September 1, 2015

Mindful Divorce: An Introduction.

Just divorced
It came down to three things, all of which seem silly now: a nice car, new furniture and when to drop off the dogs on the weekend.

These were my lines in the sand—what I had chosen to fight over during my divorce. Like most people going through a split, I wasn’t as good at choosing my battles.

When we fight with our spouses during the divorce process, we feel like we’re getting dragged through the mud for months, even years, wondering if it will ever end. We fight over almost everything—who is responsible for paying off the credit cards, who gets the children during Christmas—the list is infinite. So it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do and how we want to approach the situation when the acrimony grows. In essence, we must learn how to pick our battles mindfully.

The first thing to remember:

We shouldn’t beat ourselves up when we feel frustrated during the split. Divorce is a messy business transaction that collides with emotions we wouldn’t even wish on our enemies. If we feel confused and panicked, even when we think we understand what’s going on, it is because we are human. It’s going to be confusing and weird for a while.

In spite of the chaos, there are ways in which we can choose our divorce battles mindfully, so that we are able to take a look at the big picture from a standpoint of less stress. Doing so requires us to dig deep and be honest with ourselves. When we are, we can answer these following questions:

Am I fighting over something I absolutely cannot live without?

What are the things that my dependents and I need to ensure our security and well-being?

Answering these questions truthfully gives us a better understanding of the things we personally feel are non-negotiables when choosing which battles to fight. Everybody’s situation is different, and we must figure out what is truly worth the time and emotional energy to battle over. These factors may include alimony, savings, child support, fair division of debt, temporary spousal support and protection orders if there is any type of endangerment. But remember, not everything we negotiate over during a divorce is essential to our survival.

I like to think of this section as the bottom two levels of Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. This pyramid takes me back to high school psychology class. The foundation of the pyramid represents survival—the same things that we need to advocate for during the split.

Am I Fighting Over Something Only Because I Really Want It? Do I Think I Deserve It?

Sometimes divorces drag due to the division of assets that have nothing to do with money. Legal battles have gone on as couples fight for possession of the things that hold sentimental value to both parties (family photographs, heirlooms), that, although they wouldn’t leave us destitute to lose, would wound us deeply if we lost them because they might remind us of the happier times. We may demand possession of those things as a way of controlling the image of the lives we thought we knew, as that image continues to dissipate.

We’re all susceptible to this behavior. I remember arguing about our new Pier 1 furniture. For some reason I thought I deserved to have it. There was no logical basis for this thought—we purchased it jointly, but for some reason, I thought I deserved it and fought for it. Looking back, I realize it had nothing to do with the furniture—it was just my feeble attempt to make myself feel better.

Understanding the difference between “nice to have” items and “must have to survive” items will help determine what we are willing to spend our time and divorce dollars negotiating.

Am I Fighting Over This Because I’m Angry? Hurt?

There are times when we are angry during the divorce, and we choose to project feelings of anger at our spouse in the only way we thing we can—by getting back at them. We find ourselves in our lawyers’ offices or soliciting advice on how we can “make our ex pay” for the hurt they’ve caused us. Instead of processing those emotions and separating them from legal aspects of divorce, we project them on tangential things. If we find our spouse making unreasonable demands, understand they too may also be projecting their emotions onto something they think they can control—the ability to somehow hurt you or get back at us—whether they know it or not.

Although we cannot control how our spouse behaves during this process, if we find ourselves putting demands on the other side—things that we may be able to negotiable in a more rational manner—it might not hurt to reconsider the approach’s ability to make the divorce go smoother or for us to feel better and heal faster.

How Will the Battles I’m Fighting Impact My Future?

It is important to remember that nobody “wins” during a divorce—the case can drag out for years and the only thing to show for it is a drained bank account, cashed-out 401ks and stress inflicted on ourselves and our children that may never be reconciled.

That is not to say we should not stick up for ourselves. But before we begin a legal, emotional and financial battle royale, we must be honest with ourselves and consider:

What we really need to survive

What is important and right for us

What is best for those who depend on us

What we won’t regret in the future

If after fighting, we are drained and broke, how can we start the next chapter of our lives mindfully without the weight of hurt and indignation? We must acknowledge the balance of advocating for ourselves but also having the wisdom to know when we are fighting to maintain the illusion of control that no longer exists.

The key is to be honest with ourselves, kind to ourselves and mindful of the chapter of our lives that starts after our divorce journey ends. Let those points guide us on how to spend our time, money and emotional energy. And who knows—we may not even care about the new furniture after all.


Author: Martha Bodyfelt

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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