When the prospect of divorce catches you by surprise, it is tempting to rush to a certain conclusion. You may want to “rip the bandage off”, settle quickly, and move past the pain. It takes courage to live with uncertainty about what your future may hold. But taking that time can help you be certain your outcome is the right one.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell
I am a planner. I like to project forward, define obstacles, and map out a plan. But not all obstacles are foreseeable: the 2008 stock market debacle, a layoff, a divorce. If you are like me, you go into overdrive, thinking of all the horribles that may flow from the new development, and frenetically seek certainty.
That approach doesn’t work for major life transitions. The desperate need for an answer often short-circuits brainstorming and option generation which can produce more satisfying answers than the one you’ve grabbed onto mainly because it’s certain. Here are five steps to consider when the future looks uncertain:
1. Commit to a strong belief that things will work out.
Easier said than done. Committing to a strong belief that things will work out may require that you “fake it until you make it.” And yet, if you continue to repeat this mantra Things WILL work out– write it on your bathroom mirror, put it on your computer screen – it will allow you to approach decision making more thoughtfully and with confidence.
2. Take a breath and be willing to slow down the pace toward certainty.
It always amazes me when people believe that problems years in the making will be wrapped up in a few sessions. Even if the answer seems clear to you, there are others involved who may have different pacing and processing needs. Take a breath and be willing to slow down. If you bulldoze your way toward your certain solution, the long-term peace you hope for is jeopardized.
3. Write out your best-case plan.
Take time to lay out your plan on paper – or at least a computer screen. Then ask, “if the other person won’t agree to my plan, what’s the next best plan?” Lay that option out. And ask yourself that question again. This exercise releases you from the certainty that there is only one right way and may open your mind to more workable possibilities that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to you. It also spares you from the “I guess we’ll just let a judge decide” mentality which should be avoided until you engage in this critical exercise.
4. Utilize resources.
Even Michael Jordan had a basketball coach. When you are dealing with an obstacle as life-changing as divorce, it shouldn’t be all up to you to find your best path toward certainty. There are professionals out there to help. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be better prepared for their future if they worked with a therapist during their divorce. If you and your spouse have different perspectives on the best parenting plan, why wouldn’t you and your spouse engage the services of a child specialist to develop a plan that you both will work to support in the future and which truly accounts for your children’s needs? Talk to your accountant or financial advisor to consider how different strategies will affect your financial future, and your taxes. All these meetings may be more cumbersome and expensive than just identifying a certain answer, presenting it to your spouse and becoming exasperated if s/he doesn’t simply sign off. But they will also provide you with the long-term certainty that you are pursuing the best course of action, not just the one most readily apparent. See #2.
5. Talk. Mainly to the other person involved.
Be wary of all the “experts” that emerge whose main claim to expertise is they love you and want to champion your cause. Or that they went through their own divorce. Thank those people for caring and take that in. But avoid listening for specific answers to your specific issues which involve your specific spouse and your specific children in your specific situation. I’ve been practicing for 25 years and there isn’t one settlement that I could simply overlay onto yours. So talk to your spouse. In the presence of a therapist or coach if needed. Or with a child specialist. Your spouse is the only other person who can make it more likely your certain plan will actually work. Unless he or she is involved in the development of a settlement, you risk being one of those couples who find themselves in and out of court for years following finalization of your divorce. Those costs are rarely factored in when evaluating the cost of divorce.
It can be hard to live with uncertainty in the face of divorce, and to trust the professionals to help you come to the right conclusion. But spending the time, and sometimes the money, on a deliberate, thoughtful process, which employs the right resources as needed can provide you with long-term certainty and a plan that will endure over time.
Wishing you wisdom,
Deborah Bennett Berecz is a collaborative divorce lawyer at Berecz & Associates, PLC, a firm focused on helping clients work through the uncertainty of divorce using the process best for them. Berecz & Associates, PLC, has offices in St. Joseph, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Contact us to learn more or to schedule a consultation today.