Although feeling overwhelmed and confused during divorce is normal, remember to avoid the egregious divorce mistakes. It will save you time, money, and your sanity so that you can move on to the next chapter of your life better, not broken or bitter.
1. Not looking at the big picture
One of the reasons why divorce feels horrible is because you probably weren’t taught how to plan ahead in divorce. It’s funny, isn’t it? Guidance counselors and academic advisers in school harped on planning and envisioning our future, while financial advisors preach about planning for retirement. But why, during divorce, don’t you apply those same principles?
Instead of asking yourself, “What’s the game plan? Where do I want to be in a year with this divorce and how can I get there?” and then reverse-engineering, most people just stumble through the days and months, allowing events to unfold and then reacting to them. It’s no wonder you feel helpless and that your life has spun out of control.
Planning where you want to be with the divorce six months from now and a year from now, and then then putting the steps in to get there, has bigger dividends than struggling to make it through the day and merely reacting to events as they unfold. This method can also help plan for contingencies and worst-case scenarios so you don’t freak out if things get ugly.
2. Making decisions based on emotion rather than logic
When you strip away the grief, heartache, anxiety, and overwhelmed feeling, divorce is a business transaction: dividing assets and debts and then continuing your life as an individual. That’s not said to minimize the relationship you and your spouse had together, but it’s absolutely critical to shelf those thoughts and memories when dealing with the business transactions of divorce.
Your head understands, but the part of you that is heartbroken and angry may spend months fighting over things that have nothing to do with business. It’s understandable: we make decisions based on emotions because we are hurting. And the only way you know how to deal with those emotions is by projecting that pain onto our business decisions. We fight and emotionally overreact because we think we will “win,” the divorce. This tit-for-tat can go on for months and years, which only prolongs the stress and ensures a future of bitterness.
Nobody wins in divorce, and you must make your decisions from a clear-headed and rational place. Otherwise, you will find yourself robbed of time, money, and emotional energy—assets that are put to better use in your post-divorce life.
3. Letting others decide for you
When you’re going through a messy divorce that has a million moving parts to it, it can be easy to say, “You know what?!?! I’m just going to let my lawyer figure it out for me.” Or, if we have a particular problem, you may throw a question out on a group forum, and listen to the advice of other contributors, basing your decision on strangers.
There is nothing wrong with educating yourself or asking for advice. But remember that ultimately, this is your life and your future. It is your right and your responsibility to make divorce decisions for yourself. Sure, you can have people advise you—divorce professionals working for you is never a bad thing. But remember, at the end of the day it is you who has to live with the divorce decisions that are made—shouldn’t you be the one making them?
4. Not Educating Yourself
Do you remember those cheesy public service announcements on TV with the shooting star that said “The More You Know?” Or the posters in elementary school, that were like, “Knowledge is Power.” Well, teachers and librarians loved that stuff because it is true.
Divorce can feel overwhelming because you’re scared of the unknown. And the only way to ease that fear is to educate yourself about the process. Quality divorce resources online are plentiful, many divorce lawyers and divorce coaches offer free consultations, and there are support groups and community classes that will help you understand your rights, provide you to-do checklists, and offer assistance so you do not get run over in the process.
5. Latching onto someone else too soon
Once you and your spouse split, you are given this amazing opportunity to heal, rediscover yourself, and reclaim your independence—things that only you can do. So why on earth would you invest yourself emotionally right away with someone new, when you haven’t had any time to learn how to be on your own? And how much worse will you feel when that “new, promising” relationship doesn’t work out?
Sure, you’re human, and you want to be touched and loved. And it may have been months or years since you have felt wanted or passionate. Separation is a lonely place to be, but you know what’s even worse? Dependence—depending on another romantic relationship to make you feel loved and validated. Now is the time to break that cycle.
Desperately going on the rebound does a great disservice to you because it robs you of the opportunity to heal your heart and clear your head. When you look to that other person to fill that emptiness and to “save you,” you’re robbing them of the chance to have the healthy relationship that they deserve.
You don’t need anybody to save you or to heal you. You are strong and smart and you’ve got this. Lean on your friends, your family, a good therapist, divorce support groups, to listen and encourage when you feel hurt. Find the happiness you’ve been missing by discovering and enjoying your newly found freedom.