10 Feb Published article in The Review Magazine, Resolution
Under the tip of the emotional iceberg: helping clients on the divorce journey
Sara Davison is a Divorce Coach
As readers will be well aware, divorce encompasses many aspects – legal, financial, emotional, practical, logistical – and clients who are already feeling fragile can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work it entails. As a divorce coach, my role is to help clients stay focused and motivated, while helping them to prepare, in very practical ways, for each stage of the divorce process. Obviously, every client’s needs are different – but as a general rule a well-prepared, mentally strong client is far more able to cope with the rigours of the legal process – and that can only be a positive thing.
It’s been an interesting journey for me as I was a family law client for over two years going through my own divorce, so I have first-hand experience of being on the other side of the table from you. The experiences that have led me to specialise in divorce coaching have helped me create my Divorce Journey Coaching Programme that is now helping people all over the world.
For the last 16 years I have been life coaching and business coaching and have had the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the top names in personal development in the world, such as Anthony Robbins, Richard Bandler, Paul McKenna and Barefoot Doctor. I am a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Master Practitioner and I have coached many hundreds of people to achieve more from their lives. I have also achieved business success – my company made the UK Sunday Times Fast Track in 2010.
But what surprised me was that despite my coaching skills, business success and wealth of experience helping others through tricky situations, nothing could prepare me for the breakup of my marriage.
Even with my training I was at first utterly floored by my divorce. It took every ounce of my strength to get through the process and the inevitable rollercoaster of emotions it flung at me minute to minute and day to day. This is when I began to realise what a traumatic experience divorce can be and how I had previously underestimated what a massive impact it has on all aspects of your life. I began to wonder how other people coped, as I was really struggling.
I was lucky to have good friends and family around me. I employed excellent and supportive lawyers and found a fabulous therapist. But I still felt there was something missing. I needed some direction; strategies that I could employ to get me out of the fog I was in. I needed an action plan of things I could do immediately to feel better and move forward positively.
I learned a lot from my own divorce and I realised that by combining that experience with my coaching expertise, I could help others through the turbulent world of divorce. Sara Davison Divorce Journey Coaching was born.
I work with lawyers to support the emotional needs of their clients so they can focus on the legal work. I help their clients become strong enough mentally to cope with the legal challenges and deal with them in a business-like way. My business brain means that my methods are practical and direct. They are easy to use and help to get results quickly. I am not a psychotherapist or a psychologist, and I do not, of course, provide legal or financial advice, but I do offer proven strategies and techniques that work to help people cope with divorce.
The initial stage of the divorce journey
As you know divorce can be a tough and painful journey. It’s normal for clients’ emotions to fluctuate widely, especially in the early days of separation. It is a rollercoaster of emotions as they lurch from coping positively to losing themselves in the tangle of legal, financial and personal pressures. Everyone’s journey is different and everybody copes in different ways, so it’s important to be flexible in your approach when helping them.
Whether it was their decision or not, divorce can rock the strongest of people. They will have to learn to cope with huge life changes and challenges, such as:
- being single for the first time in years;
- losing friends who take sides;
- becoming a single parent;
- weekends and holidays without their kids;
- conflict with their ex;
- dealing with financial affairs;
- emotional overwhelm;
- anxiety about their future; and
- building a new life for themselves.
Whilst all this is part of their divorce journey, it will be unsettling and take time to adjust to. Each of these challenges will take courage and strength to deal with as they get used to a new way of life. But the good news is there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them.
Coping in the early days
When I first met Amelia she was extremely emotional and struggling to keep herself together. Her husband had left her with no warning and she was left in the marital home with her two sons, aged 1 and 3. Whilst financially she had no worries she was finding it hard to cope at home and was worried about the impact on her children.
She was in total shock and stunned by the betrayal and deceit from someone she had trusted. Her confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low and she kept breaking down in tears.
In her mind she was constantly asking herself questions such as “What is wrong with me?”, “Why didn’t I see this coming?”, “What did I do wrong” “Why doesn’t he love me anymore?”
It’s very common in the initial stages of separation to search for answers to questions in the hope of rationalising what has just happened. The trick is to take control of the questions being asked and reframe them in a more positive way. I tell my clients that if they keep asking themselves negative questions, they will get negative answers. If they feed their brain with more positive questions, they will elicit more helpful answers, which will help them navigate a path to future happiness.
So Amelia and I listed some more empowering questions, such as: “What can I do right now to help myself feel better?” and “Who can I surround myself with that will make me feel more supported?” After a few days Amelia was able to catch herself in the moment and use the new questions, which in turn gave her more empowering answers.
One main outcome from this was that she decided to create a ‘divorce support team’ around her, who she could call on for help as and when she needed it. Just knowing that they were there made her feel better and less isolated. The team included:
- Positive family and friends who were happy to be there when she needed them.
- A financial advisor who reassured her with a solid plan for her future.
- A personal trainer who had her out of the house and exercising twice a week.
- An acupuncturist, as Amelia was a big believer in alternative therapy.
A good support team is vital, especially in the early days of separation when everything seems confusing and new.
Amelia found it hard being in the marital home as there were memories everywhere she looked. I have some practical tips on this, which she put into action and was amazed at how little changes had such a big impact on how she felt.
By focusing on rebuilding herself first, Amelia found it easier to be stronger around the kids. She still had her moments but was able to control her emotions and use her alone time to deal with them. The result was she more confident and able to be a lot happier around her kids. She felt more in control which helped her cope better with the ups and downs of the legal case.
Grieving is healing
John was very matter of fact in our sessions. He appeared to be coping well and often made jokes and made light of his situation. On the surface it seemed like he was dealing well with leaving the family home and his wife and two sons.
He kept very busy with his business and worked long hours, although always had the energy to go out for dinner and a few drinks in the evening. He started each day at the gym for his 6am workout. The weekends when he didn’t have his children were always packed full so he was rarely at home. He seemed like a man who led an exciting life and was always on the go.
There are some warning signs here to look out for. Many people use humour to deflect from what is going on inside. It is an avoidance tactic that works well to put people off the scent that you are struggling inside. When working with me he admitted that he didn’t like to think about his divorce. Once the decision to break up was made he packed his bags and left. He had to get on with his new life and kept himself occupied so his mind could not wander, as when it did it upset him too much. He had given up smoking three years apreviously but had started again. He said he was finding it hard to sleep at night so he was drinking almost a bottle of wine every evening to help him relax and fall asleep.
Many of us will shy away from feeling upset, although this can be damaging as grieving the loss of a relationship is part of the healing process and should be encouraged. Everyone has to go through it to come out the other side. It helps you move forward in a healthy way. It’s good to acknowledge the emotions you are feeling and let them flow. Facing them head on diminishes your fear of them and increases your ability to deal with them. Once your client has acknowledged the different emotions they are experiencing they will find it easier to move forward and not be held back by fear.
There is always going to be heartache and pain when a relationship ends – sadly that is how we mark the end and move on to pastures new. However there are ways to help make the healing journey easier and faster. Facing your emotions is one of these ways.
Look for warning signs that people are trying to cope with their grief by suppressing it and pushing it down. They will try not to think about any of the things that are making them unhappy. This only makes things worse. It means that even though you may move on, you have not dealt with the negative emotions. They are still there inside you and will not allow you to move on freely. It is common to find people who suppress negative feelings often turn to drinking, or just get extremely busy so they don’t ever have time to feel or heal themselves. Neither of these are solutions, they just prolong the pain and it will keep resurfacing when the hangover kicks in or it’s time to sleep. It can keep resurfacing for many years to come.
I taught John my five-step process for how to face his emotions head on and deal with them. He practiced it every day for 20 minutes at home. After the very first time he began to feel a sense of huge relief. I also shared with him my simple techniques for helping him to sleep at night and to stop his mind whirring.
Nearly two months on he has stopped smoking and has cut down his drinking. He is now able to think about his divorce as he realised it helps him to heal and move forward. He says the best part is that he feels like he can be a better parent as he is calmer for his children and can be truly present with them during their time together. He has also been able to meet with his ex to discuss the divorce, which had previously not been an option.
Mind-set is key
Divorce doesn’t have to be the end of happiness; it can be a new beginning. Your client now has the opportunity to redesign their life just the way they want it. New Year is the perfect time for them to start planning for their future so that next year will be happier and more positive. I’m a big believer that it’s not what happens to you in life; it’s what you do about it that counts.