March 27, 2023
There are many things no one tells you about divorce. This article — part IV of our four-part series — concerns itself with another critical, often overlooked issue in the divorce process: the establishment of a supportive network. It is best addressed early and often.
In the early days of the pandemic, many of us unwittingly revisited the fear of scarce resources and need for basic items like Clorox and paper goods. There was an urgency, clarity and even a thirst to hoard goods aroused in otherwise moderate, conscientious folks. During divorce, amass supportive resources in the same manner you would amass disinfectant wipes during a Covid outbreak.
When it comes to support, each of us needs more than we believe is objectively reasonable. When facing divorce, ordinary supports may be compromised or disappear requiring the collecting of new resources.
Independence and Support
Appreciating that we are a nation that stands for independence and equates strength and worth with autonomy and self-reliance, I’d like to nonetheless make room for something else: the undeniable need for connection with others.
When major life events occur, societies generally celebrate or mourn collectively — it is healing to do so. Whether solemn or celebratory, together we have ways of acknowledging important milestones through well established customs and practices. From sending birthday cards, bringing food, sending flowers, baking cakes, wearing black, we have ways of appreciating what one another goes through and responding in particular, predictable ways, meant to bring comfort and reassurance; to relieve the burden of a difficult time and honor a joyous one.
Unlike graduations, funerals, or other life-altering events, divorces are still expected to be managed privately. There is no customary, helpful way of coming together in bearing this difficult transition. The absence of an inclusive social norm augments the distress and isolation of divorcing people. Though this will hopefully change as society continues to evolve and adapt to accommodate humans' emerging needs, for now, people going through divorce are encouraged to seek support systems and put them in place.
Sometimes what you expect to be supportive, fails. Those closest to you may be unable or ill-equipped to respond in ways that bring comfort. The nightly talks with your sister may leave you agitated and self-critical instead of soothed and encouraged. Instead of insisting to yourself that you should feel better because you have sororal support, check whether an interaction or activity is, indeed, uplifting. If it's not, regardless of what “should” be, now is the time to find what works.
It’s important that support feels good. It’s often important to seek support in multiple and possibly unexpected places.
Support in Practice
Begin to notice the interactions and activities that boost connection, self-regard, relief, and pleasure. Seek those out.
Make room for enjoyment. A ten-day retreat at Canyon Ranch may be unadvised at the moment, but attending to yourself in small ways throughout the day can be a new way that supports you during the divorce process and beyond. Micro-supports can include pausing to take a break when needed, taking 10-minute walks during lunch breaks, turning on music instead of the news. Prioritize serenity.
It’s great to have close friends you confide in, but during a separation or divorce it is also helpful to seek groups with which to identify. Belonging is healing. The power of a group can aid us through difficulties in a way an individual cannot. Many find divorce support groups (we offer one) and 12-Step Groups valuable. There are support groups for nearly everything, so even if divorce support groups are not regularly available, communities (including online) offer other relevant groups (focused on relationships, parenting, grief, transitions) that can be helpful even if not specifically on point.
While fostering present-mindedness, nature reminds us we belong to something larger than what is presently occurring. Time outdoors, hiking, walking in the park or woods, can provide a space to slow down, process, and be alone while rooting into the inherent connection. Breathe.
For many, crises like divorce can compromise our concentration, making focusing and solitary tasks unenjoyable and laborious. Anxiety can take over and emotions can become dysregulated. Physical activities that reinforce grounding and being “in the body” can help expel nervous energy, improve and stabilize mood. Physical activities can be more accessible when concentration is poor and more communal if you are feeling isolated. Think running [clubs], walking and hiking groups, gyms, yoga, dance and boxing classes. It can be helpful to take a deliberate break from feeling and thinking; give yourself permission to set things down for a bit so both they and you can settle.
Divorce is a time when overwhelm and responsibility for others may make self-care seem indulgent and unfounded. Challenge that belief! Your mental and emotional stability is a paramount component of your overall health and a foundational necessity for your capacity to help others. Prioritize your inner well-being as you would your physical health. Your emotional state is at least as impactful and contagious as a flu and deserves serious attention. And care.
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If you missed Parts 1, 2 and 3, check them out here, here, and here, respectively.