There is no doubt that many couples have struggled since COVID hit—and for understandable reasons. Unemployment, financial stress, home schooling, death of loved ones, mental health issues, and mandated quarantining have all added stress to even the strongest couples.
A recent survey found that about one-third of couples have faced damaging traumatic stress in their marriage over the course of 2020. There are conflicting reports as to whether the divorce rate is, in fact, increasing. However, some experts are stating that the spike is imminent in 2021.
Communicating with your partner, trying to work through issues, and seeking out counseling should always come before rushing to leave the marriage. But, not all relationships are meant to last—and, sometimes getting a divorce is actually an act of self-care. In the end, staying in an unhealthy relationship can cause severe damage to your mental health.
We spoke with divorce lawyers and couples therapists to learn how you can set yourself up for a healthy divorce plan and protect your mental health during this challenging time.
STEPS TO A HEALTHY DIVORCE PLAN
ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE
“Learning how to live again as a newly-single person after years of being in a marriage can feel jarring,” explains Sabrina Shaheen Cronin, Founder and Managing Partner of the Cronin Law Firm. “The best way to prepare is to make sure you understand yourself and your needs, take care of yourself mentally and emotionally as best you can, surround yourself with positive and supportive people, and learn how to discern who to trust moving forward.”
If you are currently going through a separation or divorce or are heading down that path, it’s important to be prepared for the mental strain that is coming your way. Finding a good therapist is just as important as obtaining your lawyer.
In addition to protecting your mental health, looking at your finances should be top of the list.
In an ideal world, the process would be simple and all of your assets would be divided equally. But, this isn’t always possible for a number of reasons such as children or prenuptial agreements. To start preparing for the business side of divorce, you’ll need to start by gathering all the financial information you have (both yours and your spouse’s). This way, when you’re going to speak with an attorney or mediator, you can answer specific questions, and they can provide you with answers and realistic expectations. If you’re the one making the decision to divorce, Cronin advises to make sure you’re in the best frame of mind possible to make thoughtful, well-informed decisions rather than acting impulsively. “Meet with different lawyers to find out what it will cost you to retain the lawyer with whom you feel most comfortable,” says Cronin.
COMMIT TO MOVING ON AND LET GO OF BLAME
“Couples divorce when they feel defeated in their efforts to reach mutual understanding, and often struggle to truly let go of the need and hope to be understood on their terms,” says Dr. Orna Guralnik from the SHOWTIME documentary series COUPLES THERAPY tells Nutritious Life.
She explains that this is accompanied by a difficult mixture of anger and a sense of shame and failure. “The worst divorces are those that actually never really end, in the sense that people remain stuck in using their ex-partner as an object to project upon and blame for their suffering,” continues Dr. Guralnik.
Instead, she recommends we try and focus on forgiveness. While this may seem impossible at times, it’s a healing process that can provide a deeper, and sometimes faster recovery. Try and let go of blame and learn to respect each other’s own needs—and remember who the ex-partner actually was and is. “When people let go of blame and make room for mutual respect and compassion, they can establish a deep and meaningful post-divorce relationship that has its own beauty,” she says.
TAKE OUTSIDE ADVICE WITH CAUTION
A lot of people around you are going to try to give you advice. While it may be from a place of love, their words may only confuse or incite you. “Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned friend or family member only makes matters worse,” Cronin says. “Heeding legal advice from the sidelines is also not recommended because no one truly understands the process and the nuances of your case like your lawyer does.”
If you’re really looking for support, therapy is usually the best route. “Understanding your feelings with a mental health professional can give you the proper tools to take with you on your next steps,” says Lauren Peacock, best-selling author of “Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog.: Stories About Divorce, Dating, and Saying “I Do” and the creator of The Divorce Case subscription box. “If this is not an option, confiding in a close friend about your struggles and even journaling these feelings often helps.”
THINK OF OTHERS IMPACTED
If you share children with someone, you’re going to remain connected on some level. “I counsel many clients to understand and accept that although you’re divorcing, you can remain family,” Cronin explains. “It may take some time to put aside hurt feelings, but for the betterment of your children and the overall feeling of peace among the chaos, it is far better to remain friendly than bitter enemies.”
All experts advise talking to a therapist about how to speak to your children regarding the changes happening. It is also recommended that children speak to a counselor to discuss this challenging and emotional time.
BE STRONGER THAN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES
“If you are lonely, depressed, or feeling anything other than at peace in the marriage, you should work on yourself first.” says Cronin.
Along this journey, it is important to remember that while this part of your relationship is ending, you still cared for this person. You may have had children together and will forever be in each other’s lives to some degree. Showing empathy along the way, even in the most difficult moments, can help not only your former partner, but also yourself.
WHEN AT ALL POSSIBLE, COMPASSIONATELY COMMUNICATE
Effective communication is difficult for separating couples. It may be one of the reasons the marriage is ending. “Try and have thoughtful, meaningful, and well-intentioned discussions with your soon-to-be-ex about what you want, where you are emotionally and mentally, and how you feel,” urges Cronin. “Many couples discuss how their relationship is better once all the emotion was worked through, and they become friends again.”
Common reasons for divorce are due to cheating, money, or addiction which can make communication difficult. But, if you can try to see the other person’s perspective and put aside your hurt, you can come to a better separation agreement. Counseling or therapy can help with that if you are willing to seek outside help.
It’s important to note, if the reason you’re filing is due to abuse whether emotional, physical, or both, you definitely need to work on yourself prior to communicating that you want a divorce. Abuse typically heightens by the abuser when the victim announces she or he is ready to leave the marriage.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Divorce may not have been your plan, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty or sad for the rest of your days. Give yourself time to heal; then, when it feels right, begin again. “Remember that you may be on an emotional roller coaster before, during, and after a divorce. You know that divorce is extremely difficult. Your entire life will change. You will feel upside down in your own skin, but also know that this, too, shall pass,” says Cronin.
“Those friends who judged you, weren’t there for you, or with you, weren’t friends at all. Family who takes the other spouse’s side should be placed on the periphery of your life, not the inner circle, and your boundaries should help you heal from that trauma as well. Be grateful you learned that these people aren’t the friends and family you thought they were. If you take with you the knowledge and wisdom you learned, you will improve your life beyond measure, and your life will soon be on an upward trajectory,” Cronin adds.
“Remember, you have to go through the process to get to the other side, and you will get to the other side stronger,” says Peacock. “Having a healthy divorce plan means not putting pressure on yourself or having high expectations of yourself. Let the process unfold the way it is supposed to, knowing it won’t always be pretty.”
(photo credit: Shutterstock)