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.
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.