For better or worse, eight years of living in rush-rush-rush Washington DC has honed my Type-A personality. While the sense of urgency that comes along with getting things completed quickly is sometimes beneficial, an impatient “get it done now!!!” attitude adds unnecessary stress and panic to a divorce situation that is already sad and confusing. And lead us to make divorce mistakes.
My advice to my readers is simple:
Stop thinking you have to do everything all at once.
Right after my husband moved out, I had it in my head that getting everything done in as little of times as possible would somehow make all the heartbreak and anger go away. Anyone going through divorce can attest that getting through the day can be a living hell. I remember having problems falling asleep at night and staying awake worrying. What if I couldn’t afford the lawyer retainer? What if my husband came back and demanded the furniture? What were people saying behind my back? The worries didn’t disappear when I woke up, dreading the anxiety that would follow me. And so I thought that the quicker I took care of all the tasks—mind you, at the beginning I had no clue what all those tasks even were—the sooner I would heal and feel better. I soon learned it doesn’t quite work like that during a divorce.
To say I went crazy with planning and organizing and crossing things off multiple to-do lists would be an understatement. I remember running on three hours of sleep every night for a few weeks, staying up til 3:00 in the morning trying to arrange my closet and hide anything that reminded me of my marriage, staring at separation agreement templates online with bleary bloodshot eyes, sneaking away on work breaks to call the utility company and get his name removed from the account. Did all these little tasks get finished quickly? Yes. But what did that accomplish? Did it make me feel any better? Was I being kind to myself, allowing myself to just breathe and heal? No and no.
That’s the worst part about separation and divorce: during those initial weeks and months—I refer to these as the nuclear fallout—we actually don’t even know what it is. Do we need to find housing if we’re moving out of the marital home? Yes. Do we need to make sure we are financially secure and protected by any craziness by establishing our own checking account, savings accounts, and credit card accounts, and removing our names from joint accounts? Absolutely. But there are so many tasks that actually don’t require our immediate attention. And those can wait. But when we don’t be patient and kind with ourselves and give ourselves a second to just chill out, we get ridiculously overwhelmed when we are already in pain. It’s adding fuel to a fire in that separation and divorce hell we’re living.
How to Stop the Madness, or at Least Simmer it Down!
So, we know that we that we’re making it harder on ourselves with thinking we have to do everything all at once, but how can break this habit? The solution is simple:
Create a compassionate timeline for yourself.
But why, exactly?
Well, I like to think of divorce as a marathon. Actually, it’s more like those crazy ultratriathalons, where athletes are running, swimming, biking for days. But divorce is crazier because we are forced to juggle the onslaught of grief and panic and fear and other emotions, as well as custody, other legal drama, finances, and myriad other to-dos for months—sometime even years. So, why don’t we plan our own course in the same way an athlete would plan their training?
I remember sitting in a boring Monday morning office meeting where the division chief was droning on about mileposts or whatever cheesy corporate buzz word was in style that week for some big project that wasn’t even due for another 18 months. That’s when it hit me:
Why not use a timeline similar to the ones done with project management and integrate that in my own divorce?
When I returned home that evening, I went through all the “to-dos” I had been losing sleep over, and put them in a calendar, mapping out priorities—things to be accomplished in two weeks, a month, three months, and six months. They changed over time, of course, but much to my surprise it worked! Mapping out all the things I needed to still accomplish with the divorce, and giving myself the time to balance those tasks with the emotional and grieving aspects that I could not put a due date on, somehow worked! With the timeline, I had more time for myself and more time to heal. But the key was to be patient, accept that not everything had to be done right away, and that there were things that could actually wait. I only wish that the idea of creating a timeline had come to me sooner. I could have saved myself that added stress and panic at the beginning of the separation that I try so hard to forget.
So many people make the divorce mistake of taking on too much and build this unrealistic expectations that we can do it all quickly, because we don’t know what else to do. Websites and well-intended advice give divorcees the “must-dos,” of divorce, but finding a unicorn is easier than finding a timeline that is reasonable for your own situation.
So create one yourself.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t fret! This post is the first in a series that will guide the readers through this process that can help eliminate some of the stress and overwhelm they are no doubt feeling. In the meantime, remember to be kind to yourself, and patient with yourself and the process.