Coping Strategies When Considering Divorce
If you’re deeply unhappy in your marriage but aren’t ready to take the next step, you’ll need to find coping strategies when considering divorce. But there are healthy coping methods and unhealthy coping methods. If you’re engaged in the latter, you’re likely masking your reality and making it more challenging to make a wise decision about the marriage.
Nancy Colier joined us on Divorce Dialogues to talk about coping with an unhappy marriage and what to do when your approach isn’t so healthy. Nancy is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, public speaker, and author who writes regularly for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. A longtime student of Eastern spirituality and awareness, these practices ground her work with her clients. She is also the author of the book “Can’t Stop Thinking: How to Let Go of Anxiety and Free Yourself from Obsessive Rumination.”
Unhealthy Coping Strategies
It’s no secret that when we humans are unhappy, whether in marriage or other aspects of life, we turn to doings that aren’t good for us. Sometimes they’re downright harmful. Substance abuse, emotional eating, overworking, or engaging in sexually risky behavior are just some of the unhealthy ways we may choose to cope. Not only can these behaviors harm us in their own right, but Nancy Colier says that when we engage in such actions, we’re “numbing out the not okayness.”
Numbness is paralyzing. It can keep us stuck in a space that, deep down, we really don’t want to be in and isn’t good for us. When clients come to Nancy wondering whether to stay in their marriage or divorce, she asks them to examine whether they’re using unhealthy strategies that prevent them from feeling or acknowledging the full “not okayness” of the situation. Are they checking out through a few glasses of wine each evening? Burying themselves in their work? Seeking an extramarital relationship?
If they are numbing themselves, Nancy advises them to eliminate this behavior and then re-examine their feelings about the marriage. Would they be able to tolerate the situation without these coping strategies–or would it become unbearable? Nancy says that imagining the marriage without being numbed out often provides clarity to those on the fence about divorce. “It’s like they can really listen to their heart,” she says.
If you’re in this situation, try Nancy’s advice. Take a look at your own life and assess whether you’re numbing yourself to the unhappiness in your marriage through unhealthy or self-destructive means. And if you are, what decision would you make about the marriage if you could no longer turn to those coping mechanisms?
Healthy Coping Strategies
Of course, divorce is not the only option. If it’s impossible to separate at the moment, there are healthy ways to cope with an unhappy marriage that makes life tolerable, if not acceptable. One of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself is to practice detachment.
Detachment may sound the same as numbness, but it isn’t. Detachment means that you intentionally create emotional distance between your spouse and their problematic behavior. You release your expectations of them and instead focus on managing your own inner peace in healthy ways.
In detaching, you’re letting go of the small stuff. Refusing to play the blame game. Refraining from reacting defensively when your spouse engages in actions that usually make your blood boil. Instead, you should take a deep breath and walk away from a potential argument. Even better, engage in activity that brings you instant peace, such as meditating or mindfulness.
Detachment isn’t easy, it takes time and practice, but it might make an immense difference in your life. When you’re ready, you can even take it a step further by consciously turning away from your pain to focus on your spouse’s. “This is the hardest part,” says Nancy. “[To] hear the other person’s pain.” But, she says that making this effort can change your entire life.
Marital trouble often lingers because we become bound to our own suffering and hurts, even minor ones. But we don’t think about the hurts and inconveniences we’ve caused our partner. When you shift your focus and look for the pain driving your spouse’s behavior or listen to the intent behind their comments, you might feel more compassion than anger or annoyance. If you show empathy and understanding to your spouse instead of reacting defensively, they may respond in kind. Consistently behaving with detachment and empathy could gradually set your marriage on a more positive, healthier path.
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