Are you a fan of the book Atomic Habits by James Clear? The number one self-help bestseller describes how the small actions we repeat each day drive the bigger picture of how successful we are at reaching our goals.
In the book, Clear compares the power of habits to the trajectory of an airplane: even a single small shift in direction can send an airplane on a completely different course. Our habits operate in the same way: good habits help to keep us on track, but bad habits can easily steer us in the wrong direction.
If your goals for your divorce include protecting your children, assets and future, and to do so with as little time, stress and cost as possible…what small, regular habits will put you on the path towards reaching these outcomes? What bad habits do you need to drop?
Here are some atomic habits for divorce to help you end up where you want to be.
Habit: Use communication as a tool to lower tension
It’s easy to let loose on your spouse via email or respond angrily to a text that didn’t sit well with you, but you need to know that high conflict communication is a bad habit that can derail your divorce. Instead, adopt the good habit of keeping your correspondence concise and factual; leave out opinions, feelings, parenting advice, criticism, and snarky comments. If your ex sends you an incendiary email, wait until you’ve calmed down before responding, or ask your attorney to respond. When you habitually model neutral communication, it helps deny the oxygen that conflict needs to thrive.
Habit: Follow through on temporary agreements
Make it a habit to abide by your agreements in your divorce, including temporary agreements and/or court orders made during your separation. Pay temporary child support and alimony on time and in full; don’t play games and withhold payments because you’re angry or resentful. If you receive temporary child support, keep a log of how it’s spent on your children’s expenses. Use the temporary alimony to pay the household bills, not to revenge spend. Follow your temporary custody schedule and show up for custody drop offs and picks ups on time. Don’t obstruct your kids’ time with your ex by calling and texting repeatedly.
Adopting the good habit of following through on temporary agreements will create an atmosphere of safety, consistency and greater trust as you proceed through the divorce process.
Habit: Support your child’s relationship with your ex
It is imperative that you put aside your personal grievances with your spouse so you can establish a good co-parenting relationship. Your job as a co-parent is to facilitate your children’s relationship with their other parent. Make these your habits: don’t speak ill of your spouse in front of the kids; respect your spouse’s right to run their home as they see fit; don’t use your children as “go between” messengers or spies; don’t fight with your ex in front of the kids; and adhere to the terms of your custody arrangement. The only justifiable reason to insert yourself in your spouse’s relationship with your children is if their safety is in jeopardy.
Habit: Prioritize organization
There is a lot of paperwork coming your way in divorce: filing documents, real estate valuations, bank statements, tax returns and other financial statements, custody expert reports, and more. There are deadlines, too, for collecting documents and/or responding to or producing certain forms and records. If you habits of organization tend to be “dump it in a shoe box and hope for the best,” it’s time to turn over a new leaf. Make it a habit to stay organized. Whether you download a digital app to help you organize documents and use Google calendar to set reminders for deadlines, or you go the old school route of filing papers in an accordion folder and noting on a paper calendar who needs what and when, find a system that works for you and stick with it.
There are few things more frustrating in divorce than having a decision go against you for the simple reason that you forgot to sign or submit a certain piece of paper. Need help in this area? Get more tips for how to get organized in divorce.
Habit: Give yourself a divorce curfew
Thinking about your divorce 24/7 will burn you out. No matter how much work you have to do meeting with family law professionals and preparing documentation, it’s crucial to set limits. Put yourself on a “divorce curfew” so you can manage your stress level. To do this, make it a habit to completely avoid anything divorce-related (including talking about divorce) after 8 pm. Spend evening hours doing something positive: enjoy bedtime rituals with your kids, read a book, or meditate. You may also find that you get a better night’s sleep when you follow your curfew.
Habit: Stay off social media
Using Facebook as a way to blow off steam about your ex and your divorce can feel good in the moment. You will most likely have a willing and eager audience of people to offer “like clicks” and comments. Social media rants, however, can just make things worse if/when your ex gets wind of you airing their dirty laundry and goes on the counterattack.
Rather than use Facebook as a skewed form of therapy, make time in your schedule to seek out a counselor, preferably one who often works with people in divorce. A trained counselor can offer a listening ear, help you process your emotions, and teach you important coping skills.
Habit: Create Win-Win Scenarios
You can apply good habits to everything you do in your divorce, right down to how you negotiate and hash out terms with your ex. Rather than make demands or issue ultimatums during settlement discussions, consider ways you can frame settlement options as something that solves a problem for both of you. In other words, make it a habit to explain to your what you want in win-win terms. For example, rather than demand, “I want the house,” try explaining the situation in more win-win terms: “Our house is old and requires frequent repairs. I made most of the repairs while we lived there and did so inexpensively compared to hiring a repairman. If you want the house you will end up spending a lot money for repairs, including the new roof we both know is needed. So to reduce costs for both of us, I think it’s better if I live in the home and you receive your equity share to buy a new house with fewer maintenance needs.”
Which would you say yes to if offered? Exactly. And that’s the power of habits!
A good rule of thumb: whenever you come up against conflict or uncertainty in your divorce, think about which small steps you could take — consistently — to start changing the trajectory of your divorce towards the direction of your goals.
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