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  • Nathan Fradley

Avoiding the Bends: Coming Up for Air After Divorce

Diving Divorce

Decompression sickness, colloquially known as "the Bends," (I’m going somewhere with this) occurs when scuba divers ascend too quickly. It arises where after being under immense pressure for an extended period, the body can’t cope with a sudden decrease in pressure.

Coming out the other side of a divorce can feel the same. The constant uncertainty, consideration of options, anxiety-inducing emails, displacement, and increasing financial costs each build pressure on your mind so subtly that you might feel the urge to rush to the surface at the first chance.

Just as air bubbles from higher pressure can infiltrate your brain, so do the events of a divorce affect your thinking and actions (see, perfect segway). To avoid the Bends, divers must return to the surface slowly and in stages. Similarly, in this blog, I will share tips to manage starting life again after divorce in a pragmatic and sustainable way that leads to better long-term outcomes and a more fulfilling new life.


What Are Your Aspirations?

Before taking any action, it is crucial to understand your "why." This can be driven by dreams, or in some cases, spite. Ultimately, building solid long-term goals helps you differentiate between ideas and actions that are best for you.

Exercise 1: Visualize Your Life 10-15 Years from Now:

  • Where do you live? Describe the house, location and why

  • How old are your kids? What do they need at this time?

  • Where is your family? Do you need or want to be near loved ones

  • What will you do for you? Fun, social connection, personal development, community, and legacy?

  • What kind of person do you want to be? Consider your aspirational values, or the kind of person you want to be.

  • For some, this can come easily because they have been thinking about it for a long time. For others, it’s a struggle to think past the next week. Start with what you have always wanted to do, what you find exciting, romantic, or enthralling. This is as much about the process and creativity, as it is about outcome.

  • The earlier you can start on this the better, as it gives you more lead time to consider your future, but more importantly gives you that future to focus on during particularly challenging parts of your separation.

Exercise 2: A Dose of Reality

  • Identify Your Real ‘Have To’s: Grounding yourself after the blue sky exercise, there are the realities of life, and aspects you have to work around. This could be maintaining the status quo for your kids (living locally to their school, your ex and their friends), restrictions around work (both location, but also having to work more for income, or less for responsibilities, as well as broader considerations like your extended families needs and your support network.

  • The key thing here is to recognise them not as restrictions, just as considerations. How you see the conditions will impact how you think of the conditions. A client once said to me "This is what I am doing right now, not forever" and I think that is a powerful mantra for anyone.

  • As a counter to considering your aspirational values in the previous exercise consider your lived values. What are the things you like about your values and mindset and what are the gaps to your aspirational values? This is especially helpful for Exercise 3.

The Safe Ascent: Building Decompression Stops post Divorce

Exercise 3: Decompression Stops: With an idea of our current situation, our ideal situation and our challenges, it's time to start setting goals, or in the case of the metaphore Decompression Stops. You can base these on time or events, but in ether case it’s important to ensure they are measurable and realistic.

These stops serve two functions: progress and reflection.

Markers of Progress:

  • By breaking the return to the surface into steps, you only need to focus on the next achievable habits and not the long-term outcome.

  • Instead of setting the goal, "I want to lose 15 kg and walk Kokoda," consider "I will walk for 30 minutes 4 days a week for the next 3 months." - and when you get there, set the next stage.

  • Instead of, "I will have a house by the beach, working a hybrid role in 15 years," consider, "I will rent near the kids' school to minimize the commute and mitigate the impact on their lives. However, I will invest in a way that I’m still working towards that home goal, aiming to have $X invested in 3 years." Along the way you can check your investment against the prices of houses in your aspirational location, and adjust your goal accordingly.

  • Instead of, "I have to buy whatever house I can afford because he has kept the house, and I’ll feel like I’m falling behind without one," say, "I will give myself permission to take the next 12 months to assess what I want in life and make no major decisions." The measurement here is purely time, giving you the space to breathe and consider without the stress of feeling more pressure.

Take Time to Reflect:

  • Decompression stops are also about taking time to reflect on how far you have come. We can get so caught up in setting the next goal that we don’t stop to appreciate our achievements.

  • The reward process is an important part of the goal. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; simply taking a moment to pat yourself on the back can work wonders.

Actioning the Plan Post Divorce

Smaller, measurable milestone stops with long-term aspirations and a dose of reality are the three building blocks you need to build out your life plan. Now it's time to take steps towards your milestones.

Here are some tips for taking action on your goals

  • Focus on actions not outcomes: you cant control what happens around you, but if you consistently do the doing, it will become habitual. Motivation can waver, but habits endure.

  • Don't overload yourself: Pick 1-3 things to aim your attention at and do them well. Set shorter check in points and then as you progress you can add in other areas.

  • Don't operate at your limit: Make sure there is some wiggle room in your capacity. It' is easy to get excited and try to do too much, only to be derailed by something happening in our lives with our kids, family or relationships.

  • Get help from the pros': Seeking support from professionals can significantly increase your chances of success, helping you make better decisions and take aligned actions while avoiding poor choices that can impede your progress. Here are a few professionals who can help you on your journey:

    • A Financial Planner: To help you make major financial decisions, guide you with financial actions, and establish structure and habits around your money.

    • A Physical Therapist: Whether a physiotherapist, osteopath, or personal trainer/coach for a specific sport or activity, getting guidance on movement and physical health is as important as financial advice.

    • A Psychologist or Life Coach: Depending on your circumstances, beliefs, and needs, partner with someone to guide you on your mental and/or spiritual journey. This can be an enormous investment in your well-being.

  • Protect yourself: Once you start to see success in these areas you will be changed, grown and independent. If you do enter a new relationship, try to maintain your habits and values, and if it gets series - start the discussion on getting a Binding Financial Agreement for legal protection. I will write more on this in another blog.

In Closing

High self expectations and feeling the need to rush often becomes our undoing when we find ourselves in a fresh start. Take the time to bring yourself to the surface and you will be better and safer for it.

If you need an Independent Financial Adviser who specialises in both the Financially Technical aspects, as well as the Emotionally technically aspects of your divorce please get in touch.

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