How do you tell your divorce story? What words and phrases are you using to describe the battle?
A friend recently reminded me that I used the word “malignant” to describe my divorce when I was in the thick of litigation. That means I told my divorce story like it was an illness, a cancer that I needed aggressively remove from my life. Now I tell my divorce story quite differently. I have learned to see it as a gift.
What story are you telling?
We all believe stories about ourselves and our divorce so deeply, that we think they are the truth. These phrases in your brain sound a lot like facts:
- My ex traumatized me
- I gained all my weight because of my divorce
- The divorce made me broke
- I should have known better
- My ex husband is disrespectful
- I had no choice but to separate, as he was having an affair (this was my story btw😉)
Our brain will collect loads of evidence to support this story and convince us that these sentences are the truth.
The best news that I have for you is, these statements are not facts. They are not the truth. They are just thoughts, well practised, running unsupervised and unquestioned in your brain. That means they are optional and you get to choose whether or not you want to keep believing them.
Let’s consider my divorce story: “I had no choice but to separate, as he was having an affair”. Seems factual, but really it was was just the thought that I believed to be true. My coach called me out on this. She questioned this statement and I learned it was really a just thought. The truth is, I could have stayed. I chose to separate because he was having an affair. Subtle but very important difference in how I want to think about my divorce story.
It is critical to learn to separate the facts from your thoughts to begin to see if your divorce story is serving you, or creating unnecessary suffering.
Separating Thoughts from Facts
One of the first things that I teach my divorce coaching clients to do in order to start feeling better is to separate the facts from the thoughts. The way to do this is to take a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself “what is the problem?” Write down everything about what is bothering you onto the page. In coach-speak, we call this a thought download. Dump your mind of all the yuck so you can shine a light onto all of the thoughts hidden in the darkness of your brain.
Now go through the page and underline only the facts. The facts are indisputable, provable in a court of law, and everyone would agree on them. Facts have no opinions, no emotions, and no judgement. On that page there will likely be less than 3 facts. The rest of the page is your thoughts. Those are all worth evaluating because they may not be serving you.
Now try retelling the story of your problem using only these facts. Separating out the facts really lets you boil it down.
A client’s divorce story
My client told me this story:
I have been married for 31 years. The marriage has not been good for the last 10 years and recently I learned that he is having an affair with another woman. He texted her in front of me and he admitted he is in love with her. I can’t believe he has done this to me and my daughter. I am completely devastated and I don’t know how I will ever get through this. I have no family here. We just renovated our house and I am going to have to sell it now. I am trying to get him to go to couples therapy and to stop seeing the other woman but he is reluctant. Every time I ask him what his plans are, he evades the questions. This is such a nightmare.
Here is the factual version of the same story:
I have a husband of 31 years. He texted a woman in my presence. When I asked him about it, he said, “I am in love with her.”
Kind of distills it all down, doesn’t it? This is a great place to start from because we can see that the factual story does not actually hurt her, until she makes it mean something. I hope that you can see how it is actually her thoughts that cause her pain. Thoughts like: I can’t believe he did this to me… I don’t know how I will get through this…I have no family here. Her current story is one of rejection and victimization. It is making her feel pretty dreadful.
Managing your divorce story with thought work
The first step is to acknowledging that thoughts are not facts, even if you believe them entirely. Over time you can work with a coach to examine all of your thoughts. You can question the validity and how they affect your emotional well being. Then you can deliberately decide how you want to think about your circumstances. You get to be the narrator of your divorce story
You can slowly shift how you will look at the circumstances in your life to create the emotional life you desire. In doing so, you will emerge from a state of anxiety, fear and victimization to one of calm confidence. Life will still be 50/50 (read my blog on this) but you will be in control of your emotions. Feeling in control of your emotions, and your reaction to any circumstance will enable you to find your internal power.