Hard Truths and Altered Realities
In our last article we identified that our colleague, Rick, had written a book on how to have a happy divorce or separation. Many of us will feel sad that such a book is necessary today, but the sad truth is more and more relationships are ending in divorce and there is little or no opportunity for people to receive satisfactory help or guidance on how to do this in a productive fashion. In fact, many divorces and separations end up being destructive and making life difficult for a failed couple’s friends and loved ones. Rick identifies that this needn’t be the case.
If you are going through a separation you will find that there comes a point when the reality of the situation hits you hard and fast. Rick covers this phase in depth in the book, but we will offer a brief guide here.
When facing a hard truth, it is invariably best to accept the reality for what it is with no sugar coating whilst maintaining a non-pessimistic outlook – difficult presents are not forecasts of eternal despondency however much it may feel like it.
It is wise to be ready for the emotions that will come your way in much the same way that grief and bereavement counsellors will walk a recently bereft person through the stages of loss. Rick identifies four key behaviours and their related emotions that a person going through the first stage of separation will feel and these are contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. Psychotherapists like myself like to prepare our clients for the expected as well as the unexpected in life and where possible to help a client identify what they will experience often normalises what they go through and this frequently provide relief as they no longer feel that there coping or perceived lack thereof is a sign that they are themselves broken in some way.
Those who blindly and blithely enter into a separation only believing that it is for the best and therefore their new-found freedom will be all about rainbows and unicorns can crash hard when the reality hits them.
A balanced view is important. Whilst blind optimism is rarely helpful living under a cloud of never-ending doom and gloom might finish you off more quickly so follow the advice and exercises Rick lays out in the book.
The reality of a separation is also that we will experience lots of negative thoughts. A cluster of brain cells that is referred to as the Reticular Activating System means that the human mind spends a lot of its time recognizing stimuli that relates to our current difficulties. When we get these external triggers, we play memories that we associate with those issues. To compound this, when we play these memories we make more thinking errors which contribute massively to negative thinking. Viscous cycles start to spin out of control.
Some classic thinking errors around divorce and separation include disqualifying the positives. It often feels more appropriate to dismiss out of hand the better points about your former partner and the good times you might have shared. Some people will find a strange kind of comfort in hearing others share in these disqualifications. But these thought patterns really only serve to fuel further negatives.
It is also not uncommon to overly blame yourself by magnifying your mistakes or weaknesses whilst minimising all of your better contributions.
Others will also jump to conclusions about their future, seeing only a dystopian vision of what might be in store or reason that their general negative introspection reflects reality. I would suggest you take a look at thinking errors in greater depth here, here and here.
Balanced thinking is usually the best way and during times of increased psychological difficulty it becomes imperative. Whilst we might think about ‘staying positive’, staying balanced and realistic is probably easier, more sustainable and more useful.
With this in mind, be aware of who is giving you advice as you enter phase one of a divorce or separation. Even well-intentioned people might lead you down the path of negativity about your ex-partner, believing this is what you want to hear.
Next week we will introduce phase two from Rick’s book which takes a look at the period of readjustment necessary once the decision to split is final.
If you would like a copy of the book, simply click HERE. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section below.
All the best.