Our new life, sheltering in place is in full swing. Oregonians have been at it awhile and divorcing couples and families are experiencing a wide range of circumstances, challenges and perks.
Maybe you’re both still working, just one of you or neither of you are working. Uncertainly looms and timelines for resolution are hazy. Who knows what life will be like on the “other side?” In career development counseling we look to our deeper values and interests to guide us through times of change and transition. We reflect on our personal values like health, family, friendship, spirituality, security, and creativity to help us navigate new terrain. Consider how best to prioritize and live them under sometimes radically different circumstances.
Focusing on your values will help you navigate these challenging days while still getting on with your divorce and working from home; which might include filing for unemployment, searching for a job, going to school on-line or getting that side business off the ground!
Many folks feel stuck and they want to move forward. Let’s find some inspiration, as things appear to be on hold. If you really think your divorce can’t proceed check out Dona Cullen’s recent blog on Bridges’ web site, “What Should I Know about Divorce During Covid-19 in Oregon? Some great advice on how we’re using technology and the benefit of doing things collaboratively to settle with minimal court involvement.
So there you are at home with your (soon to be) ex and the sparks are flying. What to do? The movies, bars, gyms, libraries, coffee shops and friend’s houses are off limits. Take a walk? What if it’s raining? Pick up sushi?
In the Midst of it
Maybe you set a goal to have a peaceful divorce, but here you are in a tiff. Hold on to that commitment and resolve to cool off. Can you rely on doing something that’s worked for you in the past, to bring your tone down a notch? Our verbal tone has a huge impact on the way our communication is received. Try to speak calmly in measured phrases, consciously lower your voice as you back your way out of a squabble.
The old stuff still works; breathe deeply three times, (known to lower blood pressure) count to ten, take a step back and find something else to focus on; a momentary distraction. Look out the window or at the inspirational message on your coffee mug, work on a household project, notice art on the wall, your kid’s pic on the fridge or just get back to work. Do something else! Anything can be an effective distraction if you focus on it for two to three minutes. Ideally you and your spouse find a way to talk reasonably about the issue later, or agree not to talk about it until a third party is present. Bring a sense of closure to the moment; show the kids everything’s alright.
Many people find distancing physically and emotionally a key to regaining composure. Does everyone in the house have access to private space, even on a rotation basis? It’s so nice to have a place to retreat to in the heat of the moment; a back room, attic, basement, porch, or trail.
Preventing Scuffles through Self Care
Exercise is huge for stress reduction and regaining composure. Ideally we’d all be walking once or twice a day. Getting outside can be a safe harbor and a wonderful rejuvenator when cooped up too long inside. Hey, we’re Oregonians; we know how to get to a park or trail.
To bring ourselves back to a centered and calm place, takes practice. Do you have a mindfulness-based practice of some kind? Maybe it’s quietly staring out the window, a bike ride, or just being present with yourself and whatever is going on inside you. Use all the spiritual gear you have; reflection, prayer, meditation, visualization, setting intentions, showing gratitude, singing, yoga… As you are more able to be present with yourself, notice when you need to do something proactively, because tension is beginning to build.
There are ways to work out the quibbling, even if your partner seems unwilling or ill-equipped. Those ways need to be identified though, named, practiced, tested and the successes savored. Healthy self-knowledge and awareness, sensitive, thoughtful communication and enhanced mutual understanding are your tickets to resolving issues more productively.
Another helpful perspective from career transition theory is that “the more things change the more they stay the same.” What’s the same for you? What hasn’t changed, so much? Maybe it’s what you have for breakfast, what you wear, being with family, or lifting weights in the basement. Check in on neighbors, feed the cat or walk your dog. Pay attention to what’s the same; what you still have access to. It can sooth you and promote a sense of continuity during this time of upheaval and overwhelm.
Keep up with little things you used to do before work, it may sound funny but a work shirt with those jeans gives a sense of “I’m working.” Make that bed just like you used to and brush those teeth before you prepare to zoom with the world.
Planning, Signals and Aprons on Backwards
An old college professor of mine once told the story of how he knew when to tread lightly when coming home at the end of the day. His wife would have her apron on backwards. Without having to say a word, she communicated she needed space, could not talk at the moment and he should disappear for awhile and check back later. He claimed to have practiced this with gratifying results.
With a little forethought and discussion, what might be your signals to each other that someone needs a trip to the basement or outside to walk for a while? A wave of the hand? Turning on or off the radio/TV could become doubly meaningful. Isn’t it helpful to humbly and proactively take care of our selves and allow our partner to do the same, under these totally new circumstances?
Now that we’re slowing down…
We can plan on a larger scale and add a little structure to our newfound terrain. Begin to tackle questions like how to grow a business start-up that’ll move you toward independence.
Let’s start with the small stuff, as always. What are things that need a little planning and forethought? Before issues come up because someone feels backed into a corner. Who’s cooking tonight? Who’s doing the dishes? Who’s monitoring the kid’s on-line homework? Might a weekly schedule of responsibilities be helpful? Knowing who’s doing what and when ahead of time, can settle the number of decisions that need to be made daily, reducing stress. Having nearly a week of decisions made ahead of time about shopping, meals, cleaning, laundry, care for kids and their new school arrangements, frees you for home projects, job search and work life—because it’s on the schedule. Get some systems going that respond to the need for social/family bonding and separation for individual pursuits.
Block out times for working or not working, consider what you might want to save for evenings or weekends. It’s a huge plus to have created a routine for shutting down at the end of the day. Share your decision making process with those in your household. Create a way to signal shift changes easily. Give your partner and kids your schedule ahead of time. People need to know when you’re available and when you’re not available. Try posting signs on your office door or designated workspace, “Back with you by noon.” These ideas don’t have to be rigid. They can change at anytime, but having guidelines lowers the energy needed to figure things out day to day. These days are yours to manage now in collaboration with others. See what you can set up to accommodate the needs of yourself and your family throughout the week.
Lastly, through these difficult times, we are also experiencing perks in line with what my clients often say they want; a flexible schedule to work around family, more control over work flow, casual dress codes, little or no commute and few office distractions. Working to the smell of roasting, garlic chicken lets us know dinner is on the way. Now that’s something you don’t get working in the office.
Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St., Ste. 550
Portland, OR 97205