by Tami Sollo LCSW, Coordinator of the JCFS Chicago Divorce Specialty Center
Who could ever have imagined just a few weeks ago, that our lives were about to be turned inside out. We have hit pause in our busy lives, and now we are scrambling to reevaluate what is most important. As I talk with my clients, I realize that for people involved in the divorce process, ‘shelter in place’ has caused a unique set of issues. Whether people are sheltering with the person they’re divorcing, single parents trying to work from home and take care of the children, or newly separated people that find themselves alone, perhaps for the first time in their lives, their pause button has been fractured into torment and vulnerability. Is it even possible that this is really happening? Clients have told me that sometimes they wake up thinking that this has all been a bad dream, and it’s just another day. Getting out of bed, they are focused on the day ahead, then the cold slap of water reminds them. This is for real, so I want to start a dialogue with people that are sheltering in place and coping with the stress of divorce.
You might be embroiled in a destructive relationship, contemplating the release of divorce, or you could be well along your way in the progression of events. Divorce in our normal world can be extraordinarily traumatic. When you add the anxiety brought on by our current chain of events, for some people it may be arduous. We are all navigating the pitfalls for our very first time, perhaps we can learn from one another.
During our rapid transition into remote therapy and all our lives being partitioned between four walls, I began to see how magnified the issues involved in divorce have become as a result. The increased stress level has compounded the already high levels of stress many people were already experiencing. Even the most solid relationships have been challenged by the extreme circumstances under which we all find ourselves. Few relationships are accustomed to 24-7 contact. Imagine the woman who has been secretly contemplating leaving her spouse, now having to shelter in the same house. Every, single, thing that her partner has ever done wrong is now flashing in neon pink lights. You can’t run and, you definitely can’t hide. There’s nowhere to go. Then there’s the couple that have just begun to navigate their separation. They’re still living together. They’re trying to help the kids adjust to their new existence, separately. There’s no one to get their back and they are completely on their own.
One of the issues I often see with clients is that they are trying to take care of everyone in the family, yet they are unable to take care of themselves. There’s no money, no time, no energy left at the end of the day to think about anything at all. They were already feeling that way, but now the stress level is off the charts. That is why it’s even more important to take a few, scheduled minutes to find some peace. It could be meditation or a hot bubble bath. Some meditation apps are offering a free trial. Whatever you choose to do with your time, just make sure you’re taking the time to do it. I know what you’re thinking, “This woman doesn’t have a clue.” Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. It is from my knowledge and experience that I tell you how important this is to figure out a way not to blow this off.
Most of us need some structure in our lives, especially children. Remember a month ago, we were living our normal lives. Kids were going to school and we were going to our jobs. It’s now up to us, to establish a new structure, for the kids, and for the adults. Take some time to think this through, it will be worth it. Set up goals for each day for everyone in the family. Just remember to be realistic about your expectations.
If you happen to find yourself sheltered with the spouse that you are currently divorcing, try to hang in there and call on friends and family to provide support. You need it. First and foremost, your children need to be shielded from any conflict if it should arise. I know it’s much easier said than done, but that doesn’t change the fact of how important it is. This is what friends and family are for.