By Terri Fedonczak
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events; it’s right up there with death and serious illness in its ability to turn you upside down. Whether your divorce is amicable or fiery, a practice of acceptance goes a long way toward righting your life again. When you stay in the “he said-she said” arena, you will be tethered to ever widening circles of blame. The more you believe your stories about how awful your situation, or your spouse, is, the more victimized you will feel. When you accept where you are in your divorce and who your spouse is in the present moment, it will be easier to move forward to a new kind of happiness. A practice of thought management and self-care is crucial for acceptance. If you are going through a divorce with children, it’s even more important.
When I was in the middle of my own divorce-ageddon, I took a class that was mandated for all parents seeking divorce. The wise instructor said something that I still use: “When you are on an airplane, the flight attendant will instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.” When I heard this, I thought, “That doesn’t apply in this situation. I have to help my kids through the ugliness before I help myself.” Then I realized that I couldn’t help my kids if I was incapacitated. In that moment, I was not putting self-care first, and I was blaming my spouse for all my pain. Each new cruelty was a shock to my system, and I kept repeating the same stories over and over to prove how awful he was. Although this seemed a balm to my fragile ego, it did absolutely no good. It kept me stuck in a place of victimhood that did not help my kids. If I had adopted an attitude of acceptance, I could have moved past the stories to a place of empowerment. Because you can’t change what you don’t accept.
Today, I counsel clients who are going through a divorce to practice acceptance. Acceptance does not come easily, especially when you are in a painful situation; it seems easier to blame the other person and bury our head in the sand. But this will not help. You can systemize acceptance in a few simple steps; I’m not saying they’re easy, but they are simple:
- Thought management can be as simple as devising an explanation for bad behavior that you can believe yourself and then relate to your kids. The simpler the explanation, the better: “When someone is in pain or very angry, they don’t act like themselves. Remember when you were mean to your sister last week, because you were mad at her? You’re not a mean person, but you acted mean when you were mad. If Daddy or I act mean to each other, this is why. It has nothing to do with you or how much we love you.” Accept that your spouse will not act like themselves during the divorce and move on.
- Realize that no matter how powerless you feel, you do have free will. Activate your free will by staying in your own business. This is a common refrain in the life-coaching community. Your business is everything you can control: your thoughts, your actions and your reactions. Whatever your spouse is doing or thinking is his business. When you are thinking like a victim, STOP! Ask yourself, “Whose business am I in? What can I do or think right now that will make me feel better?” And then go do that!
- Practice radical self-care to build up your own self-respect and reduce your suffering. Think about what used to feel like fun; something that puts a big grin on your face. It could be walking outside, snuggling with your kids or pets, going to a movie with a friend, meditation, or listening to music while you do chores; at the very least take three deep belly breaths to quell stress in the moment. Go find some fun, either with or without your kids. If you go alone, bring the fun back home with you. Your kids need to see you smiling, so that they will understand that smiling, not suffering, is the norm. Take care of yourself like you are precious, because you are. When your kids see you calm and happy, they will also begin to feel calm and happy.
Divorces don’t last forever; they just feel like they do. If you resist the reality of divorce, your thoughts about how awful it is will persist. Whatever we resist persists. Accept that things will be weird and uncomfortable for a while. They are only as stressful, or as calm, as you think they are. If you stay in your own business, practice radical self-care, and manage your thoughts, you can move past the suffering. Teach your kids that pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. No matter how helpless you feel, you always have free will. Exercise it by focusing on love and acceptance.