Your Divorce Questions Answered (Part I): Interview with Kristen Hick, Psychologist and Divorce Specialist
What is the most important tip to prepare for the divorce process?
Remember divorce is co-created and intentionally created. This means that you have the ability, through your actions (communication, acquisition and use of information, parenting, creating a support team to help, etc.) to intentionally create your divorce process and have it turn out differently and better than you may have initially imagined.
As a psychologist, I help people use their thoughts to create actions and change they want to see. If you start with, “I’m going to get even with him for what he did to me for all these years,” or “I won’t let him take my kids,” or “I’ll make him pay,” you are setting up your divorce process to go down a certain, not so pleasant or healthy road. These actions may have consequences for you and/or your children that last for years, if not decades.
By keeping the thoughts of how you would like it to go, such as, “I will do my best to communicate effectively and appropriately to resolve this divorce,” or “I will do my best to protect our children from any unnecessary hurt or upset because we are divorcing,” or “I will do my best to take care of myself in order to take care of my children,” or “I’m hurt, which is why we’re divorcing, but I do not have to try to hurt him in the process” your divorce will go much differently. Try to keep separate and stable as your end goal.
What tips do you have for emotionally preparing for the divorce process?
Intentions – Again, the first step in emotionally preparing is setting intentions for how you want to proceed and conduct yourself during your divorce process. You have no control – I repeat – you have no control, over how your spouse will conduct him/herself in this process. However, if you keep to your intentions, you are far more likely to find that your spouse follows your lead.
Set a good example of how to handle yourself, your communication, and your emotions during this process. If you have kids, you better believe that they are watching to see how you handle this process. It can turn out to be a teachable moment in how to handle tough, unexpected stressful life events. Plus, preparing yourself and/or your children emotionally for the divorce process can really help save you stress, heartache, and money in unnecessary legal fees.
Social Support – Social support can be one of your best resources during your divorce process. Selecting the right support team members – if you can, before you start the divorce process – will undoubtedly go long way towards helping you and your family get through the process quicker and stronger.
Support team members include:
- Family members and friends (i.e., who can be less biased and supportive)
- Adult and child therapists
- School counselors
- Community supports (e.g., church, synagogue, men/women’s groups, community organizations)
- Family friends
The more support the better, but sometimes quality is better than quantity. When it comes to family and friends, telling too many people may feel like a burden, so you may want to choose a few people who you check in with more often.
Therapy – Therapy can help you keep your end goals – “separate and stable” – in the forefront of your mind. This way, you will be moving the process with a purpose and when you stray away, either because of hurt, anxiety, or worry about the end result, your therapist can help you process what you need to so that you stay on course.
Divorce brings up a lot of emotions – from the present and the past (i.e., childhood and past relationships) – and having a space to feel validated, heard and to resolve those feelings as you move through you divorce is essential to moving through it more efficiently, quickly, and most of all, getting to the other side feeling more stable and healthy. All too often, people who do not work on themselves during the process end up spending more money on legal fees, experience longer divorces, and are more likely to repeat similar relationship dynamics in future relationships. Give yourself and your family the gift of doing the emotional work needed to repair, resolve, and move forward with your life.
What can you do to make sure divorce is right for you?
Divorce is a big step, and in most cases, a permanent step. It is a step so permanent that if you are not really, truly sure that it is right for you and your family, you may want to slow down and take a closer look. Turning to friends and family can be helpful, but they are usually biased, and I have found that they respond from a personal space, meaning it touches their own feelings about their personal experiences or fears of divorce. Therefore, you may not be getting objective, unbiased support.
Consulting with a lawyer is usually a great first step to exploring your questions about what divorce would look like for you and your family from a legal standpoint. Questions about custody and parenting time and spousal support can be addressed ahead of time. It can also be helpful to talk to a financial professional who focuses on divorces who can address questions around what your family’s financial picture may look like after divorce. They can advise you around division of assets and what scenario might be best for you (e.g., whether to keep the house versus 401k).
On the emotional side, therapists can help you come to terms with your feelings, the most complicated part of divorce. Individual therapy can help in a number of ways as addressed above. Additionally, couples therapy can help couples avoid divorce through resolving differences, enhancing communication and intimacy, and repairing ruptures caused by experiences such as loss, infertility, infidelity, trauma, and addiction.
Furthermore, if the damage is irreparable, couples therapy can also help you divorce well. I know this seems like a radical concept, but having an impartial party there to help you talk through divorce decisions, supporting your children, and figuring out how to have a healthy, collaborative co-parenting relationship can do wonders for the years ahead.
How can a divorce support group be helpful?
Whether divorce was your choice or your spouse’s, the emotional process is never easy. While friends can console, and help you through the initial days of a separation, most aren’t equipped for long-term support. It might be easy to pick up the phone and call someone close to you, but chances are they are going to tell you what you want to hear, in an effort to make you feel better. The truth is that the pain, heartache, anger and eventual healing can go on for a long time, and working through the stages of grief is essential for healing.
A divorce group is more helpful than talking to friends and family alone in that you have the support, encouragement, and unbiased feedback of others going through a very similar experience as you.
Divorce support groups can help you:
- Feel less alone
- Find Support through the ups and downs
- Get life back on track
- Support your children through the transition
- Rebuild your sense of self
- Feel empowered and worthy of a great relationship again
If I start working with a therapist, can that hurt me in the divorce process?
By law it is your privilege to have a confidential space to work through what you need to in therapy. However, one exception to that privilege is if your records are subpoenaed by a lawyer or judge as part of a court proceeding. This can happen in a number of ways. First, if your spouse knows you are in therapy and his/her lawyer subpoenas your therapist for his/her records (your therapist will likely attempt to refuse, but if a judge court orders it, your therapist will have to relinquish some or all records). Depending on the presenting issues you worked on and your progress in treatment, this may not be ideal for your case.
Second, you may want your therapist to release some or all therapy records to support that you are working on an issue that is of interest to the divorce case. You can sign a release (known as an authorization to release information) for your therapist to release – some or all – of your therapy records to your lawyer, which will likely be submitted to court. You may discuss the option of having your therapist prepare a summary of treatment, which can provide support for the work you are doing to improve yourself, without submitting every nitty-gritty detail of your therapy into the court process for all to see. Remember to always consult with a lawyer before signing any such release to a third party or submitting anything to a court regarding your treatment.
While there are no guarantees that your information will not be subpoenaed, keeping the fact that you are in therapy – which is a valuable part of the divorce health process – to yourself unless you are legally compelled to answer, will help it stay private and out of court.
How can self-care help me kids through the process?
Self-care is essential. Emotions are running high and transitions are tough, whether or not you initiated the transition. Self-care can look different to different people, but in general, here are some good things to keep in mind:
- Physical Activity – reduce stress through walking, yoga, hiking, cardio exercise, and stretching
- Social Support – connect with friends and family, seek counseling, attend a support group,
- Health – eat nourishing meals consistently, stay mindful about alcohol use, limit caffeine, stay connected to your PCP
- Relaxation – meditation, breathing, take a bath, read, listen to calming music
If you have begun the process of divorce or are considering divorce, you likely have a million and one questions about what to expect. It is important to educate and inform yourself on the process beforehand if possible. Have the right team of support and professionals and a self-care plan will go a long way in helping you and your family move through it easier and adapt to life’s new picture. Feel free to contact Dr. Kristen Hick for more information on growing through and recovering after divorce.
Kristen Hick, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in the area of dating, relationships and post-relationship/divorce growth and recovery. She is the founder and director of Center for Shared Insight, a private psychotherapy practice in Denver where she and her clients focus on Individual Relationship Therapy. Dr. Hick’s expertise lies in helping
individuals create healthy, meaningful, and loving relationships with others through healing, strengthening and transforming their most essential relationship, with themselves. You can connect with Dr. Hick on her website, Facebook, Instagram, or Google+