Togetherness after divorce
A divorce is emotionally fraught and can take a severe toll.
Here’s how a divorce coach can help.
We turn to our loved ones for comfort, or so popular culture would have us believe. But the reality is that there are no perfect families, a fact that can be especially painful to reckon with in the wake of a divorce.
In her practice, Massachusetts-based Certified Divorce Coach (CDC) Debra Block helps clients to keep a positive focus, in part by giving up the stories they tell themselves about a situation that may or may not be based in reality. So it’s perhaps ironic that she describes divorce with an allegory of sorts. “I once heard a judge compare divorce to a sleigh ride. Parents decide to get on, kids are put on,” she says. That is, kids are affected by the decision to divorce, despite not being part of the decision-making process.
Block encourages clients to envision a favorable outcome for the divorce, and plugging into that proactive mindset as early as possible can be very helpful in the face of stressors. A divorce coach understands the many ways other transitions, and even the holidays, can derail a family going through such a major change. Envision having your coach act as an objective guide to partner with you in mapping out the ride for the years ahead.
An acrimonious parting pushes some of the same buttons that other major stressors can. Block uses a realignment technique—a gradual changing of perceptions about a person or situation—to shift a client’s sense of self away from “who you have become to survive the marriage” and back to a grounded sense of self. This can especially help a couple who have divorced to feel more stable, which can help when the urge to compete—Who scored more brownie points with the kids? Who has already bounced back?—strikes. Parents must be allies for the sake of their children, so instead of pitting them against one another, they can work together as individuals to maintain the peace.
Feeling lonely or isolated, especially during times of enforced happiness such as a family event or the holidays, can have a double whammy effect on the survivors of divorce. Isolation breeds more isolation and makes it harder to reach out for help or simply good company; getting used to being alone can be challenging after being part of a couple that a stubborn pride in one’s newfound self-sufficiency can lead to holding people at arm’s length. And frankly, joining a crowd of revelers, whether or not an ex-partner is among them, can feel noisy and threatening after time spent alone. Coaching offers a chance to establish healthy boundaries, from how large a gathering one is willing to attend to a cap on alcoholic beverages.
Block views coaching as a proactive tool that doesn’t need to examine the past in order to build a happy future. “To me, the focus of coaching is, ‘It is what it is, now what am I going to do about it?’” she says. So she encourages clients to plan, well and in detail, before getting on the sleigh ride. “[A coach can] provide help in planning by ensuring goals are (achievable), measurable, with results that are influenced by only your choices.” This is similar to the SMART goalsetting method, where goals are defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. So instead of “don’t pick a fight with my ex at cousin Sue’s wedding,” a goal to stay at the reception for 90 minutes, have no more than one drink, and come prepared with a few innocuous topics of discussion increases the chances of a successful and less stressful outing.
Knowing that a social situation will potentially be emotionally triggering (seeing your ex, for example, or their new partner) means being able to plan a response, or a range of them, so that merely attending a party doesn’t feel like a visit to the lion’s den.
The simple truth is that nobody enters into a marriage with the thought that it will end, so it raises difficult feelings and can leave one feeling like a failure. That alone can make every emotionally stuck place even stickier than usual.
Coaching can and does foster personal growth, but there are also times when it’s best used as a mechanism for self-care. Making sure you’re eating healthy, getting exercise and sleeping well are all things that translate into actionable goals; plug them into the SMART grid mentioned above to keep on task.
Block notes that coaching’s focus on “preparing you to avoid the known bumps, and begin[ning] to anticipate those unique to your situation,” can lead to greater stability while “equipping you with strategies to keep emotions in check and avoid hot button [issues].” These can be as simple as learning some focused breathing techniques, or using a micro-planning approach to brainstorm 30-second actions that will help you find your happy place when someone starts bringing up uncomfortable topics (excusing yourself to use the restroom, then slipping out for a breath of fresh air is a timeworn classic). Simply knowing you have options is often enough to dispel panic.
Divorce is hard on the couple but can be devastating for their children, who were thrust into the situation and feel a profound loss of control. Outside help can mitigate potential harm by helping parents anticipate their kids’ needs, which may include some regressive behavior. Block’s experience has been that, “How the parents decide to plan for, prepare for, and navigate the ride determines how much the kids are tossed around.” Transitions such as a transfer of schools or home can make for one very long sleigh ride, and would be the perfect time to bring on the support of a divorce coach.
Coaching prepares the parties in a divorce for the process, and thus offers a chance to end a relationship without having it feel like the end of the world. Working with a divorce coach presents a similar chance to chart growth…but don’t be concerned if you’re not there yet.
While the breakup is fraught with waiting, the separation, and then recovery, a coach works to keep both parties aware of how they are active agents in the process, neither one a victim or aggressor. Not feeling helpless in the face of great changes is a source of strength and something to be proud of, but few reach that goal all at once. A sensitive coach recognizes the baby steps clients take along the way. Block says, “The most we can ask of ourselves is that we tried our best.”
Don’t let a divorce derail you from the path to happiness. A divorce coach can guide you as you smooth the way forward and help you stay focused on finding and maintaining good cheer, and sharing it with the ones you love.