By Tonya Graser Smith
October seems like a good month to answer this question: How can you get divorced without turning into a ghoul?
You’ve heard of bridezillas and groomzillas. They let nothing or no one stand in the way of their “perfect” day. Unfortunately, sometimes when happily ever after doesn’t pan out, people can lose sight of how to treat all of the other people in their lives. You don’t want to do that. Divorce is hard enough. You need those relationships.
Here’s how to not turn into a ghoul when getting divorced.
No. 1: Be kind to yourself.
It all starts with how you treat yourself. Give yourself grace, courtesy, breathing room. I met with a friend recently who observed that it is often easier for us to give these things to other people than to ourselves. Some would call it mindfulness, and that’s great. But it doesn’t have to look like meditating or achieving some sort of Zen; it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It can simply mean being aware of your feelings and allowing yourself to feel them and not discounting them. Recognize when you are angry, mad – furious even. If someone asks you how you are, you don’t have to tell them everything that’s going on, but rather than saying, “fine,” when things are anything but fine, you can acknowledge, “not great, but working on it. Thanks for asking.”
No. 2: Be present for your children and help them “name it to tame it.”
Reality: Recognize that your kids will also need space to do the things that you are doing – identifying feelings, sitting with those feeling, adjusting to a new reality. Your kids might want to tell you they are sad or angry or scared. Acknowledge those feelings. It’s OK to say you are sad, too. Or, your kids might not want to talk or know how to express how they’re feeling. I am a big believer in the concept of naming your feelings in order to tame your feelings. An idea for getting your children to open up and tame their feelings: At dinner, ask, “What went well today?” They might say “nothing” went well, or they might share a fear or a worry, and by naming it and talking about it, they will lessen it, and you will know where you can help, too.
And some obvious stuff: Don’t badmouth your ex to your kids. And don’t try to buy your children’s love with material things. Be mindful that your kids love you both, and that you are the adult here and what your kids need is your time and attention and love more than ever.
No. 3: Be a giver – not just a taker – when it comes to friends and family.
Don’t let your divorce be the only thing you talk about with your friends and family. It’s selfish, and those relationships will suffer if they become too one-sided for too long. Your friends and family are there to support you, and they will want to do that. But there is a limit as to how much they can take. When they ask how you are doing, answer and share, of course, but ask them how they are, too. Reciprocate. What’s new with you? I love this one, because people can’t answer with a “fine” and then turn the conversation back to your divorce drama. And it makes you seem genuinely interested, which hopefully you are.
You need to tend your relationships even when, or especially when, your marriage is ending. Other good questions to keep the conversation going: How’s your new job going? How is school going for your kids? What are you excited about right now? What are you watching on Netflix? What are you reading?
No. 4: Be an engaged client when working with your divorce lawyer.
Be mindful that you need to effectively communicate and engage with your divorce lawyer.
Often clients communicate too little – for fear of running up legal expenses – or too much, asking questions that have been answered in the letters and emails sent by their legal team. The process will go smoother, and you will keep costs as low as possible when you pay attention to the process, do your part, deliver documents in a timely manner and communicate effectively. You might even ask your attorney: How do you prefer to receive information from me? What can I do that will allow you to focus on building my case and a strategy?
Be mindful. Be present. Be engaged. Communicate. Reciprocate.
Come to think of it, these are good strategies for all of us as we strive not to be ghouls when we’re going through difficult times or life in general.