Monday, October 12, 2009

Choosing Happiness Over Divorce Doom

Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult things you will ever face. It is rare that both people are “in the same place” emotionally about the divorce itself, which makes it even more challenging. Emotions can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you were the one that was blind-sided by the other’s mention of the d-word, or startled to learn of your spouse’s infidelity, or shocked that your once loving spouse is now claiming he/she “just isn’t happy in your marriage anymore.” Even if you are the one that “wants the divorce,” the emotions that you experience during the divorce process can be all-consuming. I am not here to convince you that divorce is a happy, wonderful thing. I guess there are circumstances (very rare ones) wherein words like “happy” and “wonderful” can be used in the divorce context. But much more often than not, words associated with divorce are: misery, loneliness, failure, emptiness, sadness, pain, disaster, horrible, etc.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I think there is some truth to that. Challenges in life do make us stronger in some respects. Here’s another common one (for those a bit more spiritual or religious): “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” How many times have you thought to yourself, “Wow...God must think I’m the strongest person on earth!” Emotions are powerful. But there really is hope. I’m not a psychiatrist, or a therapist of any kind---in fact, I have no training in this regard whatsoever. I’m a divorce lawyer, so I see people at their worst every day. My clients are experiencing raw emotions...they often feel miserable, defeated, lost, and sad. Sometimes they feel guilty, angry, bitter, resentful, remorse and desperation. Those feeling are valid and they usually have good reasons to feel the way they do. But no matter what your spouse did to you, or how badly you have been treated, the beauty of emotions is that you are in control of them! JUST DECIDE that you are going to be happy. Easy for me to say, right?...stay with me. You only feel emotions that you allow yourself to feel. Is it natural to feel all of those negative emotions when you are going through a divorce (or any difficult time for that matter)? Of course it is normal. No one would blame you for feeling those negative feelings....but if you are in control of your emotions, why would you choose to feel negative emotions when you can choose to feel positive ones? I am not saying it is easy. But in a time when you feel completely out of control of your life...your emotions are among the few things that you CAN control. You cannot control what your spouse is feeling. You cannot control what your friends and family think about your situation. You cannot control these things because others are involved....these things are out of your hands. You can only control yourself...and specifically your thoughts. If you decide that you are going to focus on positive feelings, you will be in a much better place in your life. Of course you are going to experience grief and sadness as a result of your divorce. But it isn’t necessary to put yourself through all of the additional suffering. You are in control! You just have to decide to be happy. Those negative emotions are exhausting. You deserve to be happy...and you are in complete control of your own happiness.

“The decision to be happy is actually the decision to stop being unhappy.”
---Barry Neil Kaufman

Deciding to be happy might take some “trickery” at first. Your natural response to the divorce is to feel sad...but when you start to feel sad, try to stop yourself. Do something that makes you feel happy. Make a list of the things for which you are thankful. Don’t focus on what you wish you had...focus on the great things you have, and are thankful for, right now. Maybe you have wonderful friends and/or supportive family members. Maybe you have a special talent. Perhaps you have a great job---or maybe you are just grateful to be employed in a tough economy. Maybe it is your favorite season. List anything and everything that you are thankful for. Gratitude is a positive feeling and creates more positive thoughts. In addition to making your “gratitude list” consider doing other things you enjoy...listen to happy music, go for a walk, workout, call a (positive) friend, go shopping (maybe just window shopping), learn a new hobby, or rededicate yourself to an old one. It could be as simple as simply taking a few moments, closing your eyes, and going to your “happy place.”

We all have a “happy place.” Evoke yours. I will never forget the first time I rode the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyworld. For one reason or another, I was completely captivated by it. My poor mother was forced to ride that silly ride over and over...and to this day, I still have such vivid happy memories of the little dolls dancing and smiling as our boat traveled between the countries. I loved that ride. Thirty years later, it is still my happy place. No matter what is going on in my life, I sing that little song and smile. Think about your own happy place and go there. Even if it is just for a moment, you will smile. Suddenly, you are tricking your mind. You are feeling happy thoughts instead of sad ones.

Perhaps one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to surround yourself with positive people. Sometimes our closest friends and family members---the people who love us most---can do more harm than good during the “happy transformation.” It’s hard for your loved ones to see you in pain, so bare with them. They mean well. Often times, however, loved ones, not knowing what to say, encourage negativity. “I can’t believe that slime ball did this to you,” or “She is such a tramp...she will get what she deserves.” Regardless of the validity of such statements, the negativity is not productive in your happy transformation. Let your friends and family know that you want to focus on happy things and are exhausted by all of the feelings of negativity. If they cannot nip the negativity, put some distance between you and your chicken-little-loved one. Your sky is not falling. Surround yourself with positive people until the time when you aren’t “working so hard” at happiness. You are in complete control of your emotions.
Choose happiness over divorce doom. You deserve it!

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