Divorce as an Initiation: Understanding the Five Stages of Divorce
May 05, 2015 10:57PM
● By Larry Ford
In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross created the five stages of grief theory from her work dealing with terminally ill patients. Her discovery gave a framework to help people understand what is happening while they are going through their loss.
Divorce can be a form of a death with its own stages of grief. Based on Kübler-Ross’s work, a new model has been adapted to empower people emerging from the difficulties of a divorce.
It has been said that denial is a human’s most predictable emotion. Divorce awakens fears and insecurities, as well as potential. These thoughts and feelings can be painful and, for human beings, the natural, unconscious response is to avoid pain. Consequently, you might make up stories in your mind and create a false reality that can be perceived as preferable to the one that you are in – whether it is “maybe I should just stick it out” or “who am I to think I deserve better?”
Denial is a natural stage of the separation process; with awareness of being in the midst of this stage, it is possible to avoid “buying in” to the self-told tall tales.
This is the place where denial meets reality head on. The emotions rise and blame begins, adding up all of the terrible things about your partner, some of which may have been internalized over the years.
Releasing anger in a healthy way is beneficial and a natural part of this process; in order to get the most out of this stage, try viewing it from a larger perspective. From this place, it is easier to embrace the idea that you attract your partner for a reason – they can be a powerful teacher. The shamans often refer to this type of teacher as a petty tyrant, masterfully pushing all of your buttons.
If you spend this entire stage unconsciously spewing out anger at the other person, you miss the lessons. Pay some attention to the things that trigger you; watch your emotions.
Note: If the feelings become too powerful, give yourself the compassion to leave it alone for a while and move back into the anger or any other stage – this is not about being perfect, it is about being fully human, alive and awake throughout this journey. Also no one consciously asks for, or deserves, an abusive situation. If you are in one, leave, get help and be strong.
Who gets the house? Who gets the money? What about the kids? This is the place where you use things of value against the other partner. This can be a dangerous and costly stage if not managed well. When you get caught up in the fight, it can keep you in this bargaining stage for a prolonged period of time – resulting in financial and emotional costs.
This is a time to have both feet firmly rooted on the ground because the financial decisions you are about to make will have long lasting results.
Five rules of bargaining:
Know your balance sheet: Not all assets are created equal. You need to understand the type of assets you have to avoid surprises down the road. In many divorces, the two largest assets are the home and the retirement accounts. Don’t accept splitting one for the other without addressing the tax consequences and your liquidity needs. This is just one example of a myriad of asset types to understand.
Consider taxes: Income taxes play a big part in most divorces. Alimony payments you receive are considered taxable income. Child support payments are not. How will taxes impact your net cash flow? Who should claim the dependents? Are there any tax carry forwards from prior years to divide?
Plan ahead: What will your post-divorce financial life look like? Do you know what your cash flow need will be? Will there be enough after-tax income to meet that need? Having these answers will help you negotiate for the right amount of support (if you need it) and give you peace of mind knowing what lifestyle you can afford after the divorce.
Consider credit issues: Do you have credit cards in your name? If not, and you are removed as an authorized user, your credit score will take a hit and make it more difficult for you to obtain your own credit cards and loans. If you don’t have your own card, apply before the divorce is final.
Investments: Know where your investments are and how they are allocated. Find a financial advisor who has deep experience not only in asset management but also in working with clients going through a divorce.
All of the noise and drama and fighting that kept you distracted has gone away. You find yourself in the middle of your life in a dark place that stirs up any remaining demons. You are lost in the depth of your initiation called divorce.
When you are in the middle of your divorce, it is hard to see that it is preparing you for something greater but being lost is the point of an initiation - to lose your former self so you can find your way to your authentic self. They rip you apart like the god Kali in a wrathful, relentless, loving way with only one goal in mind – to break you down so you can be rebuilt.
When you feel lost or depressed don’t confuse it as a weakness or as a permanent condition…its OK to be lost at this time, trust in the process.
This final stage of acceptance is where you move on with your life. You emerge as a different person, transformed and healed from old wounds and your core life lessons.
Stay aware and awake. Be careful of what you attract as you re-enter into the new reality. If you see yourself attracting the same type of “teacher,” it is a sign you may need to do some more inner work.
Mindfully attract a team of specialized experts in the field of divorce matters to help guide you through these times – an attorney, accountant, financial advisor, mediator, family/alternative therapist.
Larry Ford is an author, syndicated columnist, speaker, teacher, financial advisor at Conscious Capital Wealth Management (CCWM), and consultant to the financial industry. He has advised thousands of people with both their finances and their spirit. Mr. Ford was dubbed the “Shaman of Wall Street” by the Washington Post, The Economist Magazine referred to Lawrence as a man of “two worlds”, NPR named him The Finance Guru, and the Retirement Income Journal recently called him The Spiritual Advisor.
Based out of CCWM’s Westport office, William Donaldson, CFP, is a divorce finance expert and a divorce taxation speaker. They can be reached at [email protected], 860-659-8299 or LarryFord.org.