The Power Of Responding Proactively To Events In Your Divorce

During a divorce, it’s easy for emotions to get out of hand. Hurt, sadness, guilt, or fear can cause you to act–or react­–in unconstructive ways. Even as we’re shouting at our ex or firing back an angry text, we often know that our reaction is making an already tense situation worse. Nonetheless, we may feel powerless to stem the emotional tide.

But we do have power. Instead of reacting to a particular situation or emotion, we have the power to calmly and proactively choose how to respond. Yes, it’s a challenge in the heat of the moment, but it’s entirely possible–particularly when you use mindfulness.

Our guest of the week, Joree Rose, can teach you how to use mindfulness techniques to control unhelpful reactions in times of divorce-related stress and develop the habit of reaching for productive responses.

Joree is a licensed marriage and family therapist, mindfulness and mediation teacher, author, and speaker who leads mindfulness retreats worldwide. She’s helped thousands of people to live happier and more fulfilling lives by guiding them to shed unhealthy habits, decrease stress and anxiety, and live with greater awareness and compassion. She’s also the host of the podcast Journey Forward with Joree Rose, and she’s written two mindfulness books: Squirmy Learns to be Mindful and Mindfulness: It’s Elementary. Listen the full episode in Divorce Dialogues.

The STOP technique

When we’re triggered, our reaction to the stimulating event seems instantaneous. The event happens, and then–pow!– we’re hit with intense emotions and reactions.

However, if you look at the event in slow motion, you’ll see a moment between the emotional trigger and your reaction where you can make a conscious choice. For example, let’s say you receive a nasty text from your ex. You don’t instantly fire an ugly text back. First, your face may flush, then you might take a deep breath, and then you start to type. In other words, there’s a pause of at least a few seconds between the trigger and your reaction. In that small space, you have the ability to make a choice.

Joree Rose recommends using the STOP technique to widen that tiny moment into a larger space that can distance you from your emotions and impulse and allow you to make a conscious decision on how to best respond. In STOP, the S is for “slow down,” T is for “take a breath,” O is for “observe” your emotions, sensations, and distractions, and P is for “proceed.”

So, after a triggering event, try to develop the habit of thinking: STOP. Then consciously carry out each stage of the acronym. Be sure to take your time during the “Observe” part of the process–name your emotions and understand what you feel before you “proceed.”

Making a Proactive Choice

Even with the STOP technique, how do you make a conscious, non-inflammatory choice to respond when you’re still feeling emotional?  The key here, again, is in the “observe” part of the technique. Not only should you observe and think about what you’re feeling at that moment, but you should consider the emotions of other people involved. When you carefully look at the whole picture, you may see a different view.

Joree Rose gives a pertinent example from her own divorce. Even though it was an amicable dissolution, emotions still ran high. Sometimes she would receive long, angry texts from her ex. Instead of reacting in kind, she stopped and thought about what was behind the emotional texts. She realized that he was hurting, full of pain and sadness, but it was manifesting as anger.

Joree decided that when she received this sort of text, she would not react to the anger. Rather, she chose to respond by saying: “Please do not take my silence as accepted, but I’m choosing not to engage in this conversation.”

In this way, she acknowledged his text, made a proactive choice not to engage in an argument, and established a boundary around healthy ways to communicate. But this conscious, calm decision started with her observation of and compassion for her ex’s true underlying emotions.

Read the rest of our series of blogs:

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