How do I stop being afraid of divorcing?

How do I stop being afraid of divorcing? I’m so scared. I’ve been a stay-at-home mother for 18 years. I have health issues. I don’t know if I can provide for myself.

Good on you for asking the question before you decide whether to jump into the deep end of divorce with both feet. Divorcing without having any idea whether it will do you and your family more harm than good rarely ends well. 

Most urgent question: If I stay married, does that put my life at risk, i.e., am I at serious risk of my spouse maiming or killing me? If the answer is yes, then you need to run, not walk, away now, get to safety from being killed, and worry about divorce and the aftermath later. No marriage is worth staying in, no spouse worth staying with, if your spouse is murderously violent. Even if leaving your spouse leaves you penniless at the moment, you can overcome that problem. It is not worth risking your life for material comforts. 

If your dysfunctional life/marriage is not life-threatening: then the answer to your question is, as a matter of fact, easy to find. The difficulty lies not in finding the answer, but summoning the courage and the will to act in accordance with the answer. 

How to analyze your situation. Here is a simple but highly clear and effective way to analyze your question to get to the answer used by Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and before that was one of the best neurosurgeons in the world. Before that, he grew up without a poor black child in the care of a mentally ill mother. He knows a little bit about problems and how to tackle them successfully. One of the ways to identify and choose acceptable risks is to ask yourself four questions, or do what Dr. Carson calls a Best/Worst Analysis (B/WA): 

  • What is the best thing that can happen if I do this? 
  • What is the worst thing that can happen if I do this? 
  • What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do it? 
  • What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do it? 

Ask and answer key questions. Here are some (some, not all) of the questions you should ask in conducting your best/worst assessment: 

  • The question of why. Why am I contemplating divorce? Divorcing for the wrong reason(s) will almost surely result in divorce doing you (and your spouse and children) wrong. 
    • It’s not just good to ask why, it’s crucial. Undertaking anything without knowing why you are doing it (and whether you should) results in poor, haphazard preparation and planning, wasted time, effort, and money, unnecessary fear, and doubt, and flagging focus and motivation. “If you know the why, you can live any how.“ (Friedrich Nietzsche) 
    • A key “why” question: Am I hoping to “escape”? Let me explain what I mean. Taking pain pills to treat pain to help you heal better or faster from an illness or injury is good. Taking pain pills in an effort to escape the burdens of life only makes things (a lot) worse. 
    • If you see divorce or marriage as a means of escaping personal unhappiness, guilt, fear, weaknesses, etc., then you are thinking about divorce and marriage wrong. If you are broken and marriage or divorce is a necessary step you need to take toward repairing yourself, then you’re on the right track. But staying married or divorcing to avoid responsibility for yourself and your demons will only result in 1) your personal weaknesses and their consequences getting worse, and 2) causing your spouse and children unnecessary and unfair collateral damage. 
      • If you determine that divorce is an escape, research and find a good therapist or counselor to help you identify the real problems, the root of the problems, and what is needed to solve the problems. Taking that first step is, fortunately, easy. Once you’ve found someone competent, it really is as simple as making and keeping an appointment. The therapy itself will be as messy and upsetting as it is curative and restorative, but it is worth it. It is. 
  • Is it a question of can’t or won’t?: If you honestly conclude that you need to divorce, are you afraid to divorce because you can’t take care of yourself or because you don’t want to take care of yourself? If you can’t take care of yourself, divorce may not be practical (trading the misery of unhappy marriage for the misery of poverty just exchanges one form or misery for another). If you can take care of yourself, perhaps you are not afraid of whether you can make it on your own but afraid to go back to work and/or live a reduced lifestyle. 
    • If you can, and you are willing to do the work required, then figure out what is needed to achieve an single, independent, post-divorce life and the best way(s) to do so. 
    • Bare minimum you need to have in place to be an independent adult: 
      • church or other support system to help you get started and to guide you and encourage you (and remember: contribute as much or more than you “withdraw”; if your church gives you money or helps with groceries, then “pay it back” by volunteering, teach Sunday school, babysit your fellow parishioners’ kids sometimes, clean the chapel, help the pastor, visit the sick, etc. It will not only help keep your support system strong, it will help you be happier too, and you won’t feel like a moocher because you won’t be a moocher) 
      • a job or jobs that generate sufficient income to support your needs. 
      • budget 
      • shelter you can afford (with essential utilities and furnishings) 
      • food you can afford 
      • clothing you can afford 
      • bank or credit union account 
      • phone and phone plan 
      • health insurance 
      • driver’s license (even if you don’t yet own a car; you may be called upon to drive or rent a car sometimes) 
      • tool kit 
      • friend 
      • hobby (start with a library card) 
      • emergency (rainy day) fund

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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