Emotional Regulation During Divorce and its Aftermath

Melissa Kalil

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Will this matter in five years?Zen Chung/Pexels

Imagine if you had a formula to help solve difficult or triggering emotions, just like we have formulas for mathematical problems? Unfortunately, our primitive reptilian brain does not work like that, wired rather for the species-like behavior of fight, flight, freeze and reproduce.[1] This means that most of us are primed for knee-jerk reactions and may often find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of regretting how we handled a situation or wishing we could take back a hurtful comment. Ideally, emotional regulation should be taught at school; however, many of us are ill-prepared when it comes to self-soothing, only to wake up one day wishing we had spent more time on this and less on quadratic equations.

In my case, I wound up as a single-parent in my early forties, out-numbered by button-pushing, tantrum-ing and back-talking little humans, triggered by them and triggered by their other parent. It became essential to have coping mechanisms on hand to control my rising temper, especially since the responsibility of modeling mature behavior mostly fell onto me as their primary caregiver. Failing dismally at first, I got serious about catching myself before losing it with these three strategies mentioned in the Evercoach Podcast :

Number one: Emotional Distancing


This involves stepping away from the current situation and emotion as if you are a third party watching it or watching a movie. This allows you to see something from a. a non-biased perspective and b. perhaps even from the other person's point of view. You will find the intensity of the emotion to decrease, which in turn results in clearer thinking.
Example: you feel railroaded or guilt tripped into agreeing to a change in the parenting schedule. Take a step back, give your ex the benefit of the doubt and try imagine how a third party, oblivious to the history between the two of you, would see this.

Number two: Positive Future


Ask yourself, will this matter in five years time? I find this one super simple and really goes a long way in keeping your eye on what really matters.
Example: You disagree with your ex on an extracurricular activity. Will this make or break your child's future? Is a scholarship to an Ivy League school on the line or can you perhaps wait until next semester if you can't agree now?

Number three: Emotional Observation


Practice waking up each day and noticing what and how you are feeling. The simple practice of labeling emotions helps bring awareness to thoughts and feelings which engages our prefrontal cortex to think clearly rather than act out in a reactive way.
Example: You wake up to particularly demanding and difficult children, tempted to fling yourself out the window. Rather than do just that (as I am often so tempted to do), simply label and observe your emotions as if they are thought bubbles in a cartoon. Much like strategy one, it just adds that bit of distance to the situation so that we can get it under control.

There you have it, try any combination of these three this next week whether you are facing a divorce, embroiled in a legal battle, or fully in the trenches of solo/single/parallel/co-parenting. Highly emotional and reactive by nature, I have made a conscious effort (it's not easy!) to employ these techniques and can attest that they do make a huge difference. Bonus? You can feel proud about how you handle tense situations and inflammatory comments.

[1] https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/our-three-brains-the-reptilian-brain

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Certified Professional Coach; mom of three I help people get through and beyond divorce with less destruction, time and money spent. Together we pair mindset shifts with actionable steps to help individuals move forward to the life they envision.

Chicago, IL
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