You might be expecting a touchy-feely, self-soothing blog post here, but — surprise — that’s not what will help most when you’ve been blindsided by divorce.
When your husband has dropped the ultimate bombshell, what often makes it doubly unbearable is that he seems to relish taking every shred of dignity from you on the way out.
So the first steps to take are ones that will protect your dignity, financially and emotionally, once you get into the thick of things.
Steps to take while you’re still in shock
For the first weeks after your husband declares he wants out, you’ll be in a state of shock. Being in shock will make it easier for you to gather important documentation and take action to protect yourself. Once grief and fear set in, it will be difficult to have the level of cool that you’ll need.
Learn the laws regarding separation and divorce in your state.
Be a detective: If you are in a marriage of modest means, perform as much discovery as you can (to save the legal expense of your lawyer doing so). Rifle your husband’s hidden files, take a look at his personal credit card statements, find out what investments he has (you may think you know, but you may be surprised). If you are luckily not in a no-fault state, and his infidelity is an issue, look for proof of behavior that can give you an edge .
Research the legal options you have: Ask for recommendations from women who did particularly well in their divorce settlements. Interview a few lawyers to get a feel for someone who you believe will fight for you as a woman (and won’t secretly be on the side of the man in the situation). While your husband is still in an attitude of guilt or remorse, see if you can convince him not to have his own legal representation. If he is being reasonable, consider turning to a divorce mediator, or, if you can agree on equitable distribution of assets, file the papers without an expensive lawyer, find a flat-fee lawyer (this is what I did).
Take charge of the situation while you are still in shock and before your emotions start to blur your reason, and your husband starts to attempt to manipulate your feelings so that you’ll agree to practically anything.
Why do these things right away? Isn’t there a chance you can convince him to stay with you?
If you have any power at all, you’ll have it if he sees you taking action. Find legal representation that you trust — legal assistance that will help you set realistic goals so that you are not victimized. Representation that you feel confident will have your interests, as a woman, at heart (even if you don’t feel like fighting).
If you take the steps above at the moment that you’re clear you want a divorce, or immediately after you’re clear that your husband is definitely leaving you, you’ll have practical support in place before the emotional realization hits you that your life is about to dramatically change and you’re not 100% in control of what the changes will be.
When the fear and panic start to set in
After total shock dissipates, the strong emotions start to take over. The begging and pleading, the panic over how you’ll live without him and how you’ll manage to support yourself if he has been the primary income source.
1. Don’t try to resurrect it, if you know in your heart that your marriage is dead. Spend your time and emotional labor on yourself, instead. It’s likely you haven’t been experiencing love and care from your husband for quite some time. Now is the time to learn to revive yourself, not pour anything back into him.
If you know he’s leaving (and especially if another woman is in the picture), don’t waste time begging and pleading to go to counseling together. The first few weeks of total shock are also a time of clarity: You’re living an out-of-body experience in which your previous life seems entirely unreal. If, during this time of clarity, you know in your heart that your husband is already checked out, and hasn’t been in a real marriage with you for years, save the agony and expense. Don’t try to bring your marriage back from the dead.
The more you beg, the less he will respect you.
2. Don’t try to get closure with him. Again, you need all of your energy, understanding, and love to be rerouted from giving to him to providing a safe nest for yourself.
Once you feel secure in your representation, it’s safe to vent your emotions — but not necessarily to your soon-to-be-ex. Trying to get him to see what he has done to you will never give you any greater satisfaction than a moment’s acknowledgement of remorse, which will have completely vanished by the next time you see him. He has moved on. He will never come back to the emotional state in which you can communicate with him as if you were in a romantic relationship.
3. Start running the numbers on what your finances will be as a single woman (or single mother). What do you need from him in order to survive? What do you need to look for in terms of any changes in career? Where will you live? Where would you like to live? If you’ve never created a budget in your life, now’s the time. This is essential at the very start of your separation so you have the maximum amount of time to make the changes that are advantageous for you (and not simply cheap and easy for him).
4 Don’t jump to reconcile if he asks you to (unless you’ve already determined that you can’t make it on your own right now). Once you have separated, a certain number of months may have to pass before you are allowed to file for divorce. During this period, he may beg you to take him back.
He may say that he’ll end his affair. He may tell you that you’ll ruin your children’s lives by divorcing. He may make no promises but want to have sex with you.
Remember that, most likely, he’s not thinking of what is best for you. Men tend to want to get as much as they can from every woman in their lives, while giving the least in return. Your husband may be feeling as off-balance as you are. What if it doesn’t work out with the other woman? What if he’s required to pay maintenance to you as well as child-support? Getting a divorce may not be quite the get-out-of-jail card he thought it would be.
You have control over how long the grief and anger will last
It will take some time to deeply realize that it’s over. This is the most painful phase of your emotional recovery, and it helps to know that it is a phase and it won’t last forever. It helps to know that you have control over how long this grieving will last.
1. Find one interest or crusade to be obsessive about that is unrelated to your marriage, divorce, or your husband’s “activities.” It can literally be anything. Pour any free time you have into this new career, area of study, interest, or hobby. Church? Local politics? Long dormant talent? Find something, anything that you can use to turn your mind and emotions away from your ex.
2. Make your future feel intriguing. Explore things that you weren’t allowed to do in your marriage. Things that, even in the midst of what your going through, still seem exciting — even though far in the future. I promise, these dreams of who you can be and what you can do are not as far off as you may think. Almost anything you can dream can truly become reality.
3. Adopt your new tribe. One thing I hear most often from my divorce coaching clients is that they feel they lose so many friends (as well as beloved in-laws) as part of the divorce process. Friends tend to stick with the ex-husband (and his new woman), and leave the ex-wife struggling on her own.
To this I say, good! Time to find new friends who will be with you in your new life and will bring with them the new ideas and new energy that will make life happy and bright. If you’ve already started with ideas #1 and #2 above, you’ll be taking new paths and exploring new things. If you’re doing things you love, you’ll be meeting people who love what you love. Little by little, your new tribe — your chosen family — will emerge.
You do have so much control over how much pain you allow your husband to cause you during the separation and divorce period.
Once you realize who he really is, does he deserve to tie up even more of your life than he already has? Even if he used to be a wonderful husband, if he has made it clear that he no longer loves you, how much more of your life should you give him? If he, himself, wants you to move on, ask yourself why you would cling to the memories, to your former life, or to him.
Often the reason is that the future is too uncertain, and you might not be sure that the future can be as good (or better) than what you’ve already lived.
But it definitely can be, if you decide that it will.
Want to talk about this? You can contact me here.