Self-sabotage. We’ve all done it. But when we do it while going through a life-changing process such as divorce and trying to come out better on the other side, it can be very problematic.
Self-sabotage can prevent you from reaching your goals, and in a divorce that can have dire consequences. Understanding why self-sabotage occurs can help stop it. People sabotage themselves because they have self-doubt and a loss of confidence, both of which happen with divorce. You may doubt that you can make good decisions because your marriage failed. You may question your ability to support yourself as your financial picture changes. You may feel like a bad parent because your children are struggling. But these thoughts are not true and you need to be able to bring yourself back to reality.
How do you overcome these negative thoughts so you can face the realness of divorce confident and strong? Here are several strategies that can help:
Write down your negative thoughts -
Write down the negative thoughts as you’re having them. If you’re saying to yourself things like:
I won’t be able to support myself and my kids.
I’m not a good parent.
This is going to be like this forever.
We’re never going to sell our house.
How do these thoughts make you feel? These negative thoughts impact the way you feel. Notice the judgment and negative assumptions. Take a deep breathe and slow down your thoughts by writing them down.
Write down the answer to this question for each thought - what is the evidence that this thought isn’t true?
Think of all of the times you’ve made good decisions, been financially stable and have been a good parent. That doesn’t go away. Write down facts about who you really are – as if you were talking to your friend when they're feeling bad about themselves. Ask yourself:
What do I love about myself?
What am I proud of?
What am I good at?
How far have I come?
Replace the negative thoughts with positive phrases:
I am incredible.
I am strong.
I’ve done really incredible things.
I’ve raised amazing kids.
I am a force to be reckoned with.
I’ve got this.
You’ll be amazed how much different you feel when you change your self-talk.
Self-sabotage can prevent you from moving forward in your divorce process. If you’re able to change your self-talk to be positive, you’ll be amazed at how you’ll become more confident and you’ll feel more peace and happiness in your life.
Divorce can be overwhelming and isolating. Too many people have so much shame from their divorce that they don’t reach out for help. Having support during divorce is key to making the divorce process more manageable. You can learn to let go of shame and find support so that you can get your life back on track.
How do you find the support you need?
Spend time with family
Your family are typically the first ones who will be there for you. Not everyone in your family needs to know all of the details of your experience. Only confide in your most trusted and supportive family members as you’ll need non-judgmental people who help you feel good about yourself.
Reach out to friends
If you don’t have a supportive family, choose friends who are patient and kind. Your friends may not understand what you need. Reach out to friends who you can trust to share what’s going on and what you need. You may need a place to stay for a night or two to get away from the stress. Or you may need a walking partner to get out and exercise. Whatever it is you need, let your friends know. If they’re true friends, they’ll be there for you.
Find a support group
There are plenty of divorce support groups that you can find online, in your local area or on apps like Facebook and Meetup. Hearing stories from others and learning about their experiences will help you cope and can offer great advice on situations that neither your friends nor family will be able to help you with. They are also a great resource for referrals for therapists, divorce coaches, attorneys, or anything else that you might need as you continue your divorce. My free FB group, Separation and Divorce Support Community, is a great example of this.
Talk to a professional
Many people speak with an attorney first when going through divorce and because they're distraught, they end up using their attorney as a therapist. This can cost a lot of money plus attorneys are not mental health professionals so they don’t know how to help you with emotional issues. A therapist or a divorce coach can provide you with specific tools to process your emotions so that you can think clearly through the important decisions that you have to make throughout your divorce process. A divorce coach can help you understand what your options are as you go through your divorce process and can help you avoid making costly mistakes.
A good support system during divorce will help you let go of the shame and shift your mindset to a more positive outlook so that you can get your life back on track. Choose your support system wisely by reaching out to supportive friends and family, joining support groups and getting the professional guidance to get to your great post-divorce life!
When I was going through my divorce, I didn’t know what to say to my kids. I was doing my best to protect them so I didn’t share much with them about the divorce. I assumed they would open up to me if they needed to talk. Knowing what I do now, I would do things differently. Following are some key points to help kids open up during divorce.
1. Start things off with honest communication.
How you are going to communicate with your children during divorce starts when you tell them about the divorce. It’s important to tell them together - with both parents if possible - without blaming either parent. You don’t have to give too many details, but answer their questions as they come up.
Kids are focused primarily on themselves and mostly care about how the divorce will impact them. They’re typically not thinking about their parents’ feelings too much.
You can give them information like:
It’s so important to be available to your kids when they want to talk. You can intentionally create situations where they’re relaxed such as when you’re driving in the car or before they go to bed. Here are some ways to encourage them to open up with you:
Kids live in the present moment - they’re much better at doing that than adults. When they don’t like what’s happening, they may say hurtful things to their parents. Try not to get caught up in the things they say during a stressful moment. They may seem extremely upset one day, but that doesn’t mean it’s how they’re going to feel the next day or next week. Do your best to let little things go and not to take it personally. As a parent, it’s devastating to know they’re hurting, but kids are very resilient. Their moods will not last forever.
However, there are times that you should consider reaching out for help. There are some clues to show if your child is simply upset and processing their feelings or if they are having deeper struggles. Here are some examples:
These behavior changes are signals that your child isn’t coping well with the divorce and may need extra help from a counselor or professional.
The great news is that the most stressful parts of your divorce will not last forever, and that there are clear ways to keep the lines of communication open with you and your children. Many times, parents can have even deeper relationships with their kids after divorce when the strain of the marriage isn’t a part of the parent/child relationship. In the meantime, these strategies can give you a positive direction for how to get your kids to open up.
One of the most important skills you need when you’re getting divorced is knowing how to successfully negotiate your agreement. What makes this so difficult is that emotions can get in the way and then you can’t think clearly. You need to be able to put your emotions aside and think clearly through your divorce negotiations. Here are 3 key points you must keep in mind to negotiate your divorce agreement well. Your divorce agreement is simply a legal business transaction.
1. Your divorce agreement is simply a legal business transaction.
This is about your financial future. You wouldn’t make a business transaction without thinking through all of your options. Take your time to think through what the best decision is without being distracted by anger or revenge. For example, do you really want that old coffee table or picture just because he wants it? Emotions block you from having clarity about your priorities and end goals. I know divorce is an emotional time and you are hurting. It is important to deal with those feelings, but learn how to separate them and put them aside for a while. Make space and time for those feelings and then put them back on the shelf so you can focus on your finances and make smart decisions through your divorce.
2. Identify and rank your top priorities.
What are your priorities? What will you fight for? NOTHING ELSE is as important as this thing! Maybe it’s your retirement account, your schedule, where you live or if you keep your house. Rank 3-4 things that are the most important and realize you probably won’t get them all. Maybe you give up the #4 priority for the #1 priority. Knowing what matters keeps you laser focused and allows you to be flexible with the hundreds of other less important decisions that come up in divorce.
Separate short term and long term priorities. An example of a short term priority would be that you need your car repaired. A long term priority would be the custody arrangements. Your top 3-4 list should be long term priorities.
3. Know your ex’s priorities and be creative!
Think about your ex’s priorities. Do you know what’s important to them? If you discuss what matters to them as well as your own priorities, you can reach an agreement much quicker.. Tell your ex, “I don’t want this to drag on forever and spend all this money on attorneys. What is it that you really want? If you can tell me, I can try and make that happen.”
If your ex won’t share, use what you know about them and be creative! Let go of things that are not your highest priority. In my divorce, I realized I was digging in on short term things like season tickets when all that truly mattered to me was the parenting schedule. My ex, as a financial planner, felt strongly about certain financial assets. In the end, I let go of things my attorney wanted for me financially because I understood what mattered to my ex and what mattered to me.
5 helpful phrases to use in your negotiations:
Remember, this is a business negotiation. Nothing that your ex has done to you in the past matters now. Use these phrases in a businesslike manner and respectful tone to better understand your ex’s priorities so you can be an educated and creative negotiator.
Knowing your priorities in divorce makes all the difference with negotiating your agreement. If I had been clear on my own priorities and what mattered to my ex in the beginning, I would have saved SO MUCH MONEY in lawyer fees and arguments and bickering and stress. If you use the approaches I outlined, you are well on your way to negotiating a divorce agreement that works for both of you in the end.
Studies show that self-esteem tends to diminish during the time leading up to and during divorce. This is because divorce can feel like a failure, whether you wanted it or not. It's public - people know you’re getting divorced and you may feel like everyone is judging you. In addition, you can hyper focus on the negatives - what went wrong in the marriage and question every decision that you made.
However, you can improve your self-esteem with intentional actions. Here are 2 strategies to regain your self-esteem when it’s impacted by divorce.
If you’re struggling and feeling like a failure in your divorce, this has little to do with your character. The root is probably an internal voice that says, “I’m a failure. I should have known better. Why didn’t I do things differently?” Interrupt this negative thinking and reframe the way you look at yourself and the divorce. Talk to yourself and say, “I did the best that I could and that’s ok. I’m strong, I can be happy.”
Going through divorce does not equal failure, it's actually a demonstration of how strong you are. Many people are unhappy in their marriage but don’t have the strength to leave and can’t imagine a different life. Every day you move forward in your divorce is a success. Each time you interrupt your negative thinking and replace it with a positive truth, this is a win.
I don’t know you personally, but I know a few of your strengths. Because I’ve been through divorce myself and have worked with hundreds of people going through divorce, I know how difficult it is. If you’re going through divorce, you’re resilient and adaptable because life brought you this difficult circumstance and you’re making it through. All that life is throwing at you - every day you get out of bed, every time you file paperwork or show up for your kids during this time of grief, you show perseverance.
Take a look at this list of positive personality traits: warm, friendly, honest, loyal, responsible, funny, dependable, open-minded, kind, empathic, ambitious, intelligent, creative, generous, enthusiastic, observant, insightful, polite, energetic, organized, determined, forgiving, patient, artistic, thorough, witty.
There’s a lot to like about yourself, but you have to make an effort to notice these qualities. Most of us spend a lot of time encouraging others, but it is also important to encourage yourself. Write down at least 8 things from the list above and add your own that describe you. If you do this regularly, you’ll help improve your self-esteem and you’ll be amazed at the positive consequences of feeling good about yourself.
Your divorce doesn’t have to negatively impact your kids. Studies have shown that children with divorced parents can have the same positive outcomes seen in peers with married parents. But specific behaviors on your part can make it easier for them to thrive. Your kids need your help and commitment to keep their needs at the center during your divorce. Here are some things that will help your kids through divorce, for their benefit and long term happiness.
- Work on getting along with your ex
It’s not divorce itself that causes problems for your children, it’s fighting between parents that results in negative outcomes in the long term for children in divorced families. High conflict between parents causes children to struggle with their self-esteem as well as increasing the likelihood of anxiety and depression. When parents are fighting, it forces a child to choose sides and this can cause internal struggles and eventually, mental health struggles.
- Speak respectfully about your ex
When you bad mouth the other parent, your children internalize this criticism. It may feel like it’s only about your ex, but your children contain part of you and part of your ex! No matter the problems you’ve had with your ex, your child loves them and it’s hurtful to them when you speak negatively about their parent. It’s natural to be struggling through your own emotions, but your children don’t have to be pulled into it. It may be difficult but you can speak diplomatically and respectfully about their other parent in front of them.
- See your ex as an important person in your child’s life
It’s helpful to realize that your ex is an important person in your child’s life. If your ex is doing well, this is going to positively affect your child and that’s reason enough to wish the best for them. Working to increase your empathy for your ex can diffuse the negativity and anger you may have for them, which will also benefit your children. Get support from a divorce support group, a divorce coach or a therapist so that you can process your own feelings and remember that your ex is a human walking through a difficult time.
- Support your ex’s relationship with your children
It’s tempting to get territorial about your children, but keeping your kids away from your ex will usually have negative consequences for them. You married your ex for a reason and he or she has positive traits. Try to remember some of those and acknowledge that these strengths are valuable to your children. Occasionally, in divorce, one parent cannot provide a safe environment for the children. But in most situations, your children will benefit from having a strong relationship with both parents where they can gain different strengths from each of you.
It’s normal to be worried about how divorce will impact your kids. The good news is that there’s plenty of research to show what you can do to help them thrive. I hope this encourages you with some proven ways to help your kids bounce back from divorce. Taking these steps isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it to help your kids thrive in the short and long term!
Divorce is a painful experience that can leave you feeling lost. No matter how many years you’ve been married, your identity has been impacted by being a married person. When you lose this identity, it can send you reeling. Acknowledging all the big and little losses is an important part of healing. Take some time to journal about this loss of identity and talk about it with supportive friends and family, a divorce coach or a therapist.
The next step towards healing from this loss of identity is clarifying who you are and where you’re going. When you got married, you may have lost your identity as a single person, but didn’t realize it because it happened slowly. When you’re going through divorce, you get the chance to find yourself again and learn how to be happy in an authentic way.
Finding yourself is simply knowing yourself, what matters to you, and what makes you happy.
One painful part of divorce is that it shakes up our lives and we aren’t sure what will be left when the dust settles. But you get to choose who and what you want to keep and what to release and leave behind in your old life. You get to rebuild your self-esteem and confidence by knowing that you’re strong enough (you are!) to come through this even more healthy and whole than you were before.
One of the positives of divorce is the opportunity to find who you are and develop a future that aligns with that.
Start with remembering what you enjoyed before you were married. Write down answers to the following questions:
Take some time to think about these questions. Get to know who you are, what your priorities are and how you can move forward committed to living in a way that is fulfilling to you. This journey of finding out who you are can be exciting. Do you want to take up a new sport or other hobby? Do you want to volunteer and help others? Do you want to change careers? You have the opportunity to learn and grow from your divorce and the power to live in a more authentic way. Grab this chance and just do it!!
When you have children and get divorced, the final agreement must include a parenting plan to clarify what will happen after the divorce regarding the care of the children. A parenting plan outlines the parenting schedule - when each parent will see the children and the logistics of how that will happen. It also covers other relevant issues like how decisions should be made about medical situations, the children’s education and religious affiliation.
Everything that’s put into the agreement is part of a legal document, the Marital Settlement Agreement or the Separation Agreement, that’s filed with the court. Parents must follow that agreement and can be brought back to court if they don’t.
A child-centered parenting plan is one where you put your children and their wellbeing first. There are many things that get in the way of putting children first like work schedules and significant others. However, when you center the plan around the needs of the children and what’s best for them, it will help create a structure for them to grow into emotionally healthy adults.
Here are some key tips to keep your parenting plan child-centered:
When going through divorce, many people feel shame and/or guilt because divorce is at some point public and people feel like others are judging them that they’ve failed in their marriage. But shame and guilt are very different and while guilt can be appropriate and understandable, shame never is. There is a major difference between the feelings of shame and the feelings of guilt and there are ways to manage both.
Guilt is a feeling about something either that you’ve done or you *feel* like you’ve done. Brene Brown, a shame researcher, explains that guilt is about behavior where you say to yourself, “I did something bad.” However, Brown explains shame is much deeper and is the feeling like there is something wrong with me. Shame is a focus on one’s self rather than behavior where the person believes, “I am bad.”
Because shame and guilt are quite different at their root, it’s important to determine which one you are struggling with in order to understand what to do about them.
Coping with Guilt in divorce
To manage your guilt in divorce, explore your feelings. What are you feeling guilty about? Talk about your feelings to friends, family, a professional or journal about them. Decide if these feelings of guilt are rational and appropriate or they are irrational and false.
Rational: I took my stress out on my kids and spoke harshly to them.
False: If I had done XYZ, my husband wouldn’t have left me.
If you determine your guilt is rational and related to something real that you DID, then:
But, if your guilt is about something that you had no control over, but you just wish that you could have fixed it by some preventative action, that’s irrational guilt. You aren’t responsible for the actions of your ex, and you’re not responsible for every struggle your children are having because you’re getting a divorce. In these instances, work on your self-talk. Ex: “I am in control of my own responses, not the responses of others.”
Coping with Shame in Divorce
Shame is painful. Shame is the voice in our head that says that we are a failure, not a good person or similar negative messages directed straight at our identity.
To decrease shame, we have to figure out exactly what those messages are. What is that inner voice saying? Shame may come from negative spoken or unspoken expectations and reactions from childhood. What negative messages do you say to yourself? What you think about yourself and how do you talk to yourself and view yourself?
Determine where are these negative messages coming from? Was it from a parent, sibling, or some other significant adult in our life? Was it from religion's or a school's explicit or implicit messages? Or was it something else?
Identify negative thoughts that get stuck on repeat. Call out those thoughts and replace them with new, positive thoughts. Write all your strengths down. Replace the cycle of negative thoughts with positive affirmations and write them down where you can see them. Surround yourself with supportive people or a therapist who can help you work through these negative core beliefs.
It takes work but you can manage your guilt and shame. Like Robert Frost wrote: The only way out is through.
Does every communication with your ex end in you feeling frustrated and emotional? Then your ex is probably a high conflict person. Divorce is hard enough when both parties are reasonable. Throw a high-conflict ex into the mix and it can feel unbearable. Communicating peacefully with a high-conflict ex may seem impossible, but there are things you can do to communicate effectively and navigate this process with less stress.
Here are tips to keep in mind when communicating with a high-conflict ex:
You can do this! Your children are worth the effort. If you can use these tips successfully, conflict between you and your ex will decrease and you and your children will benefit.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.