It is not uncommon for people who have decided to separate to feel stuck and unable to move forward with the more practical aspects of separation and divorce. Whether it be telling your partner the relationship is over, taking the first step of moving out, initiating divorce proceedings, or telling children, friends, and family – for some, the prospect can seem too daunting.
They can spend months and sometimes even years paralysed into living in a relationship that has ended, feeling frustrated but simply unable to take the first steps to initiate the separation.
In this article, we are going to look at what gets in the way of people taking the first steps towards separation and divorce from the perspective of how the human mind works and how this understanding can help us not only take those first steps, but keep us grounded, clear and progressive throughout the process.
Often, feelings of fear and guilt are major contributors. These fears and concerns, can feel overwhelming, often throwing us into a perpetual state of paralysis and insecurity and we can become too afraid to take action – sometimes we aware this is happening, although often not.
The fears people have about separating from their partner are varied and often relate to the future – what may or may not happen, how they, their ex-partner and children will cope as well as how they will manage in their new life circumstances. We find ourselves playing out future scenarios in our minds that are often painful and frightening.
We are also sometimes faced with feelings of guilt, where we feel responsible and believe that our choices, decisions, and actions will cause distress, upset and bad feelings in others.
Again, these feelings of guilt can seem as though they are preventing us from moving forward with the separation.
However, it is not the fears and feelings of guilt that are the problem, or in themselves prevent us from moving forward – it is our innocent misunderstanding of where our thoughts, feelings and experiences in life are coming from.
What is this misunderstanding?
It is very normalised in our society to believe that events, situations, circumstances, and indeed other people are the cause of how we feel, what we think and therefore what we are experiencing. And most of us believe that our feelings are giving us information about something in the outside world – about another person, or situation that we need to act on. Often, the bigger, stronger and more intense the feeling, the more we believe that we need to address or fix its cause.
Below is an excerpt from a client case study that illustrates this misunderstanding:
Julia had been living in a difficult and unfulfilling marriage for many years and despite numerous attempts to renew the relationship, things were only getting worse. Julia had finally reached a point where she felt that it would be better for all (including the children) if her and her husband separated. However, even though Julia knew this and had on numerous occasions told her husband that the marriage was over, she couldn’t bring herself to follow through and start the process of formal separation. Every time she thought about doing it, she would be overwhelmed with thoughts about how she would support herself and her children financially and about how stressful and difficult the divorce would be. She would become extremely anxious and finally just decided that divorce was far too difficult and stressful and that she would be better off staying in the marriage to avoid the stress and upset that the process of separation and divorce would inevitably cause her.
Julia was innocently misunderstanding her anxiety was coming from and what her feelings were telling her. It was this misunderstanding that prevented her from progressing the separation. Julia mistakenly believed (like many of us do) that ‘the impending separation’ was causing her to be fearful and that separation and divorce were inherently difficult and stressful. And what often emphasises this misunderstanding is that most of society is reinforcing to us that divorce/separation is hard and difficult, especially if you have children.
Julia attributed her experience (of fear and anxiety) to the situation. When this happens, we will naturally look to the outside (in this case the impending separation) to control it, or to change something, in order that we can feel ok / better. In Julia’s case, the way she did this was to erase the situation altogether so that it didn’t exist (i.e. take no action to separate).
What Julia didn’t know at the time she was contemplating her separation, was that situations, circumstances, and other people, cannot and are not the cause of our experience. It simply cannot work that way because of the way the human mind works.
Our experience of anything in life, including separation and divorce is an inside-out creation (a simple function of how the human mind works). All thoughts, feelings and experiences are created internally and projected out as our own version of reality.
To put it another way, the situation (i.e. separation), was not causing Julia’s fears, her fears were being created through her own thoughts. Her fears and feelings of anxiety were also not telling her anything at all about her impending separation – they were not giving her information about how difficult / easy it will be, how resourceful she will be, or how easily her children will adapt to the change.
In fact, our mind/body system is like a thermometer - it tells us what thought here and now in this moment is creating, it cannot tell us about the future.
How is knowing this relevant and helpful?
When we insightfully understand how something works (i.e. the human mind and how our experiences are created from the inside-out, not outside-in), several things seem to occur in a very effortless way.
Let’s go back to Julia:
Julia’s fears were kept alive by her belief of their truth until one day, she realised something that was going to change the course of her life. Like a lightbulb illuminating a darkened room, she realised the fact that she was totally caught up in a world of tangled thoughts about what may or may not happen - and that that’s all they were – thoughts about a future she knew nothing about and that could have a myriad of different outcomes. Somehow, by realising this fact, Julia came to have a different relationship to the fearful thoughts about separating and divorcing from her husband. Even though she would still experience moments of fearful thinking and anxiety about the future, recognising them as just that – fearful and anxious thoughts and nothing more, somehow allowed them to lose their power. The thoughts became less noisy in her mind and she knew that she didn’t have to pay as much attention to them as she had done in the past. This freed Julia up to have fresh perspectives about how she might move forward with her life. Julia chose to finally proceed with the separation, despite the noise that had previously occupied her mind.
There were many times when Julia would find herself getting caught up again in the fear, anxiety, and guilt, however just like waking up from a bad dream and realising that that’s
all it was, Julia was able to not only drop the thoughts, she was also often simply ok with feeling afraid or anxious, without needing to manage, change or fix them. Julia understood that because her experience was created from the inside-out, it was temporary and transient and she found that overall, she was less crippled by them.
If you would like to find out more about how understanding how the human mind works can change your relationship to your thoughts and transform your experience of separation and divorce, please contact us to find out more about transformative resolution coaching.