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How to Handle the Impact of Grief and Stress During Divorce

Stress during divorce is inevitable. Divorce is one of the most stressful and emotional experiences that a person will ever endure. Psychologists advise people to refrain from important decision making when experiencing periods of high grief and stress, yet the divorce process forces people to make life-changing choices as quickly as possible, even when they’re stressed out.

A person suffering from grief and stress during divorce experiences Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. First, he suffers from denial; he is unable to admit that the relationship is really over. Next, he is angry at his spouse, who is leaving him, for causing him such pain. After anger, he may plead with his former partner, promising that whatever caused the breakup will never happen again. In the following phase, he maykubler-ross-change-curve
feel discouraged that his bargaining plea did not convince his former partner to stay, which may send him into depression. Finally, the grieving spouse accepts the situation, realizes that the relationship is over, and is able to move on with his life. At this point, he is finally in an emotional condition to make important decisions.

Most people don’t enjoy the luxury of being able to wait until they reach the acceptance stage to proceed with their divorce.

When faced with stress during divorce, it is crucial to remain as calm as possible. You should aggressively work to calm yourself by engaging in the following physical steps.

Begin by taking slow, deep breaths. Hold your hand over your stomach. Push your hand away from your stomach as you inhale through your nose, and then allow your hand to drop back toward your stomach as you exhale through your mouth. Inhale slowly, and then exhale slowly, moving your stomach rather than your shoulders and chest.

If you are still experiencing stress during divorce, even while engaged in the abdominal breathing described above, you may need to slow down and focus on your breathing even more. Count your slow, deep breaths until you reach ten. Focus on each segment of your breathing. Be aware as you begin each inhale, and continue to remain actively aware as you reach the middle and end of the inhale. Then notice the beginning, the middle, and end of the exhale. Being so aware of each phase of the breath helps you to remain aware of what is going on in the moment and distracts you from outside stressors. Your body should begin to relax once you are completely focused on the present moment.

You should also purposely deliberate on calming thoughts to relax you during a stressful situation. Remind yourself that you are safe and that you control your own inner state. Tell yourself that your attorney is looking out for your best interests and won’t permit you to enter into a bad deal or to look bad in court. Even if your spouse is upset about an issue, remind yourself that you do not need to be distraught, as well. Focus on your breathing to stay calm.

Calming Thoughts and a Less Stressful Divorce Optioncalm-thoughts

My attorney is here to protect me, to represent my interests, and to ensure that I negotiate an agreement without giving in.
I do not have to agree to anything that I don’t want to agree to.
The divorce cannot be final until I am satisfied with the agreement.
Even when my spouse is distressed or upset, I don’t have to be.
I can focus on calming myself even if my spouse’s behavior is inappropriate.
I need not respond immediately to anything that is said.
I will remain calm and consider my response before I speak.

There is a less stressful alternative to divorce litigation. Collaborative practice allows individuals to set the pace for their divorce. Mental health facilitators are usually an integral part of the core collaborative team, and they understand better than other professionals when it is wise for a couple to move forward, or when more time is needed for one person to work through his stress and grief. In litigation, if a case languishes because a party is not ready to move forward, the opposing party may force it forward by filing upsetting and costly motions, or the judge may compel the parties to move the case along. In collaborative practice, if it is determined that a client needs more time, rather than purposely exacerbating the emotional spouse’s stress, the team discusses this issue with the other spouse, and coaches her on how to alleviate her spouse’s anxiety or feelings of stressful overload.

That doesn’t mean that a spouse has unlimited time to work out his stress before proceeding, but the collaborative process helps people work through stress so that they can more quickly be in a position to negotiate meaningfully and effectively. And the other spouse, who may have moved forward more quickly in the grieving process, is educated as to how to act to help the grieving spouse move forward as quickly as possible.

A collaborative divorce will run smoothly and productively if each spouse is able to identify the other’s needs and wishes, and if each is willing to look for solutions that help both.

The team focuses on what is best to help each client proceed, rather than attacking the enemy while s/he is down. Where litigation takes advantage of the vulnerable party’s emotional state, collaboration is a more even-handed, relaxing method that focuses on the needs of both spouses. And when spouses negotiate while in a more positive state, they tend to enter into agreements that are fairer to both of them, and easier for both to perform and fulfill. This, of course, decreases the likelihood of post-judgment conflict because each spouse is happier with the end result.

Choosing to collaborate instead of to litigate will give you a greater likelihood of remaining calm during your divorce process and beyond.

Collaborative Skills and Attitudes

Your collaborative process will suffer a significant risk of failure if one or both participants are not:

  • Willing to confer with the other participant in the same room.
  • Able to discuss matters with the other participant.
  • Capable of hearing the other participant’s viewpoint.
  • Prepared and able to shun violence.
  • Willing to forgo intimidation.
  • Able to ignore intimidation.
  • Ready to be open and transparent regarding matters material to the divorce.

Your process will be unnecessarily difficult if one or both participants are not:

  • Willing to forego interrupting the other participants.
  • Able to speak in normal tones throughout a meeting.
  • Capable of remaining in the meeting regardless of what is said.
  • Prepared to understand accurately what the other participant has said.
  • Able  to express their own thoughts and feelings clearly.

Your divorce process will be smooth and productive if both participants work to be :

  • Able to identify their partner’s needs and wishes.
  • Willing to search for solutions that help both of them.

Follow Open Palm Law to learn more about the collaborative divorce process and how it can help you!

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

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About this week’s authors:  Joryn Jenkins.

joryn-white-headshot-150x150Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-
year career in law while also serving as a full-time professor in law at Stetson University.  She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement.  For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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