Fear is extremely normal and present in almost all situations with divorcing couples.
It also can be one of the primary obstacles to a peaceful, efficient resolution in a divorce case. The early stages of separation or divorce are the hardest and scariest because people have had their world shaken, especially the person who didn’t decide to end the relationship.
There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.
- Are they going to be okay emotionally?
- Will they be okay financially?
- Will they be able to sustain strong relationships with the kids?
- Are the kids going to be taken away?
- What is this all going to look like?
As you move through the divorce process, especially if you are not in a litigated process, those fears will start to reduce as you learn about the process and decisions are made. Your questions are answered and you start seeing more of what an ultimate resolution will look like.
There are many ways to mitigate and manage fear in the divorce process.
1) Choose Your Divorce Process Very Carefully.
The litigated process (going to court) has so much uncertainty. You are typically leaving decision making authority to a judge, rather than to you and your spouse. Being in a non-court process like mediation or Collaborative divorce does not mean that you get everything you want, but it does mean that nothing happens without your agreement. You are going to agree on how to divide assets, establish support, and share time with your children. It feels very different to know that the decision-making authority rests with you rather than with the authority of the court.
2) Refrain From Any Unilateral Action.
When one spouse does something without the other spouse’s agreement, it can create a tremendous amount of anxiety, anger, and fear. If there had been a conversation prior to taking a proposed action, it might have been easy to agree. i.e., “Can we just close this bank account or share the funds that are in it?” “Sure.” That feels a lot different than walking to your ATM and finding your account closed or money missing. Unilateral actions typically result in more unilateral actions. Once one person has taken a unilateral action, it is common for the other spouse to think they better do something themselves, as protection or in retaliation. If you ever have a doubt about whether it would be acceptable to do something without first discussing with your spouse, do not do it. Wait until an agreement can be reached somewhere in the voluntary process.
3) Focus on short term, manageable tasks.
You are not going to make fear go away, but you can reduce it by not trying to think six steps ahead. You should work with professionals who will break down the process for you. They will tell you what needs to be done, task by task. You can focus on immediate and manageable tasks, rather than thinking about things six months or a year down the road.
4) Try to give your ex the benefit of the doubt.
There is a lot of catastrophizing in a divorce. People often go down a rabbit hole of “what if?” and jump to the worst conclusions. Unless your spouse has done something genuinely shocking or terrible, you usually can benefit by not assuming the worst about them or their motives. Recognize that even though you are going your separate ways, they are not an evil person. Most of the time this kind of grace benefits both parties and goes a long way toward reducing overall fear about the divorce process.
Remember that even in litigation, most cases will settle by agreement at some point. Finding a process and professionals you can trust helps tremendously, as does shifting to a positive and open frame of mind.