This is the column I wish I’d read last December. I can’t believe so much time has passed. Almost a year ago, I called my divorce attorney for the first time and told her I wanted to get the divorce process moving — fast — that I’d already wasted too much time in indecision and heart wrenching limbo.
The process has been anything but speedy, and I’ve lived in limbo for two years. Just think of all the things — people, places, loves — that I could have experienced in that amount of time if I’d given myself the chance to start healing. Instead, we drew it out. Flip-flopped a lot. We let fear be our guide instead of rational thoughts. I tried to remember the good times and forget the last three years of bad. In the process, we hurt each other more, because we let hope live in a lifeboat while our two ships floated to opposites ends of the earth.
Please, don’t be like me. Minimize pain. Maximize healing. Here’s how:
1. Do what you mean. Mean what you say.
Until you are 1,000 percent sure you actually want to go down the horribly sad, thorny road of divorce, don’t even let those hurtful words slip from your lips. In anger, we say all kinds of things. But telling your partner that you want to leave her (forever) and divide the life you’ve created into assets and alimony payments isn’t something you can ever take back. It’s a line that’s been crossed. Don’t say it unless you mean it with all of your broken heart.
2. Get an attorney.
A lot of couples believe they can handle the divorce process on their own. And there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s not really that complicated, especially if you don’t have kids together. But the thing many couples don’t consider is their evolving (crumbling) emotional state. I don’t even want to look at my final divorce decree much less have to create it. I don’t want to think about shared custody of my daughter and how we’ll have to divide Christmas and Thanksgiving. All that makes me want to whither and die. And you just don’t know what you can handle until your in that situation, staring down a document with a whole lot of scary words, phrases, and finalities. An attorney is your advocate, your voice when you can’t speak clearly because you’re sobbing uncontrollably. It’s one less thing to worry about. And that’s worth a lot.
3. Don’t drag it out.
In psychology, there’s a phrase called decision fatigue. It basically means that a person is so overwhelmed with the pure quantity of decisions before them (big and small) that their brains are just unable to make any more choices. Even what to make for dinner becomes trying and stressful. When you drag out the divorce process, you’re at a constant state of indecision. And your brain is always working trying to decide if you should stay with this person. Is he right for me? Do I still love him? Can we make it work? While your brain is trying to come to some type of resolution on this incredibly large life choice, the other choices before you become debilitatingly hard to manage, like, say: Where to live? What car to buy? And what to order at Whataburger? The other thing, and this is a biggie, is that the longer you drag it out, the less happy you’re going to be. I guarantee that joy is hard to muster when you’re constantly weighing and considering the future of your marriage after saying you wanted out.
A very wise counselor asked me a few months ago: “Sarah, is it fear or love? Are you staying with him out of fear or love?” I couldn’t answer the question. I really couldn’t.
Fear has stopped me from doing so many important things in my life. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life letting it dictate my choices or the people I date.
It takes a massive dose of courage to do the really hard things in life. I’m still working on becoming brave when it hurts (and it usually does). At least at first.
As always, please write to me with your questions on love, relationships, and life at: firstname.lastname@example.org.