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How do I help clients to cope with divorce? Although my remit is legal, I consider my clients’ wellbeing to be extremely important. There are depressing studies which show correlations between divorce and serious illness. An optimistic outlook, meanwhile, has been linked to health benefits including a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease. One recent study found a positive correlation between happiness and the fast healing of surface wounds; I believe that this principle holds fast for emotional wounds as well as physical ones.

The vast majority of clients going through divorce will never become seriously ill as a result. However I think it is fair to say that I do look for trauma in clients and do my best to ease it.

If you are getting divorced and you are finding it difficult to cope, here are some tips and pointers that may help you. This is the first part of a new series on coping with divorce.

First of all, let’s assume that you aren’t sure why you are reading this blog. You shouldn’t be reading it at all but now you are, because the world has fallen in. Life as you know it has ended, has come to a full stop.

  • The arguments and the silences are unbearable.
  • Money, children, home…  The future frightens you. What has happened?
  • Everything you are used to and everything you believed to be true has altered and changed. The person you have loved and trusted has shattered your trust and destroyed your confidence. Yet the life you are living isn’t a life at all.
  • You have decided to end the marriage because you need an end to the nightmare. There is nothing left between you. You have tried and tried. You have no other choice. Your future cannot be as bad as your present. Can it?
  • You are raging inside; you are heartbroken. You cannot clear your mind of all these thoughts.
  • Life is spinning round and you no longer feel that you are in control.

How do you cope? How do you get through this and come out whole on the other side? Such feelings of distress are normal in the circumstances but are bound to have an effect on you, emotionally and physically.

Most of my clients, when I meet them for the first time, exhibit one or more of the following signs and behaviours. They are extremely low, or having mood swings. They are experiencing weight gain or loss. They find it difficult to express themselves, speaking in flat monotones and repeating themselves. They may complain of being unable to sleep, of worrying and panicking around the clock. They may be drinking more (never a solution, and never a good idea). They may have difficulty concentrating and giving instructions. Or they may be highly emotional and aggressive because it is all too much to cope with.

I am not a doctor but if I note some or all of these signs and I am concerned for the client’s wellbeing, I will immediately recommend that they see a doctor or a skilled counsellor. Of course I cannot diagnose depression; it may be that the client needs little more than a good chat with a professional who can help alleviate the nightmare. But after so many years working in this field, the most important thing to me is to stabilise a client who presents with these problems.

A client who bottles up stress can become physically ill; furthermore their state of mind may affect the progress of their divorce. On rare occasions our family law firm has represented clients whose instructions have become increasingly irrational and contradictory. They make conflicting demands such as, “I want you to settle my case NOW!” together with “I demand to know the whereabouts of all the hidden money that I am certain exists”. We cannot do both! Such clients cannot be satisfied, because they are not thinking straight.

Some clients refuse to see a doctor or counsellor. “I will get through it just fine”, they say. “There is nothing wrong with me.” Yet their emotionally charged choices and behaviour suggest the opposite.

In my experience, a client may refuse to seek medical help because they are scared that if it comes out during their divorce that they are depressed and taking medication (although not every doctor will prescribe medication), the revelations will affect the outcome. They fear that they will suffer financially either with the finances or worse still, that they will lose their children.

What nonsense!

Please rest assured that you will not be penalised if you have sought help. In fact, your decision demonstrates that you are still in full control of yourself: you recognise that something is temporarily wrong, and you are putting it right.

So if you do feel low and distressed — if you recognise that this is how you are feeling — and you would like to address your situation with the help of a professional, what are you waiting for?

Professionals are there to help you. It is their job. Place yourself in their hands. Let them help you. Even if you are prescribed medication it is likely to be a short-term measure that should not affect you adversely and will restore your equilibrium.

As for counselling: perhaps your doctor will be able to spend time talking to you, and that will be all that you need. If it is not, please do consider professional counselling. I have observed that when clients have been to counsellors, the results are often swift and truly amazing. Don’t sit there worrying. The restoration of mood, self-confidence and assertiveness works wonders.

When you are able to put your worries into perspective and into proportion, the cold, hard legalities of divorce will become less daunting.

As for quelling your fears about the legal process: that’s my job!


(click the following for "Coping With Divorce Part 2: Fight Your Demons")

Nicknamed "The Barracuda" for her tenacity, Marilyn Stowe is one of the UK’s most sought after divorce lawyers, and is the senior partner at Stowe Family Law.

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  • Comment Link +change4good Tuesday, 15 April 2014 04:33 posted by +change4good

    I wish I had known the state of mind I was in at the time of my agreed divorce (ex is a narcissistic man) and I was a mess due to constant demand to answer his question that I had no answers to, sleep deprived due to his behavior, threats to answer his 5 questions or call the attorney he had a number for to get a divorce. This went on for at least a month, I tried to continue to hold on to my full time job and take care of the kids ages 11 and 12. While I worked he was making his plans for removing items from our home and sleeping through the day, but when I returned home he was well rested to start his interrogation. I after day in and day out of this behavior I was desperate for separation, I tried to reason with him for the sake of my kids but unless I answered his questions I was told to call the attorney for an agreed divorce. He even told me what to ask the attorney for (an agreed divorce) he even used the kids to manipulate the scene for getting his way. He told me to answer him and I continued to refuse to answer him so he called the boys into our bedroom and proceed to tell them "your mom wants a divorce", before I could speak they both started crying uncontrollably and saying "no mom!" I held them ... Crying with them ... Thinking in my mind - if he does this to them he could not care for any of us, and I whispered to them "shhh it's going to be okay", he just watched.... My decisions on dividing our assets was definitely not with sound mind, but out of desperation due to the treatment I was receiving, even having a gun waved around one late evening demanding that I give him information he wanted. I told him due to being exhausted "I don't care, do whatever you have to... I'm not answering your questions." (Our boys were in bed @ this time)... From those moments to proceeding with the divorce and hiring the attorney was so much manipulation that the attorney ended up representing me due to my low income and I ended up paying 100% of the cost for the divorce.... He ended up with half of the assists along with 23 acres of property that we had together to build a house on and has $13,000.00 of my credit in the house he is building... I have no credit to move forward in my life, I lost my job after the divorce, decided to go to college while taking care our kids 24/7 due to him denying them the first year and a half of the divorce, May 2014 will be two years divorced. We live off 2 land contracts (which one will end in June of this year) and child support, food stamps and what I have left over from my school grant. This totals a monthly income of $1,167.00 for me and the two boys while he plays around with the child support office turning in check stubs when he wants and other income that he chooses not to report.. He currently has me in court fighting me over his visitations with the boys but they are now 13 and 14 and the 14 has flat out said to the authorities "I do not want to go with him", our other son has a Guardian Ad-litium appointment soon.... I currently have a EPO on their dad due to Emotional abuse and Physical abuse, he is still in control on my future because of having my credit tied up and playing with his union pay income and child support. I never fought him over the 23 acres (wish I had so bad now) because I had hopes for him to build a home for the boys as we had planned, not seeing past my desperation as I spoke to the attorney in the presence of my husband (@ the time) I never thought the kids would choose to not be with him, but I guess like I have heard kids know and feel when they are important and when they are loved and the difference of a loving environment and a controlled environment. My EPO hearing is soon approaching and I have no doubt I can speak and be heard but I do wish I could get my credit back so I can have a home for the boys and I instead of a Trailer.

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 17 June 2012 06:29 posted by Guest

    There is no shame in asking for help: I had many of those characteristics in the early days: I couldn't sleep or eat, my legs constantly shook from the anxiety, and I felt like I was looking in at the remnants of my life rather than living it. I had always been very independent; asking for help was not something I was comfortable with. I eventually realized that my stubbornness was only serving to hurt me further, so I let it go and asked for help. It was the best decision I ever made. With support, I was able to become my stubborn self again, now just a bit more humbled. If you need help, ask. If you are further along in the journey and render aide, help.