Old adage, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.


The same is true of your separation and divorce.


When I meet people for the first time, they often tell me that they are feeling overcome.  There are so many problems, and they seem to grow by the day.  They don’t know where to begin.


When any problem compounds like that, things can feel hopeless, and it can seem like there is no way out. Being saturated with problems is debilitating – the more you fight it, the more the quicksand pulls you under.


So what do you do to manage that situation?  You break the problem down to bite sizes, and prioritise which bites you are going to chew first.


Think of it this way, if you’re renovating your house, you don’t gut the place unless you have somewhere else to live.  If you are working on every room in the house at once, you’ve got tradesmen crawling over each other, and decisions coming at you left, right and centre.  That gets really stressful, really fast.  That sort of pressure can’t go on for long, and is only for experienced renovators.  Why?  Because, when your energy is being spread everywhere at once, it is hard to see any progress.


The smoother course is to map out the project into stuff that needs to be done straight away, like repairing a leaking roof, or fixing dodgy electrical wiring.  Then you move forward with a progressive plan – you overhaul a bathroom, then move onto the kitchen, and later attack the bedrooms.  An enormous project is approached piece by piece, the bits demanding the most attention-getting that attention first, and then the other parts of the project being rolled out one by one.  As you check items off the ‘to do’ list, the progress is perceptible  And one day, you stand back, with the job done, the end product being unrecognisable from the task you faced at the start.


It’s the same with your divorce.  Because you carry your separation around in your head every day, you don’t have anywhere else to ‘live’. You can’t do everything at once, and instead need to work systematically through the most pressing issues, before moving on with the bigger picture issues. Trying to do everything can easily become an energy-sucking quagmire, because when your attention is being spread thinly across all issues, its hard to see that you’re making progress on any of them.


So, here’s how to break your separation into bite size pieces:-


  1. Make a list – what are all the issues, big and small, that you face?  It helps to get stuff on the page, and out of your mind;

2. Categorise – what are the issues that impact on you today, tomorrow, next week and next month.  That’s the short-term stuff.  It might be who is going to remain in the house, or pay the mortgage.  It might be how household income is going to be apportioned to make sure that there are still groceries in the cupboard, and that the school fees get paid.  It might be how the care of the kids is going to look like in each week.  There will also be overarching issues on your list, like achieving a final division of your wealth.  That’s the longer-term stuff, the objective or end goa;l

3. Prioritise – The reality is that the longer-term stuff won’t be solved overnight.  It will take time, and for other steps to be completed first.  So, focus on the stuff that needs your attention right now, and start with that.  Getting those short-term issues in order clears the deck to move onto the bigger ticket item;

4. Get help – Ask your family lawyer to help with creating a timeline for your short-term, and long-term, issues to be given attention.  Putting tasks in a sequence like this can help you see where things ‘fit in’ to the bigger scheme of things; where you presently sit on that timeline; and to focus on how and when to complete that step;

5. Review – Balancing short-term and long-term goals is like being in a rowboat.  If you focus only on your oars, you can see movement, but it might not be movement in the right direction.  You need to keep an eye on the horizon, to make sure your strokes are taking you in the right direction.  Accordingly, while you move through your list of short-term issues, make sure that they are still part of your overarching objective, and that you are not drifting off course.


If you are facing separation or divorce, you’re certainly not alone if you feel like the problem is insurmountable.  To get out the other side, adjust your thinking.  Rather than a solution being like flicking a switch, or something which will happen overnight, think of it as involving many parts, some of them simple, some of them complex.  And be prepared to prod some smaller issues into order before wrangling with the bigger issues.


In reality, what you face is a jigsaw puzzle which you have just upended onto the dining table.  You are not going to complete that puzzle in an hour.  Rather, you’ll do it in bits and pieces.  There are edge pieces, and pieces of block colour that you can begin assembling immediately.  That progress will buoy your spirits, and keep you going.  And by chipping away at it, day by day, you’ll get through the harder parts as well.  And with this consistency of approach, you’ll soon have the puzzle tamed, and 10,000 pieces of ‘Field of sunflowers’ will lay complete before your eyes.


Dan Bottrell


October 2018

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