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Rising Strong: Jenga, the Divorce Edition

Focus on the kids and let your love for them defuse
the barbs and anger being pointed at you.

It’s happened. The years of building, struggling, loving, stretching, and becoming parents has ended in divorce. In a quick afternoon, your once rich life looks like a pile of disconnected wooden bricks on the floor. What do you do? How do you rise strong, as Brené Brown puts it?

Building Block One: Awareness. The basic building blocks of your life are the same. There is one major difference: you are going to have to go it alone from here on out, in your decisions about how you respond to the crisis of the moment. The crisis of divorce hits everyone. And it extends beyond the nuclear family unit as well, grandparents, in-laws, all have a stake in how things resolve. And not everyone is hoping for the same outcome. The basics are the same, tune into your inner strength and pay attention to the fundamentals.

Building Block Two: Safety. If there was a hint of violence in the separation process, make sure you have a network of friends checking in on you. Before you can begin healing, you must feel safe. Do what you need to do if you are dealing with a violent ex-partner. Restraining orders aren’t pretty, but we have them available for a reason. It’s never quite clear how a sane person will react when their universe is ripped in half.

Building Block Three: Shelter. First, you need shelter. If you are the one asked to leave the home, you need to find a place to land quickly. Perhaps, moving in with a relative for the short-term is an option that would provide both a bed and some comfort as you sort through your feelings over the coming weeks and months. If you need to get an apartment, see if you can do a short-term lease, knowing that your situation may be fluid for a few years.

Building Block Four: Nourishment and Sleep. Pay attention to what you eat. Junk food may seem like a way to soothe the hurt feelings but all those empty calories and sugars can do a number on your body and your mind. Get back to the basics of a healthy diet, mainly vegetables steamed or broiled, and some protein of your choice. And when you wrap up your day, make sure you are setting yourself up for a comfortable and restful sleep. Don’t check emails or do Facebook right before bed. If you want to read, make it a physical book, e-readers have a tendency to keep the mind alert. And if you need help sleeping, ask for it. There are some safe, non-habit forming, meds and supplements that can help you drift off more easily. And get eight hours every night. Your body needs sleep. Robbing an hour here or there will show up as fatigue or illness in the future. Protect your sleep. Allow your body the time it needs to heal overnight.

Building Block Five: Get Physical. When I was going through the worst of my last break up I made a point to walk every single day. 3 – 6 miles, rain or shine, cold or hot. My body was healthier. My mind was clearer. And the toxins of the day, the toxic thoughts of the moment, were easier to deal with as I was cruising around the lake watching all the other walkers. Do what you like, but make sure you do it daily.

Building Block Six: Go Easy On Yourself. This was the hardest for me. I felt like a failure. I had let the most important structure in my life collapse. I had failed my children. I no longer had a best friend in the lifetime journey. But it wasn’t them I was angry with, it was myself. What could I have done better? Was it my fault when we stopped having sex regularly? All the things that come up in your mind for self-flagellation, let them go. There is no right answer. The only answer your mind needs to hear is, “You did the best you could. Now, it’s time to rest and rebuild.”

You’ve got to get your fundamentals of survival together before you can focus on anything else. The drama and work of the divorce is going to drive along on it’s own and demand hard things from you. Get your personal building blocks in order so you can be there to support your children. Then focus on them. Let your ex, and their drama, anger, demands, threats, roll off your back. It’s about the next chapter of your life, and this person is a former-partner now and should be accorded a different level of attention. Not all of their issues are urgent. Not all of their demands are reasonable. Not all of the proposals pitched as “in the best interest of the kids” are actually for the kids at all.

Be strong in your conviction for what you know is right, and what you want as an outcome of the divorce. Seek legal counsel that meets your budget. And learn to let 90% of the bs roll off your back. The kids are everything. Your relationship with your kids is the priority of your life now. Your ex has become a bit player, an antagonist in our play. Focus on the kids and let your love for them defuse the barbs and anger being pointed at you.

Always Love,

John McElhenney


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