This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.
Going through major life changes — in other words, re-creating your life — is demanding, painful, hard work, but it may be the most important thing you can do during the time of divorce. Certainly, you should live your life in a way that seems right for you, but when you don’t know what else to do, there’s always this method to come back to.
Just do this. Organize your divorce into a list of problems. Keep rearranging your list in the order of issues that are the most immediate and important. From time to time, go over it and think up possible solutions and alternatives for each item, dealing with the most pressing problems first.
Even emotional and life problems can be organized and solved this way, but the legal and practical ones will be the easiest to pinpoint. Just structure that part and you’ll be way ahead. This method helps you to see exactly what you have to deal with. It makes the unknown take shape and become manageable.
First things get fixed first: The order in which you want to solve problems should follow the hierarchy described by psychologist Abraham Maslow. He said that people have to satisfy their needs in this order:
• Basic body needs: Hunger, thirst, fatigue
• Safety: Shelter, avoidance of pain and anxiety, general physical security
• Social: The need to belong and to feel loved; affection, intimacy, family and friends
• Esteem: The need for self-respect, a sense of competence
• Self-actualization: To be fully what you can be; to explore; knowledge, curiosity, and aesthetics.
When a lower need is unsatisfied, all behavior tends to be directed to fulfilling it. For example, if feeling safe is a recurring or continual problem, all the higher levels will fail to develop properly. You can use Maslow’s hierarchy to help guide the priority of items on your list of problems.
For example, when hurt, any dumb animal knows enough to crawl into a den or a nest and just lay still and heal. People are smarter than animals (we are told) but they don’t always know enough to hole up, to get very quiet and heal.
The first thing you should do — and the most important thing — is to create temporary physical safety and security for you and any children in your custody. You need a place where, for a while, you can feel safe and a period of time to be relatively quiet, and relatively free of pressure and distraction. The next thing is to help your spouse, if you can, to create some safety and stability.
What you are after are short-term solutions. Think in terms of weeks or a few months, not years. Do not try to solve all of your problems at once or try to create solutions that will last forever. Just take care of immediate needs, create a space for healing, and put off the rest of your concerns until things settle down and you have had some time to heal. Most of your problems will wait until you are ready to face them.
When you feel relatively clear and ready to start dealing with your life, make a list of problems that you have to solve. Do it like this:
• Write down your thoughts on index cards. Rework your list as your understanding improves. Turn it into a diary or journal if you like.
• For each problem item, make notes on additional information you need to get and people you can talk to or resources you can use to help you solve it.
• As you work with your list, keep arranging and rearranging the items in order of priority. Put your most urgent and most important problems at the top.
• Write down your ideas for possible solutions. Talk to your friends and family, check out local family services and divorce support groups, or seek advice from professionals.
Especially in the early stages, don’t try for a final resolution of problems that can wait. Seek short-term and temporary solutions whenever possible. Don’t do any long-term planning until your life settles down and you begin to see more clearly and calmly. Be sure to take frequent vacations from problem-solving so you can relax.
Now for the most important part: Be sure to balance your list of problems with a similar list of resources you can use and things you have to be grateful for. Write down your material and personal resources: assets, friends and family, health, job, and so on. Concentrate on your strengths: curiosity, love of life and people and your desire to grow and improve.
If you do things this way, you will begin to see what you have to deal with. The whole confusing mess will have turned itself into a relatively short list of problems and each will have a variety of possible solutions. You may not be able to solve all of your problems immediately — few people can — but all you can ask of yourself is that you do your best with what you’ve got.
If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.