It came down to three things, all of which seem so silly right now: a nice car, new furniture, and when to drop off the dogs on the weekend. These things were my lines in the sand—what I had chosen to fight over during my divorce. I wasn’t as good at choosing my battles then as I am now. Most people going through a split are not.
When we are fighting during divorce, we feel like we are getting dragged through the mud for months, even years, wondering if it will ever end. We can expect to fight over almost everything—who is responsible for paying off the credit cards, who gets the children during Christmas—the list is infinite. So, it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do and how we want to approach the situation when the acrimony grows. In essence, we must learn how to pick our battles mindfully.
The first thing we must remember with divorce:
We should not beat ourselves up when we feel frustrated during the split. Divorce is a messy business transaction that collides with the types of emotions we wouldn’t even wish on our worst enemies. If we feel confused and panicked, even when we think we understand what’s going on, it is because we are human. It’s going to be confusing and weird for a while.
In spite of the chaos, there are ways in which we can choose our divorce battles mindfully, so that we are able to take a look at the big picture from a standpoint with less stress. Doing so requires us to dig deep and be honest with ourselves. When we are, we can answer these following questions.
Am I fighting over something I absolutely cannot live without? What are the things that my dependents and I need to ensure our security and well-being?
Answering these questions truthfully will give us a better understanding of the things we personally feel are non-negotiables when choosing which battles to fight. Everybody’s situation is different, and we must figure out what is truly worth the time and emotional energy battle over. These factors may include alimony, savings, child support, fair division of debt, temporary spousal support, and protection orders if there is any type of endangerment. But remember, not everything during a divorce is something we need to survive.
I like to think section as the bottom two parts on Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. This pyramid takes me back to high school psychology class. The foundation of the pyramid represented survival–the same things that we need to advocate for during the split.
Am I Fighting Over Something Only Because I Really want it? Do I think I Deserve It?
Divorces drag sometimes due to division of assets that have nothing to do with money. Legal battles have gone on as couples fight for possession of the things that hold sentimental value to both of them (family photographs, heirlooms), that, although would not leave us destitute to lose, would wound us deeply if we lose because those thing may remind us of the happier times. We may make those demands for possession of those things, as a way of making demands on controlling the image of the lives we thought we knew, as it continues to dissipate.
We are all susceptible to this behavior. I remember arguing about the new Pier 1 furniture—for some reason I thought I deserved to have it. There was no logical basis for this thought—we purchased it jointly, but for some reason I thought I deserved it, and fought for it. Looking back, I realize it had nothing to do with the furniture—it was just my feeble attempt to make myself feel better.
It is important to understand the difference between the “nice to have” items and the “must have to survive” items, because that will help determine what we are willing to spend time and divorce dollars negotiating.
Am I Fighting Over this Because I’m Angry? Hurt?
There are times when we are angry during the divorce, and we choose to project feelings of anger at our spouse in the only way we thing we can—by “getting back” at them. We will find ourselves in our lawyers’ offices or soliciting advice on how we can “make the ex pay” for the hurt they have caused. Instead of processing those emotions and separating them legal aspects of divorce, we project them on tangential things.
If we find the spouse making unreasonable demands, understand they too may also be doing this, whether they know it or not—projecting their emotions onto something they think they can control—the ability to somehow hurt you or get back at us.
Although we cannot control how your spouse behaves during this process, if we find ourselves putting demands on the other side—things that we may be able to negotiable in a more rational manner—it might not hurt to reconsider the approach its ability to make the divorce go smoother or for us to feel better and heal faster.
How Will the Battles I am Fighting Impact my Future?
It is important to remember that nobody “wins” during a divorce—case can drag out for years and the only thing to show for it is a drained bank account, cashed-out 401ks, and stress inflicted on ourselves as well as our children that may never be reconciled.
That is not to say we should not stick up for ourselves. But before we begin a legal, emotional, and financial Battle Royale, we must be honest with ourselves and consider:
- What we really need to survive
- What is important and right for us
- What is best for those who depend on us
- What we won’t regret in the future
If we are drained and broke after fighting, how can we start the new chapter in our lives mindfully, without the weight of hurt and indignation? We must acknowledge the balance of advocating for ourselves but also having the wisdom to know when we are fighting to maintain the illusion of control that no longer exists.
The key is to be honest with ourselves, kind to ourselves, and mindful of the new chapter in our lives that we can look forward to once this divorce journey ends. Let those points be the guide on how to spend our time, money, and emotional energy. And who knows—we may not even care about the new furniture after all
Martha Bodyfelt is a certified Divorce Coach whose website, “Surviving Your Split,” helps divorced women find their voice, regain their confidence, and get their groove back.