I had a counselling client called Sally* (name changed to protect privacy) who found herself in the middle of a separation that had been coming for a while. Sally, however, hadn’t really prepared for being separated – no one ever really does. Once she had moved out of the family home that she had shared with her now estranged husband, she found herself adrift, floating, not 100% sure what she wanted or even how to figure out the best way to know what to do next.
I see this scenario quite often in my work with clients. When individuals are in a marriage they generally commit their whole self (emotionally, mentally, physically, resource-wise) to the marriage and to the family. When they find themselves in an irreparable breakdown of the marriage they often feel a bit lost and stuck; not really knowing where to turn, who to turn to, what advice to listen to or how plan for the next stage of life. If you find yourself in this situation, I’m here to give you six doable steps on how to get unstuck and how to move on to living your best life.
Both men and women can feel stuck when it comes to a separation or divorce. When we find ourselves at the end of a marriage and faced with the prospect of what comes next, it can feel daunting and debilitating. We sometimes feel a sense of relief, as some of the pressures (and unhappiness) have reduced but often we just feel plain stuck, unsure of what is the next right move for ourselves and our future.
Firstly, let me tell you if you have found yourself in this situation, feeling stuck, you are not alone. Indeed, you are very normal. This is a very normal, human emotion that crops up when something that has been a major part of our lives is no more. We often have a hard time extracting ourselves from our role of wife or husband and from being defined as part of a family unit that no longer exists as it once did. Don’t get me wrong, the family unit still exists, just in a different structure which often-times finds us without our support crew that we had previously relied upon – our partner.
Right! So, what do you do if you find yourself stuck and unsure of your next move? Check out the following suggestions for getting unstuck.
1. Give yourself time and space
This may sound like trite advice and too simple. But in the first instance you want to give yourself time and space. This is not a time to charge head-on to your next decision, your next stage, your next major life event. This is a time to treasure yourself, honour your soul, give yourself massive amounts of self-care and allow yourself to just be. There are so many emotions that fly around when you are separating or divorcing. There are so many things to be done. Yes, of course, do as many of those things as you need to do to get by, but then, just be. What does this look like? It includes having quiet “me” time as much as possible. I recognize this can be hard, especially if you have kids, but it’s in this quiet space that you allow yourself to breathe and to figure out who you really want to be now. This quiet space allows you to begin to redefine what your life can be like. It allows you time to review your situation, your past experiences in your marriage and to begin to determine how you want to show up in the world again.
2. Start doings things for YOU
Once you have allowed yourself time and space, the next step is to start doing things for YOU. When we are in a marriage, especially if that marriage has been breaking down over some time as is often the case, we may lose our identity. We stop doing the things we used to love. Often, we have become so unhappy doing what we feel is right or what we feel will make the other person happy, that we have forgotten to nurture our own interests. Getting out there and doing stuff that you enjoy really will put a smile on your face and make your heart sing. This is part of your journey of healing. Start doing things just for you. Lots of them, over and over again. This will start to bring the magic and purpose back into your life.
3. It’s time to start planning
Once you have started to give yourself time and space and started to do things you once loved it’s time to start planning. In my own experience, I found this to be the hardest part when I was going through my own separation and waiting for my divorce. Sometimes even just the waiting for the divorce can make you feel stuck and like you can’t move on. I’m here to tell you that you can. It’s in the planning for your next stage of life that you start to take baby steps towards moving on and feeling like you can live again. Please note, this does take time. Everyone is on their own unique journey when it comes to the breakdown of a relationship and parting of ways with a partner. It’s best to give yourself permission to experience this just exactly as you need to and in whatever time it takes.
How do you go about planning what’s next? Again, set yourself some quiet time. Take a break from your day-to-day existence. Maybe have someone look after the kids for you. You may choose to do this at home or maybe take yourself to a nice place – somewhere outdoors in nature that speaks to you or a warm, inviting café etc. Bring along a notebook and pen. Get comfortable. Now close your eyes for a few moments, take some big deep breaths in and out, visualize your heart and all that it holds, connect to your inner self (your inner self that knows the real you!). Just sit there for a moment. Now open your eyes, write this question at the top of the page: “What do I want to do next?” Pick up the pen and just start writing. Do not censor yourself, don’t stop to consider if what you are writing is correct or if you can actually do it. Just write. Write everything that comes to mind. Even those ideas that seem outrageous or that you have always wanted to do but been fearful of. Include those ideas that you feel would probably take a million bucks to do and that just seem impossible. Write them all down. Dream the biggest dream for your life and what you want next. This may take a while. Allow yourself enough time to get it all out. Then once you are done, pack your writing away. Leave it for a few days. Allow those ideas to germinate and to just exist. When you are ready, set aside some more time to review what you wrote.
4. Dream big!!!
Now remember, the writing that I’ve just asked you to do is about dreaming big. Some of those ideas will be such great, unique and inspiring ideas that you are meant to do and achieve sometime in your lifetime. However, they may be ideas that are longer term and not going to be reached tomorrow. Some of your ideas may be as simple as finding a good place to live, managing your finances better during this transition stage or connecting with old friends again. Take three things that really speak to you for the short term and rewrite those on a card or small piece of paper. Place the card or piece of paper next to your bed, on the fridge or stick it up on the mirror in your bathroom where you get ready each day. I want you to look at those top three things every day. Read them as many times as you can. Each time you do so, feel what it would be like to be successful at those three things and what it would feel like to be doing or having those three things.
5. Breakdown your top three into smaller steps
When you have some more time, take your top three things you want to do and write each one down on a separate piece of paper. Underneath each idea write down all the steps involved in what you need to do to make these things a reality. For example, if you chose find a good place to live, your steps under this might include: researching different areas to live, will you rent or purchase a home, will you live with anyone else or alone (with the kids)? It may include reviewing your income and deciding what amount of money you can spend on housing during this transition phase. It could include reviewing available properties online and starting to make a short list of the ones you’d like to see. You may consider speaking to an expert who can help with your property search such as a real estate agent or property manager. It may include speaking to a finance officer to see what your financial situation is. It may even include some tough choices on what you need to sacrifice in the short term for the long-term gain of finding a good place to live. Please don’t be daunted by any of these steps. Remember this is all about the planning phase. You don’t need to be making any decisions at this point… yet!
6. Decide on a way forward – what is your next right move?
Now you know the smaller steps involved in achieving your top three things you want to do next. Next decide on what your way forward is. You may choose to speak to a close friend or family member to review your options. It’s always good to get support, keeping in mind that this is YOUR new life, not theirs. Take their good advice and leave the rest. This actually applies for the whole time you are in your separation/divorce period. There will be well-meaning people out there who want to chime in with every opinion under the sun. If you are strong enough, and quite frankly if you have the time, by all means listen but only ever take on what feels right for you and leave the rest behind!!
Congratulations! You’re now unstuck.
You are doing productive activities towards living your best life. Keep repeating these processes until you feel like you’re in the groove and moving towards the dream life you deserve. It may be hard to see while going through a separation or divorce, but you have the ability to make your life anything that you want it to be. Trust yourself, you’ll do great, I know!
Heidi Anderson is a Coach and Counsellor who supports her clients in their journeys to living a full life. Her specialty is helping people to identify and overcome their roadblocks. For more information about Heidi, check out her website at http://www.maheno.com.au.