Telling someone who is undergoing a divorce — especially one that involves a custody dispute — to stay calm will generally evoke an “easy for you to say” response, perhaps with a few choice invectives thrown in for effect. Of course it’s preferable to stay calm; but how does one do that, exactly? How do you take the high road when your former spouse bad-mouths you, tries to turn your kids against you, gouges you financially, withholds child support, or in extreme cases, is physically violent?
Not only is it possible to learn to stay calm during divorce, but it’s essential. Existing in a constant state of emotional overdrive can cause a host of ailments from chronic fatigue to clinical depression. People who are always on high alert may misinterpret benign events and statements as legitimate threats and respond in ways that create the drama they were hoping to avoid.
Sun Tzu, a Chinese general who wrote the famous military treatise The Art Of War, believed that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” His philosophy was that the best warriors strive to disarm their opponents without resorting to violence. It takes discipline not to lash out at someone who’s trying to hurt you, but the benefit is immense. You are not being weak; you are actually controlling your opponent without him knowing.
If you want to continue living in a war zone, then by all means, revel in knee-jerk responses and spend your precious time plotting revenge and bemoaning your fate. If you want to live in peace and enjoy your life, however, then try the following tactics to stay calm – and gain the added advantage of disarming your opponent:
Have a friend screen your ex’s e-mails. Anyone who has been the target of cyber-bullying dreads opening e-mails from a hostile ex. If the thought of reading your ex’s correspondence sets off your gag reflex, consider asking a friend to read your e-mails and tell you what they say. Who knows? With a friend present, you might be able share a laugh over his latest diatribe, or discover she was just writing to let you know something benign.
Develop an e-mail protocol. Whether you do the dishing out, or are dished out upon, be disciplined in your use of e-mails and texts. Avoid sending immediate responses. Instead, write a draft, mull it over, and then come back to it when your blood pressure has settled. Your writing style should be as neutral and “just the facts” as possible. Good rule of thumb: if anything smacks of sarcasm, defensiveness, or victimhood, delete!
De-stress with creative visualization. When was the time you felt the most relaxed and safe? Where were you? At your grandparents’ cabin when you were a child? Bodysurfing in Hawaii? Maybe just watching the sunset from your own backyard? Take a moment and remember the feelings you had when you were there. Think of the sound of the water, the feel of the dry heat on your skin, the colors of the sunset. Those good feelings are internal resources that you can locate when you’re under stress. Your body remembers what it’s like to feel good, so call on those memories when you’re under siege.
Breathe. What’s the first thing people do when they’re angry or scared? They hold their breath. Breathing incorrectly will make you light-headed and tired. Practice inhaling through your nose for four counts, then exhaling for four. Do this ten times. Your mind and body will feel calmer and you will be better able to think and make good decisions. Studies have shown that the four breaths count in, four breaths out is the most effective breathing patter for relieving anxiety.
Pause and count to 10…or 1000. You just got another declaration chock full of lies from the other side. Or your ex just said something snide about you in front of your kids. Yes, hurling epithets (or that leftover serving plate from your wedding) might feel good in the moment, but stop and consider whether is it worth it in the long run. Count to 10, or a higher number if needed, and think of the consequence to that action you’re about to take. Decide if you want to live with the outcome – because you’ll have to. Mindful awareness should dictate your behavior, not emotion.
Carve out a “no-divorce zone” in your life. If you eat, drink and breathe divorce, you will feel miserable and others may feel miserable being around you. Yes, there are times when you have to focus on your divorce — preparing legal documents, meeting with your attorney, and mediation, for example – but don’t give the process more attention than it deserves. Take time to do things that will enhance your life. Go to a museum. Get a massage. Take a road trip. Hang out with friends. Creating more space for activities that nourish you won’t make your divorce go away, but it will keep it from taking over your life.
Set your intention. How much do you want the divorce to consume your life? How is it helping you to obsess over it? You may feel you can’t control your thoughts and reactions but you can control your intention. Take a few minutes each morning to release yourself from obsession. At night reflect on the day. How did you do? Don’t beat yourself up if you spent more time than you’d hoped obsessing. What’s important is that you practice being mindful of your goal so you can adjust your thoughts and behaviors accordingly.
Remaining calm in high-stress situations, especially when you are receiving the brunt of your ex’s anger, may seem like an impossible task. But if you practice these strategies, you will be better able to navigate divorce disagreements. Best of all? Your former spouse will no longer be in control of your life – you will!
Stressed out over your divorce? Our family law attorneys can help. Please contact us to schedule your initial consultation. Start moving towards a calmer, brighter future…today!