Surviving Divorce With Your Sanity Intact

In my 26 years of practice as a Michigan divorce lawyer, I have seen many couples go through the divorce process. I know what does and doesn't facilitate healing and a rapid recovery from the aftermath of divorce.

As a holistic lawyer, I believe the law is a healing profession and that can certainly be true in matters of divorce. But it depends on how you choose to handle this challenging situation. It can be the worst nightmare of your life or it can be an opportunity for tremendous growth and healing.

I offer the following suggestions to help you and your loved ones find your way on this often difficult path:

Keep your children out of it

If you have children, first and foremost do NOT use them as a sounding board for your pain. Don't tell them all the flaws you see in your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Remember, although you may no longer love this person, they do, and it deeply hurts your child to hear negative things about their father or mother, especially from the other parent. Many times adults are in so much pain themselves that they fail to see the damage inflicted on their children by talking negatively about the other parent.

Show your children lots of love

No one expects you to be "superperson" at this emotional time in your life, but remember your need to vent today may cause your child to suffer for many years and will shape the way they view relationships. If you can think of nothing good to say about your spouse, say nothing. I would urge you to remember that at one time you saw many wonderful qualities in your spouse. Those qualities are still there. As much as you can, say good things about your spouse to your children. Explain that your break up is no reflection on them. Even though you and your spouse no longer love each other, you both still love them very much and will always be there for them. Taking the high road will make you feel better, too.

Make the transition as smooth as possible for your children and constantly remind them of how much they are loved. The immediate reward for this, besides helping your children, is that it makes the divorce process go smoother, decreases legal costs and expedite your own recovery. Fighting about children is a major stumbling block in many divorces. The war is over. Remove the land mines.

Try to see your spouse as someone you once deeply loved

When a marriage goes sour, it is easy to let negative perceptions spiral into an absolute frenzy of rage, hate and vengeance. Remember the Law of Karma: What you send out comes back. At one time, you loved this person enough to want to spend the rest of your life with them. If you attack them now, you are attacking your own judgment. Don't do that. Give yourself credit by acknowledging the qualities you once loved and admired in your soon-to-be ex. You won't believe the difference this makes in approaching your divorce as a time of change and growth instead of a bitter war of retaliation that nobody wins. "Except the lawyers," many people say. While it is true such vindictive battles do increase legal fees, in reality such wars are hard on all concerned, whether your lawyer acknowledges it or not.

Release your anger in positive ways

There is no denying a relationship gone bad will be the source of much hurt and anger. But it is imperative for your health and healing that you release these toxic feelings. If you don't, you will remain "stuck" in the past, and your future will just be a repeat of all the things you don't want. You may also set yourself up for illness, including cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Don't hold the feelings in; let them out in a healthy way.

One healthy way to release anger is by writing an angry letter to your spouse. Don't hold back. Say everything you want to say, everything you feel they ever did to hurt you, every name you ever wanted to call them. Put it all down, every single thing you can think of. And when you're done, fold your letter up and write, "What I really want from you is your love and approval." Then take your letter, tear it into little bitty pieces, and safely burn it. You will be amazed at how much release and satisfaction this brings. Do it again and again, whenever you feel your anger rise. You have a right to your feelings. But for your own health and happiness, you need to let the negative go.

Some people, when playing the "blame game," end up blaming themselves. Maybe you feel angry with yourself for things you did or didn't do. If so, the same technique will work. Write an angry letter. Let it out. Then let it go, and go to the mirror and praise yourself for doing so.

Affirm aloud, several times a day, "It is easy for me to make changes."

Forgive everyone concerned

A major theme in my life philosophy is forgiveness. In fact, I believe forgiveness is our function on this planet. Forgiveness of others and most of all, ourselves. Begin to affirm for your ex-spouse, "I forgive you for not being the way I wanted you to be. I forgive you and I set you free. I bless you with love and release you to the next person, who will be delighted to have you. And I am free to experience wonderful new relationships." Some of you may feel that your ex-partner has done so many bad things to you that it is impossible to forgive them.

I know it is not always easy to forgive someone you feel has deeply wronged you. By refusing to forgive them, you keep yourself stuck in the past. You let your anger and resentment burn in you, creating illnesses and recreating in your life the very things you don't want. And all the while, the partner you refuse to forgive probably doesn't even know of your pain. So you are not hurting them at all, only yourself.

I believe that we all are doing the very best we can, with the knowledge, information and awareness we have. If your spouse could have done better, they would have. This does not condone poor behavior, it only recognizes that holding on to old hurts keeps you a prisoner of the past. Forgiveness simply means giving it up; letting go. The focus here is on you. There is no way you can create wonderful new experiences if you continue to live in an unhappy past. So forgive and set yourself free. If you feel you simply cannot forgive, begin by affirming several times a day, "I am willing to forgive." All it takes is a little willingness. Remember, this is not done to be kind to someone else, but only for your own peace of mind.

Love yourself

A divorce is a time to be gentle and kind to yourself. Sure, there will be days when you "lose it." There will be times of great insecurity and fear. That is why it is critical for you to be there for you. At least once a week, do something special, just for you. And every day, when you walk by a mirror, look into the mirror at yourself and say, "I love you, just the way you are." If you can't go that far, then say "I'm willing to learn to love you." Refuse to criticize yourself, no matter what. And praise yourself, for every little thing you do. I mean, EVERYTHING! Treat yourself as you would treat someone you really loved, who was hurting. Give yourself the love that someone else didn't give you, and you will have love for the rest of your life. There is so much love in your heart that you could heal the entire planet. But for now, begin to use this love to heal you. Feel a warmth beginning to glow in your heart center. Let this feeling begin to change the way you think and talk about yourself. Make the effort. You are worth it.

Dealing with the legal issues

You might be saying to yourself, "This is supposed to be a lawyer's guide to dealing with divorce. But there is no advice about legal issues." While it is true I have not spent time here discussing how you can "get" the most out of your divorce, as a holistic lawyer, I believe the above guidelines need to be incorporated, every step of the way, in your divorce process. Maintaining your sanity and damage control are pivotal factors in surviving, growing and learning from the divorce process. I have seen many people become embittered and obsessed with retaliating against their former spouse and everyone loses, especially the children. Judges recognize bias and that party loses credibility in the eyes of the court.

Your own lawyer is in the best position to discuss specific legal issues of your case, such as custody, support and property division. But if you keep the above suggestions foremost in your heart, you will find it is easier both to speak up for yourself and to let go of what is truly unimportant, so that you can move on. Last, but certainly not least, these guidelines will help you deal with the anger and resentment that naturally arises in divorce cases. Losing your temper is probably one of the worst things to do in a divorce and the one most destructive to you. Lose your temper and you lose. Keep your head, listen to your heart, love yourself and you will be the big winner.

Dealing with the pain of a divorce

I would like to close this discussion with a quote from Emmanuel's Book by Pat Rodegast. The question to Emmanuel is: "How do we experience painful circumstances without becoming embittered by them?"

Emmanuel's reply: "By seeing them as lessons and not as retribution. Trust life, my friends. However far afield life seems to take you, this trip is necessary. You have come to traverse a wide terrain of experience in order to verify where truth lies and where your distortion is in that terrain. You will then be able to return to your home center, your soul self, refreshed and wiser."

If we could just understand that every one of our so-called problems is merely an opportunity to grow and change and that we have attracted most of them with our own thoughts! All we really have to do is change our thinking, be willing to release the resentment and be willing to forgive and we will experience miracles in our lives. And then the process of divorce will be simply a stepping-stone on our path to much happier times.

I send you my love and support on your journey, and affirm your ability to succeed.

Mindy Hitchcock (Michigan Divorce lawyer)