce tip is an encouragement to reach out and ask for support and company, from friends new and old. Be thoughtful of how you get support from certain friends and family members who might feel torn into taking sides or afraid and triggered to see you go through such a trying life change. Find and begin meeting with a personal counselor who can help you sort through and make meaning of the many challenging thoughts and emotions.

5. Obtain Pre-Separation Counseling

The psychological and emotional pain (and resulting anger and depression) is compounded when a divorce comes as a surprise to one of the parties. Both of you will be served by discussing (with an experienced professional) the decision to separate and processing the loss of the relationship/family hopes and dreams. This hard work will enable both of you to navigate the many difficult life-restructuring decisions with more clarity. People inevitably have an intense need to reflect and learn from relationships that ended, as part of a healing process that supports them in moving forward and re-defining themselves. By doing some of this work ahead of time and acting on this divorce tip, you can prevent the wounds from growing deeper and facilitate the healing process.

6. Do Your Homework: Make Informed Choices

There are multiple ways to go through divorce, with a widely varying cost and experience. Furthermore, each decision you make may have significant legal, financial or tax implications in the future. While it is easy to be overwhelmed, there are many divorce resources available to assist you in understanding and identifying the decisions, investigating what professional support and process you want to use, and clarifying your goals and values for supporting your family through this transition. While you and your spouse may want to lessen the anxiety and begin discussing options, this top 10 divorce tip is to be cautious around making firm agreements until you understand the implications of that decision and you know what the full package (the entire divorce settlement agreement) will look like.

7. Chill Out on New Intimate Relationships

People commonly seek emotional and physical intimacy with others as a way to bolster them in ending a relationship, and a way to cope with the stress, fear, loss, and unmet intimacy needs from an estranged marriage. However, this negatively impacts the separation process by inflaming the other person's anger and feelings of hurt/betrayal, thereby reducing their ability and willingness to negotiate fair and workable outcomes around parenting, property and finances. This is especially true if you are still sharing a household. Furthermore, when children witness a parent's quick transition to another relationship it can contribute to the child's fears and ability to adjust. Therefore, exercising patience and consideration around developing new intimate relationships may be one of the best tips for protecting your future and the future of your family members.

8. Take No Significant Financial Actions

Until it is negotiated between you both, your attorneys, or settled in court, your assets and liabilities can be considered jointly owned. Therefore, during the divorce process, when trust is tenuous, it is crucial to first discuss and be in mutual agreement with your spouse before making any financial decisions that affect you both, including those related to bank accounts, credit cards, loans, taxes, etc.

9. Create Temporary Agreements

The crisis of separation can stimulate a healthy fear and caution of making long-term, permanent decisions. Many people find it helpful to focus on short-term agreements (one to six months) to provide some space, experience, and clarity before making decisions that will affect their family and finances for many years to come. The process of identifying and prioritizing "what do we need to figure out right now" can also help alleviate stress, and give you time to practice an arrangement before you write it in stone.

10. Make Decisions with Long-Term Vision

You will be hard-pressed to find a time of life during which you are in the position of making so many practical and significant choices as during the divorce process. While many of these choices affect you and your family immediately, a helpful guiding approach for all of your decisions is long-term vision. What choice will best support the way you want to grow in your career? Within the range of affordability, what home and neighborhood will best support you and your family’s lifestyle for years to come? What would you want your children to say ten years from now about how their parents went through the divorce process and how it felt for them? How do you want to look back on the end of the marriage when you are one-day bonding with new significant other? This 10th divorce tip of envisioning years into the future can reliably provide guidance for your current decisions.

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