Dealing with Disappointment in Divorce

If you are getting divorced, you are familiar with disappointment.  You might be disappointed in your spouse.  You might be disappointed in the process.  Or you might be disappointed in yourself.

If you didn’t want the divorce, it’s going to be thrust upon you.  If you did want the divorce, it won’t come as quickly as you would have liked.

In addition, you and your spouse will have to make difficult decisions concerning your kids, your money and your stuff.  If the Court is deciding your fate, you may be quite displeased with how it chooses to restructure your life.  For example, you might end up with less time than you wanted with your kids, or you may have to pay spousal maintenance to someone who betrayed you.

None of this is easy – even when both parties know the marriage is over and can treat each other with respect.

So, just how does one deal with disappointment during this painful time?  I suggest the following four-step process, which can be remembered by the acronym “FEAR,” because there’s no reason to fear dealing with disappointment.

F

The F stands for feel the feeling first.  Experience your reaction and feel the emotion behind it, whatever it may be – anger, sadness, pain, hurt, loss, etc.  Repressing the emotion (not dealing with the emotion consciously) or suppressing the emotion (acknowledging the emotion, but downplaying its importance and not feeling it) just means you’ll be dealing with it later – and likely in a sideways manner.  Feeling the feeling, though, does not mean expressing it outwardly or projecting the feeling onto others.  It means sitting with the emotion – and letting it wash though you, without trying to change it in some way (think medicating it with eating, drinking, complaining, projecting, raging, etc.).

E

The E stands for evaluate expectations.  The heart of why you are disappointed may be found in the question: What were your expectations?  Expectations are strong beliefs that things and people should happen in, or be, a certain way.  Your expectations for the marriage relationship probably did not unfold in the way you had assumed and planned they would. Similarly, if your spouse cheated on you during the marriage, did you expect him or her to act in an honest, respectful, and fair manner toward you during the divorce?  If so, your expectation may be out of alignment with objective reality.

There is everything right with expecting the best – from your spouse, the process and yourself.  As the late Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.  In fact, science is very familiar with this idea.  This principle is known as the observer’s paradox, as developed by Erwin Schrödinger.  The paradox is that the very act of observing something (and the expectations that underlie that observation) affects the outcome of what is observed.

This does not mean that you should put on rose-colored glasses and pretend everything is great! Indeed, it is well known that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Nor does it mean that every encounter should be entered with the belief, and the expectation, that things will work out in ways you do not want.

So, how do we jive our knowledge of our spouses’ past behavior with expecting the best behavior?

There’s no conflict, really!  Expect the best, but release your judgments about the way things have to be. Why?  Because you don’t entirely control the outcome.  Your spouse, his attorney, your attorney, the mediator, the judge, and many other protagonists play a role in your divorce and affect its resolution.  So have a vision for what you would like to occur, but be flexible with what shows up.  Rigidity and disappointment are kissing cousins.  Find a way to release your rigidity about the process and its outcomes, and you will also dispatch disappointment.

A

Turning back to our acronym, the A stands for attribution.  By attribution, I mean are you disappointed because you have taken on the quality or character of the event or circumstance?  Have you taken it personally?  The author Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements – A Toltec Wisdom Book) suggests that we take nothing personally, because nothing anyone else does is because of us.  Rather, what others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.  If we can get ourselves into this perspective, then we become more immune to the opinions and actions of others, and less subject to disappointment.

I remember worrying in high school what others would think of me – the way I looked, spoke, acted, etc.  Looking back, I now see that it’s more likely that each person was thinking and worrying about about how they appeared to others.  Their thoughts of me were likely only extensions of their own self-thoughts.  In other words, I was only a projection of my high school peers’ personal reality, and not the center of it, as I had feared. I was wholly separate and could live fearlessly!

You too can move through this process without allowing the attribution of things you dislike (such as degradation or malice) and without taking personally things that may be said or done. You are the only person who can define you. There is power in that!

R

The R stands for redirect (your thoughts) and reframe (your experience). “Change your thoughts and you change your world,” said Norman Vincent Peale.  Artist Mary Engelbreit has said “if you don’t like something change it.  If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”  Once you have felt disappointment and given the emotion its due time, you have a decision to make. You can choose to keep regurgitating the thoughts that inflame the disappointment or think different thoughts that lift you up and out of the disappointment, thereby releasing it.

Redirecting your thoughts after this period of time is one option. I like to think of this as thought training. A psychologist, coach, or someone from your faith community may have suggestions to help you with this. You may have a set of affirmation cards to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, or perhaps an action plan in place for the times you find yourself drifting down disappointment lane again. The idea is to not just stop thinking disappointing things, but to replace it with thinking better things.

Reframing your experience is another option that is commonly processed with a psychologist, therapist, coach, or faith leader – someone who can help you process the experience with objectivity. While processing, you can reframe your experience.

Here are a few examples:

“I’m being forced to have a divorce against my will.  I don’t know how my kids and I will survive. I don’t see any future.”  This can be reframed as “I didn’t choose this divorce, but my kids and I are going to thrive through and after this process by approaching each day and decision as new opportunities.”

“My spouse cheated on me and is divorcing me because s/he found someone better,” can be reframed as “I have great value and worth. I know this and others do too. The fact that my spouse no longer sees this saddens me, but will not crush me.”

Take the FEAR out of disappointment.  Feel the FEELINGS.  Check your EXPECTATIONS (at the door).  Be careful not to ATTRIBUTE the disappointment personally.  And finally, REDIRECT your thoughts and REFRAME your experience.  Applying this formula will not remove the feelings of disappointment during your divorce.  It will, however, keep you from getting stuck in these feelings and making decisions solely from this wounded vantage point.