When someone finds out they are about to get a divorce, or the topic is on the table for discussion, oftentimes the first thing they do is have a consultation with an attorney. While consulting with an attorney makes sense, it isn’t always the best first step.
Divorce is one of life’s most difficult transitions. It’s ranked second in difficulty only to the experience of the death of a loved one. When going through a transition of this magnitude, the first thing you need to do is process some of the grief and emotions you are feeling so you can make solid, grounded decisions. An attorney can’t help in this way. How you handle your divorce not only affects your children and other members of your family, but can have a huge impact on the next phase of your life, so it‘s important to get it right.
In order to understand what happens to someone when they are going through a transition that can feel traumatic, it’s important to briefly discuss how the brain plays a very important role. The part of the brain that is responsible for our response to trauma, our fight/ flight/freeze response, is the amygdala. When we are in the midst of trauma, such as divorce, this part of the brain “hijacks” the logical part of the brain and we are unable to make rational choices. We are anxious, emotional, and reactive, especially if our hot buttons are pushed and we feel triggered. Guess who is your biggest trigger right now? You guessed it, your spouse. This part of the brain is necessary to protect us in danger, but it can be counterproductive when you are trying to make decisions that will affect the rest of your life. When operating from this state, it’s easy to drive up attorney costs by attempting to use the legal system to obtain emotional justice.
The first thing you need to do is slow down! Take some time to process what is happening. Surround yourself with a team of supportive friends and family. Start working with a divorce coach and/or therapist who specializes in divorce. Join a support group. Exercise, soak up some sun, nurture yourself. Once you feel you are on more solid ground, start the legal process of divorce. From there, make sure you separate the business of divorce from the emotions of divorce. Your attorney is in charge of managing the business and your coach/therapist helps you manage the emotions. Be flexible as you work through this process. The more you are able to work out with your spouse directly, the more money you will save. If this isn’t possible, staying in the logical part of your brain and being flexible will help tremendously.
Divorce can feel overwhelming. It’s important to take it one step at a time and take a proactive approach in order to manage the overwhelm.