It easy for friends and family to look on and say you need to take care of yourself during divorce. It seems such a simple, obvious statement and yet, in reality, looking after yourself, even taking care of your basic needs at this time can become challenging and overwhelming. For many, taking care of themselves gets put on the back burner, and becomes something they’ll do once they’ve gotten through the legalities.
The reality however is that there is no way you are going to be able to move through this trauma and make all the transitions required in a reasonable amount of time or even do it all, unless you’re taking care of yourself. And if you don’t move through this, you’ll end up revengeful, bitter and you could be putting your health at risk.
Getting divorced is like a long distance run. It is not a sprint and you have to pace yourself. And it’s not just about getting through the legal process.
In this episode of Conversations About Divorce, I’m joined by fellow divorce coach, Martha Bodyfelt to discuss this all important topic.
Keep reading for the CliffsNotes version …
My guest, Martha Bodyfelt is no stranger to trauma. She was in the Army when a spinal injury from a training exercise abruptly ended her dream career as a linguist. And then, after she had worked through rehab, found a new career and essentially rebuilt her life, she experienced divorce. She describes it as having “the rug yanked away from under you, falling on your butt, you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know how to get up or function.”
Even though Martha had survived the dramatic life change from her injury, she wasn’t taking care of herself during her divorce. She says she lost 40 pounds and she was sleeping maybe three or four hours a night. She remembers vividly one night when she was in her closet, trying to remove everything that reminded her of her STBX. At some point she fell asleep on the carpet from sheer exhaustion.
So why, even when we know what we’re supposed to do, don’t we do it?
A major reason we don’t take care of ourselves is guilt. For women, many of us are raised to be caretakers. We look after our family, our friends, our spouse, our community. Taking care of ourselves means we’re not taking care of others and that makes us selfish.
I don’t think guilt is limited to women. Just as women have been raised to be caretakers, many men are raised to be providers and not just for themselves. That role is redefined with divorce and men can experience guilt with that.
The response to guilt is to remind yourself that you will be better able to provide or care for others if you have taken care of our own basic needs first. It’s the same instruction as for the airline oxygen masks – you have put your own on first before helping others.
There are other sources of guilt such as divorce being a conflict with your values. Handling that guilt is different from coping with the guilt from making your needs a priority so it is important to recognize the source of your guilt.
Don’t Know What To Do
Another common reason for ignoring your needs is that you may simply not know what would satisfy your needs. Needs fall into three broad categories: physical, emotional and spiritual and each of these areas needs to be tended.
Martha says it’s not surprising that we lose touch with how to care for our needs. A marriage is about being a couple rather than two individuals. It always involves give and take. It always involves compromise. And sometimes those are not balanced, and even when they are, they often mean giving up activities, interests, and pastimes that the other party doesn’t share.
We all lose touch with who we are and taking care of yourself is part of the process of rediscovering what feeds your soul, what’s important to you.
This can take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Martha recommends small steps. You could, for example, start by spending a few moments each day writing down three things that happened that day that made you happy. Then you could start exploring new activities, trying something new each week. You may be surprised by what you discover. Martha recalls that she started baking at one point to keep herself occupied and then realized that she really liked it and was interested in it.
You can start by exploring things you wanted to do while married but couldn’t. What about the activities you enjoyed as child growing up or as a teenager? Try thinking of a time, independent of your STBX, when you were happy. What were you doing?
Not Enough Time
The process of getting divorced is time-consuming. I’ve joked that employers should offer leave for people going through divorce because it is hard to fit parenting, work, household management and the divorce-related tasks into a day and still stay sane.
I know myself that when faced with these competing demands, the first thing I instinctively sacrifice is my self-care. When I do that, I end up feeling physically unwell – I hold my stress, I don’t sleep and I’m not as productive at work.
We all do this and yet as Martha points out, it’s exactly the opposite of what we need to do. You are responsible for your happiness, your health, your spirituality and your emotions. No one else is responsible for these and that means these are always your priority. You can never be too busy for self-care.
The beauty of self-care is that it doesn’t require hours and hours of your time. This is not about going to a spa for three weeks and it’s absolutely not about an Eat, Pray, Love style quest.
Self-care is about the daily little things you integrate into your life that will bring more calm without sacrificing other obligations. For example, taking care of your physical health doesn’t have to be about training to run a marathon or gym workouts three times a week. It needs to be therapeutic without adding stress to your life. It could be as simple as a walk outside in fresh air in quiet contemplation.
Taking care of your emotional health means stepping away from activity periodically. That could mean closing your office door and breathing deeply for two minutes. It could mean consciously disconnecting from your phone and email for five minutes in the middle of day. Try laying down on the floor and listening to one song that resonates with you and calms you.
Taking care of your spiritual health means doing what makes you feel connected to your faith, exploring what divorce means for your faith and spending time each day, allowing your faith to guide you.
Taking care of yourself is simply about finding something that doesn’t involve other people and that brings you joy, even if it’s just for a few moments. Adopting this as a daily practice will change your perspective on your divorce. Guaranteed.
Martha Bodyfelt is a divorce coach, whose website “Surviving Your Split” helps readers get through divorce and post-divorce with less stress and drama. To learn more about moving on with your life and to receive your own Free Divorce Warrior Survival Kit, stop by survivingyoursplit.com or drop Martha a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit her on Facebook.