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The Two C’s of Coping with Divorce: Part 2 Control

The Two C’s of Coping with Divorce: Part 2 Control

{7 minutes to read}  Our last article looked at the first of the two “C” s of coping with divorce, connection.  This article unpacks the second “C” — control.

Control sometimes gets a bad rap and is used pejoratively, as in “she’s so controlling,” and “he’s a control freak.” This sort of control usually refers to the neurotic behavior of someone who, paradoxically, feels out of control and is struggling to gain a sense of control by over-exerting demands or insisting upon parameters on other people and situations.  

Perhaps the first thing to say about control is the importance of distinguishing what is within and outside of one’s control.  When going through a divorce, it can seem like everything is outside, from one’s living situation, frequency of time with children, options regarding work, finances, status as unpartnered, and future of other close relationships affected by the divorce. This is only a partial list of what divorce threatens to upend. It’s certainly understandable that a sense of disorder, uncertainty, and chaos can be overwhelming and even crippling.

When up against vast uncertainty, finding a way towards power and efficacy is the first order of business.   

How do we regain control?

In general: start slow and stay safe. 

  • Start slow: You do not need to gain control over everything to feel in charge of your situation. It may be that you make one small decision and follow it through. Completing a small task can change your inner state and make it easier to do more.

  • Stay Safe: This is the essential piece — the inner attitude that accompanies each small step forward; showing yourself enormous compassion, regardless of how your efforts turn out. Instead of ridiculing yourself that you aren’t up to your usual standards, keep in mind the disruption you are dealing with and treat yourself with gentleness. You will likely need to be reminded of this regularly, as this approach starkly contrasts with how we normally attempt to “whip ourselves into shape” during crises. 

  • Do Less: Lighten your load where possible. Again, that is an act of acknowledging how much you are currently up against and organizing around the present reality. Try breaking tasks into smaller components. When that is unhelpful, try doing any task that you can, that appeals to you in the slightest. You may not have the concentration to update your resume, but you may be able to choose the font that you wish to use for it or identify someone who you trust to help you and schedule a time to tackle it together. This is another way to encourage getting some success under your belt, practicing kindness, and combatting overwhelm.

Staying safe also means keeping unnecessary challenges at bay for the present. Delay addressing non-urgent interpersonal situations. This is not avoidant, rather it is thoughtful and conscientious to measure your capabilities and inner resources and triage accordingly. When you are more settled and feel more in control of yourself and your situation, your efforts will likely have better outcomes. Some things can wait while you attend to helping yourself feel and get better.

Let’s take a simple example of the practice of “start slow and stay safe” in action. You decide to nourish yourself with a healthy meal. You find you aren’t up to going to the store or cooking, so instead of allowing that to be the end of it, a failure, and another opportunity to feel out of control and beat yourself up, you order a takeaway or delivery of something nutritious, and you invite yourself to experience the feelings of pride about your flexibility and determination in following through with this simple but essential task of caring for your body. 

What is important in this little example? A couple of things. 

First, it is the shift of utilizing kindness towards yourself in all things, all the time. This will change everything. Gaining control of how you are with yourself, how friendly and safe you make it for yourself, is one of the supreme goals of life. This, this building an inner relationship of care and kindness, is the actual goal, much more than the meal. 

Second, you are widening the way you measure success, implementing a wonderful skill of flexibility and ease with yourself and the world. By acknowledging that you are not up to all that your original plan required, ( i.e. driving, shopping, preparing a meal) you attended to your own inner state without abandoning the overall goal — to eat something rich in nutrients. While this might seem simple, consider the opposite and often default approach if one is overwhelmed: it can be a childish insistence on having it one way or not at all. Gently acknowledging the present reality and meeting it with flexibility is leadership (versus unyielding dictatorship). 

When multiple aspects of life are out of control, taking some small steps to experience your agency builds the foundation needed to support taking bigger steps soon. As you begin to experience yourself as capable of mastering small challenges — taking a walk, opening the mail, getting the car washed — all with an attitude of self-compassion, your trust in yourself will strengthen, and your ability to make decisions with confidence will grow. As you embark on creating a safe and friendly way of relating to yourself, you will be developing a benefit few people have and all people, in one way or another, aspire to. You will have the inner haven of your own attention and advocacy.


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