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Divorce is a difficult journey many of us enter into before fully knowing how much we'll actually go through.  Perhaps for good reason, we take the opportunity to get out of a bad relationship as our best escape from the depths of a failing marriage, only to realize later that things get much more difficult before they get better.  

Below are some ways to avoid mistakes that are common during and after divorce in an effort to achieve happiness sooner.  Sharing the details of changes I made that made things worse may help you avoid the same mistakes.

Mistake #1 

I tried to change myself to find the real me and I ended up feeling more lost.

Don't change everything about yourself.

Choosing to make a life changing decision like divorce can evoke an interest in evaluating other lifestyle choices.  We may suddenly find ourselves interested in trying new things, changing our look, going to new places, learning new things.   

It's also common to feel a little bored or lonely.  This gives us plenty of self-evaluation time.  In doing so, we may really start to think too deep about where we are in life, why our marriage failed or why we feel so crappy.  

Yes, this is a great time to make some improvements, remove the walls from past problems, evaluate some things that really haven't been beneficial in your life.  But, don't get too extreme.  Be careful not change what you like about yourself, your lifestyle or your entire belief system.  Don't change for the sake of changing.

Be cautious of advice also.  If it isn't right for you, don't buy-in.  Just open your mind a little to greater possibilities that will make your life better, not just different.

Mistake #2 

I felt hateful feelings towards my ex that I later discovered was rooted by feelings of hurt by someone I loved.

Don't expect feelings about your ex to be clear.

Don't try to change your feelings about your ex instantly.  You don't just love someone one day and hate them the next.  They may have caused you to feel anger and blame towards them, but unfortunately it takes some time to relinquish your love.  This means that if you think you feel hate in your heart, such feelings may actually represent how much you loved someone who hurt you immensely.   Some of you may have negative feelings for your ex one day, then actually miss him/her the next.  This is because you have not fully let go of the good and bad times in your relationship.   It's normal to have mixed emotions.  They will pass.

The opposite of love is apathy, not hate.  But, divorce often brings about so many strong emotions, that our pain and anger propagate feelings that are easily considered hateful.   These feelings actually drain you of energy and happiness, so why feed them?

The goal following a divorce with someone for whom you were incompatible is to let go of how much you loved him/her and how much you were hurt.   In some cases the end result can be apathy, in others, the couple can eventually form a reasonable friendship.   

Either way don't expect to complete this process overnight.  It takes time, courage and commitment to moving forward in an effort to gain peace and happiness.

Mistake #3 

I made some really bad decisions while I was still in shock over my spouse's confession.

Don't make major life changes while in a state of anxiety or stress.  

Some decisions regarding your life, divorce or family during times of distress are unavoidable.  But, don't let your anxiety and stress induce changes that can wait until you have had time to think through your situation.  This will allow you to choose the course of action that would produce the best possible outcome. 

Making decisions while emotionally compromised never produces good results and strong legal teams know this.  When asked to make legal, financial and/or long-term decisions, don't be afraid to take some time to think it through. 

Let the requester know you will not make the decision currently, then request a reasonable deadline in order to make the decision.  This doesn't mean to damage the efficiency of your divorce progress.  If you ask for time to consider your decision, use your time to focus on it.  You're not the only one affected by the process of divorce; keep the decision top-of-mind in good faith to get the divorce finalized.  Just don't let anyone force you to make important decisions like they are asking you how you like your coffee.  

Decisions that need to be made, but are not presently in need of making, should wait.  If you are the kind of person who is bothered by loose ends and need finalization of such situations, you are going to have to use this experience as a time to learn the value of being patient and prudent in every decision you make.  These decisions will affect you, your family, money, home, health and well being.  Don't be hasty.  Don't be impatient and don't allow your emotions to damage your potential for the best settlement and outcome possible.

Mistake #4 

I agreed with my former spouse to amend our agreement.  When I told him the amendment was no longer working, he threatened to take me to court to legally amend our agreement.  While my attorney said my former spouse wouldn't have a good case, the legal fees could be devastating.  Even though we both verbally agreed to go back to the original agreement, he claims not to remember.  It would have helped to have it in writing to refresh his memory.

Don't modify your settlement without specific written guidelines and the advice of an attorney.

As the newness of the divorce wears off, many individuals reach the final stages of divorce.  These stages include the ability of a former spouse to let go of much of the heartbreak and pain associated with the beginning of divorce and separation.  This is when each spouse is more comfortable in co-parenting, mutual gatherings and discussions regarding custody and settlement.  

If you and your former spouse begin to deviate from the agreement in an effort to improve relations, schedules or monetary situations you should have written clarification that either person can request to return to the court ordered agreement at any time without reason (optional) and with reasonable notice.  An e-mail or letter with an agreed upon response from your former spouse would be helpful should the new changes not work.  This way, it will clear up any confusion about what you two agreed on when you decided to make changes. 

Laws vary in every state, so consult a local attorney to understand any legal consequences for any changes or agreements.  

Mistake #5 

My family was fine for the first 2 years after divorce. My teens seemed to struggle later due to the stresses of two households and family financial problems. 

Don't assume your children have accepted your divorce because they initially seemed ok.

It's really easy to fall into this trap.  Your family dynamic changes instantly upon a separation.  By the time the divorce is completed your family is fully entrenched in a new lifestyle headlined with "Divorce".  Some may call the new family: broken, reorganized, reconstituted, non-nuclear and non-immediate.  It can eventually become blended or dysfunctional.  Most of us would just like to be the same family we were before the divorce, no headline, no description, no explanation to every family friend and relative.  Despite every attempt, the family seems to grow-up really quick.  The kids drift in one direction or another.  Parents may struggle to get used to their new role as co-parents who suddenly reside in different residences.

Since the divorce is complete, it's common to want things to resume, "family business as usual", but things are different.  You can't ignore how things have changed.  Your new normal can quickly take on abnormal and dysfunctional characteristics.  It can come out of the blue and make you wonder when things suddenly went so wrong for your children. 

It may be that your children are used to their new routine, then once something challenges them like:  schoolwork, friends, rules or extra chores they wake up.  They suddenly realize that the last time there was something challenging in their life they had both parents in the home, continuously available.  The comparison of their old life to their new "reconstituted" lifestyle suddenly rushes at them.  It can bring about anxiety, depression, anger and blame.  Often, they may not be aware of why these feelings are so strong or related to the divorce.  They rely on you or a family therapist to help them explore their feelings in order to understand them.

Some parents may see this as attention seeking behavior, but the bottom line is that these kiddos need a lot of attention.  Divorce can leave children feeling powerless to save their nuclear family.  Children do not get to decide if each spouse has tried hard enough to save the marriage.  They simply must accept what their parents have decided is best for each spouse and their family.  Dividing a family never feels like a benefit for parents or children, even if it is the best choice.  Children may need extra time to cope with the reality of the changes and may benefit from counseling or extended family therapy.  As always, be patient and aware of changes in sleep, behavior or grades so that you can help your child at the first sign of trouble.


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