Stephen Covey’s seminal book on productivity and personal transformation, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has a lot to teach us in how to be effective at moving through divorce.
Here is an introduction:
Habit 1 – Be Proactive. Take responsibility for your own experience. Do not place responsibility for your experience in the hands of your spouse or the attorneys (or, God forbid, a judge). Don’t sit in reactive mode waiting for problems to happen before acting. Recognize that you have areas in which you have full control (gathering information, making clear decisions, communicating clearly, etc.). In other areas you have influence (expressing your needs clearly, anticipating your spouse’s needs and meeting those needs if you can, etc.). There are areas in which you have no control, but you can choose how to react (you may not want this divorce, it’s happening anyway, you can choose to grieve, process, and accept). Take action to control what you can, expand your influence, and accept that which is out of your control.
Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind. Envision where you want to be and how you want to feel two years from now. Develop a mission statement that describes what you want from the divorce process. Who do you want to be? How do you want to show up in this process? Do you want to remember yourself as a victim or as an empowered person you are proud of? Visualize what feeling good about this process looks like and keep that in mind as you make decisions.
Habit 3 – Put First Things First. Leadership in the outside world begins with personal leadership – making conscious decisions about acting on those things that are important and avoiding the trap of spending time doing those things that seem urgent but are not important. Responding to a highly charged text or email from your spouse may seem urgent but is not important if you keep in mind where you want to be in two years. By focusing on those things that may not be urgent but are important (gathering information for the financial professional, giving a thoughtful response to your coach’s questions about the children, etc.) you increase the probability of getting to the end that you have in mind.
Habit 4 – Think Win-Win. Finding a “win-win” solution isn’t about being nice. It is about character based human interaction. It is about valuing and respecting others by meeting their needs while valuing and respecting yourself by asking that your own needs be met. This is the beating heart of the collaborative process. It is amazing how often a win-win solution is possible when both parties are committed to that outcome.
Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood. Empathic listening to genuinely understand a person is an important step in knowing what a “win-win” solution looks like. Genuine listening works to make a deposit in your spouse’s “emotional bank account.” It is only when there is something in your spouse’s emotional bank account that they are available to listen to what you have to say – and only then can you expect to be effective in make a “withdrawal” by asking for what you need.
Habit 6 – Synergize. We all bring different strengths to the negotiating process. Synergy involves combining the strengths of people through positive teamwork. Recognize and acknowledge those who bring skills that are different from your own. Acknowledge and focus on your own strengths and resist the urge to be angry when others are not as skilled. A focus on how your spouse is different from you and what they do that is frustrating is taking up the mental and emotional space that might be put to better use by emphasizing and valuing their strengths (and putting those strengths to work for you in completing this process).
Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw. The lumber jack that takes the time to sharpen their saw before proceeding will finish first – even though they took longer to get started. Getting a divorce is a marathon and not a sprint. It will take resources of time, energy, and money. It will be an emotional rollercoaster. What better time than now to start new habits that can serve you well in your post-divorce life? What better time to start taking care of your body by ensuring that you get enough sleep and exercise while avoiding too much food and drink? What better time to take care of your spirit by mediating, praying, or reading uplifting books? What better time to nurture those relationships that will be important to you in the long haul?
Although divorce is a difficult and emotional process, it also offers up an opportunity for enormous personal growth and transformation. I urge you to consider employing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to bring your best self to this process. May you find yourself proud of who you when all is said and done!