As a divorce lawyer I have the unique privilege of people sharing with me deeply personal events and hardships in their lives. Often my relationship with them starts when emotions are raw, at the beginning of working through the grief and loss of a relationship.
I observe, with continual curiosity, how people approach the challenging situations in which they find themselves and the impact, which it has on their lives moving forward. Often I am inspired by some incredibly strong, courageous people who I see make the decision not to let events that they can’t control use their emotional energy.
I have observed that working through the difficulties encountered in life, so you have the ability to let go and to move forward with grace, dignity and positivity is easier said than done. But for those who are able to take a difficult experience as an opportunity and choose to rise above the challenge grow from the experience.
Like Nietzsche said:
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
Making a choice about your approach life
Recently I listened to the Happy Lawyer Happy Life podcast in which my dear friend and fellow family lawyer, Clarissa Rayward interviewed barrister, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC. One of the messages shared by Clarissa and Jacoba was that, each day, you have choice about how you approach challenging life events and the impact these events have on you. You can either let them get on top of you or you can work through difficult experiences, let it go and get on with life.
Their messages really resonated with me, as by nature, I am always on the lookout for a positive in any situation. I am also fortunate to have worked with both of these remarkable women and know they adopt this approach in law and in life.
Whilst making a choice to approach a situation positively (and doing what it takes to live it) comes more naturally to some given their personality, background and experiences I firmly believe that making the choice to approach a situation, even a difficult one, positively, is essential to growth and moving forward.
My learnings about the power of positivity as a divorce lawyer
For those I assist that are experiencing a relationship breakdown there are choices to be made about how they will approach such a significant turning point in their lives. They are going through one of the most difficult experiences in life and are understandably stressed, distressed or at times, are dealing with mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. However profound choices need to be made about how they approach their former partner, parenting their children and the resolution of all sorts of practical and financial arrangements arising from the end of a relationship. Many of these decisions are fundamental to their life and their happiness.
In my conversations with them I acknowledge that the approach of taking the high road and of looking at the big picture is a lot to ask of themselves and is easier said than done (particularly when emotions are still raw) but if they are able to do so, get the support they need to get through it and take a longer-term view it will serve them well.
Recently I have been in awe of some particularly strong, remarkable and kind people I have assisted who are going through an extremely tumultuous time. I have been inspired because despite these very significant complications and challenges in their lives they have made a decision, consciously or unconsciously, to rise above the challenges they are facing and do so with strength, gratitude and tremendous courage. No matter what adversity they are facing, they have made a choice not to engage in the type of behavior their former spouse or family members are, not to push the other person’s buttons for the sake of it. They have taken a longer-term view of the situation. They make a choice to be grateful for what is good in their life and express gratitude to those around them who are assisting and supporting them through their challenges.
But I see the full spectrum of how people deal with challenges in their lives. I see people who are stuck in a cycle of grief, blame and negativity that are not yet ready or able to make the choice to work through it, let go, and move forward. And I hope in time, if and when they are ready, will be in a place where they are able to do so.
Whilst significant challenges in life that will undoubtedly impact on your outlook, conditioning and decision-making moving forward the real challenge is the ability to learn from the experience. It presents an opportunity to develop insight into your own behaviour. It is an opportunity to learn so you don’t repeat any past mistakes and to hone your emotional intelligence.
Five tips for embracing positivity during a divorce (but which are equally as applicable to any challenging situation in life).
Focus on and embrace all that is good
When facing a challenge it is very easy to focus on the negative aspects of your life rather than the many other positive things. Remembering to focus on embrace the good, stable parts of your life can help you stay positive and gain some perspective. Take the opportunity to focus on simple pleasures, on nurturing other relationships in your life, spending time on a hobby you enjoy or focusing on your work if that is something you enjoy. It will be different for everyone.
Surround yourself and accept help from positive people
The people with whom you surround yourself have such a profound impact on your approach, conditioning and outlook. Recognise that these people, who make act as a sounding board for you, may have a significant influence on your decision-making.
When we look to and accept help from people who are negative in their outlook or who hold views which may be significantly clouded by their own perspective of your partner or their own negative experiences sometimes this can be counterproductive to you.
Choose to seek out and accept help from positive people who genuinely have your best interests at heart to avoid a “pity party”, a blame game or getting stuck in a cycle of negativity.
Invest in your wellbeing
I am passionate I am about investing in your own wellbeing. Self-care is always important it is critical during times of high stress. So it is one of the most important activities to engage in during and after a separation when stress levels will, understandably, be at their peak.
By putting the basics – sleep, healthy eating and exercise – on the top of your priority list it will help you cope better. You will put yourself in a better, more positive space to make better decisions in the aftermath of separation that will have long-term impact on you, your family and your interactions with each other moving forward.
Live in the present
You can’t change the past but you can embrace the power of the present. Rather than playing the blame game and focusing on the past, focus on what you can do now.
Use the challenge of a relationship breakdown as an opportunity for self-reflection, reprioritizing what is important in your life and to grow. Acknowledge and work through difficult emotions you may be experiencing so you have the capacity to let go when the time is right. When you are ready, make a choice to be positive, rise above the challenge and you will be better for it.
Remember that knowledge is power.
I often find that people have preconceived ideas and are often already thinking the worst about their situation. Whilst is understandable to think the worst when we are facing such a big life challenge often I see people who worry unnecessarily before they have all of the advice and information on the table.
This may be because they have spoken to their friend, colleague or family member who has gone through a relationship breakdown (and talked about the process or outcome based on their own circumstances) when in reality their own situation may be very different.
So educate yourself first. If you have separated or are contemplating separation it is important to get independent legal advice early on from a specialist family lawyer (and preferably an Accredited Family Law Specialist, who is a lawyer who has attained additional recognition by the relevant Law Society).
Separation and divorce is one of the most difficult experiences people may face in life but like other challenges in life, it presents an opportunity for growth. You can choose to be positive, to work through your emotions so you can let go and move forward with grace, dignity and positivity. Or you can fall into the trap of getting stuck in a cycle where the challenging experience continues to impact on you negatively and prevents you moving forward.
If you have other tips to share about how to stay positive during separation or divorce, I would love to hear from you.