In today’s episode, I wanted to talk a bit about navigating all the changes that you have to deal with as part of the divorce process, and in particular, give you some strategies if you are struggling with making some of the changes that come with the divorce as to how to deal with those things, how to approach them in a way that feels manageable to you.
It goes without saying that divorce brings with it a lot of change to your life. There’s the change in your primary relationship, in your marriage, and there are multiple other significant changes: changes to your residence, changes to your friendships, to what you foresaw for your future, to your parenting routine, where you vacation in the summer. You name it. Divorce brings with it a lot of change, and all humans struggle with change to some degree, so that’s normal.
But in particular, I would say if you are the person who has not initiated the divorce, who did not foresee the divorce, who did not want the divorce, the changes that divorce brings along with it are particularly unwelcome.
That’s not to say they’re objectively harder on the person who didn’t ask for the divorce, but it is to say that for the person who initiates or asks for the divorce, generally speaking, in thinking about and in getting to that moment of deciding that they want a divorce, they have already processed, to some degree, the change that the divorce will bring with it and are often in a greater place or a more advanced place of acceptance around those changes.
For the person who is just starting to consider what a divorce will mean to their lives, especially if they don’t want the divorce, the ancillary changes that a divorce brings with it are all the more painful.
So that can be a source of tension, whether you’re in a mediated process or some kind of negotiation process between the spouses, specifically often around lifestyle and spending and changes that need to be made to each spouse’s lifestyle going forward as a result of the divorce. Specifically, that the spouse who did not ask for the divorce, does not want the divorce, often feels much more distraught by or upset about the changes that will be required in their lifestyle than the spouse who asked for or initiated the divorce does.
What can you do if that’s the case?
The first thing you want to do is, just on a very objective and factual level, take stock of where things are, in particular, financially. What income do you have coming in? Both you and your spouse, what income do you have coming in as a family? What expenses? What’s your current burn rate? What are you spending? What expenses do you have going out? Is there a deficit currently if you’re not yet living in two different households? When you do live in two different households, will there be a deficit? How much will it be? So that you can start to gauge how urgent, how vital it is that each spouse be willing to make changes in their lifestyle, in their day to day? That’s piece one, just taking stock of where you are.
I find that it often does not help for people to be talking in abstraction with one spouse saying, “We’re going to need to make changes,” and the other spouse saying, “I want to maintain my lifestyle,” and neither spouse knows whether they’re running a deficit, if they will run a deficit, or of what magnitude we’re talking about. So just start off by trying to get those basic data points. And I say basic. It doesn’t mean they’re not hard to get. It’s a heavy lift to put together your spending as a family, but try to take stock of that first.
Once you’ve done that, if it looks likely that you will need to make some changes to your lifestyle, which is more common than not, start to categorize or prioritize lifestyle changes and differentiate between those changes that you feel like “Okay, it’s not going to kill me to make this change or that change.” And then with changes that would be more painful to you at this time or excruciatingly painful at this time, inconceivable at this time, just start to map out the sort of differences between how painful or doable particular lifestyle changes feel to you.
It’s not monolithic or there’s not like consistency between the different types of changes. For some people, they might feel like “You know what? We live in this home together. I’ve actually never liked it and I’ll be happy to move.” And other people feel like “Our home is the one shred of stability that I have going through this process and under no circumstance am I ready to move out of our home.” So for you, take an accounting of, an inventory of, what changes feel more palatable to you right now and what changes feel more on the inconceivable end and start with the changes that feel more palatable.
For those changes that feel just inconceivable to you at this point, and for many people, that could be moving, leaving a home, what I recommend is that you give yourself time to not think about making that change. So table the issue. Take a month. Take three months.
Your financial situation that you take stock of, which was the first thing I suggested, does have some bearing on how long you can table an issue because if you are in a spending deficit of $10,000 a month or something that’s quite significant in the context of your income and your assets, you can’t take six months or nine months to think about making a particular change that’s painful to you. Things are more urgent.
But if you’re not running a deficit or the deficit you’re running is not significant in light of your incomes and your assets, you have a little bit more time. I keep coming back to the home because it’s a very common one, but if you’re not ready to think about leaving the home, just give yourself three months to not think about leaving the home and ask, as part of the process, that you table discussion of that issue.
What I observe to happen among clients is that your attitude toward certain changes itself changes over time. Things that felt inconceivable to you at the outset of the process, six months or nine months in, can feel much more viable. And so you don’t want to drive yourself crazy making every possible compromise to never have to leave the home if, in fact, if given enough time, you can kind of wrap your mind around selling the home or leaving the home and moving on to a different place.
If you are the spouse who is having less of a struggle accepting, conceptualizing the different lifestyle changes that you’ll need to make as part of the divorce process, I do have a word of advice for you as well. You’re not struggling internally as much, but you want to be careful in observing that your spouse is struggling to accept some of the changes in lifestyle that he or she may need to make.
You want to keep yourself from repetitively harping on the fact that lifestyle changes need to be made. It’s important to make sure that your spouse has accurate, factual, objective information about what your joint incomes are and your joint expenses are and what kind of deficit you are currently running or you will be running. That is important for them to know to be able to understand how urgent or not it is to make particular lifestyle changes.
And of course, going right along with that is to say, “Well, we’re running a deficit of $5000 a month. This is unsustainable. We’re drawing down on assets. We were drawing down on assets before we even started the divorce process. Now it’s just at a faster rate and some things need to change.”
Absolutely you can say that, but my word of advice to you would be to say it and then let it be. That doesn’t mean say it, let it be, and then accept the fact that your spouse is not willing to make any changes. That’s also unacceptable.
Each person going through a divorce almost always has to make some painful or uncomfortable changes to his or her lifestyle. That’s just part of the reality of increasing your collective expenses, unless you are going to be increasing your collective income. But tread lightly on that topic.
The spouse who is having a hard time accepting, making changes in his or her lifestyle at a particular point in the process is usually not wildly receptive to having the other spouse repeat to them that changes need to be made. On some level, they know that. They’re just struggling with accepting it and making a plan around how to do it that feels viable to them.
So, share the information that’s relevant. Certainly feel free to articulate that, “This is unsustainable. Changes need to be made.” But in some ways, if you’re running a deficit, that fact should speak for itself. But beyond that, try to give a little bit of time and space to your spouse, if he or she is struggling in accepting these changes, to go through that process of acceptance with the assistance of or guidance of your mediator or your spouse’s attorney more so than your attorney.
That was our mini-episode on the challenge of all the changes that a divorce process often brings to your life and some tips on how to work with those changes, how to work with accepting them, how to work with a spouse who is struggling to accept them. I hope this was helpful for you.