The first couple of weeks of separation were a rollercoaster ride. In the days after my ES (estranged spouse) moved out, I was numb and anxious. Afraid that the kids and I would have to move out of our family home. Afraid that he would show up at the house, drunk. Afraid of being served with divorce papers. Afraid of getting or not getting a job. Afraid of the future. My first steps to deal with all the fears were:
*Made and kept appointments with two different lawyers. The appointments were about two weeks apart which gave me time to process the information I got from the first lawyer and come up with more questions for the second lawyer. I didn’t commit to either lawyer, but gathered solid information with which to make decisions about the immediate future.
*I searched online (a bit obsessively) for reliable information about the legal and emotional process of separation and divorce. One article (here) about being served with actual divorce papers helped put that particular fear to rest. I was afraid, in part, because I didn’t know what to expect.
*The only time I cried was when I told my parents my husband had moved out. And I didn’t cry because he left. I cried when I related the story of him saying “I don’t love you anymore,” in our second (and final) marriage counseling session. That was deeply hurtful to hear.
*I had the locks changed on the house. This is apparently a controversial move. The house is jointly owned by both of us and we each have a legal right to access. However, my kids and I were having problems sleeping. We didn’t feel safe. There were lots of reasons for our feelings of insecurity, but two of my kids privately shared their fear that their father was going to show up angry and drunk in the middle of the night. So was I. That was a good enough reason for me to change the locks. One lawyer said it was ok, the other said it wasn’t.
*After changing the locks, I packed every possession my ES left behind. The lawyer who told me I could change the locks also told me to pack up his stuff. Her explanation was that he has a right to his belongings and if I packed everything, it would be easier if/when he came looking for his things. (He hasn’t.)
*I locked the automatic garage door and put the remote openers away in my closet. I can’t actually park my car in the garage now since it’s filled with his stuff.
*I lost some weight that first month from the stress and anxiety.
*I made and kept appointments with therapeutic professionals for the kids who were willing to go.
*I found a therapist for myself. It’s not particularly helpful to talk about my ES now that he’s gone and we have no contact. This might be more worthwhile if I have to actually deal with him.
*I found a support group. I feel less alone and this is more helpful than individual therapy for me.
*I dealt with some of the financial realities. My ES gave me 24 hours notice, not only that he was leaving, but that the monthly household budget was being slashed almost in half. The bills were due the next day. I had to scramble to figure out how to pay for everything. I cancelled some services, called and asked for discounts on others, and made minimum payments on still other obligations. This process was easier because I handled all the finances in our marriage, knew what the monthly bills were, and had the past bills for reference.
*I changed the passwords on most of my online accounts. I’m sure I missed some, but I changed the ones I use the most. Here’s an article about the benefits of this. Also, I kicked him off my Amazon Prime membership since it’s restricted to household members.
*I began using the separate bank accounts I had set up a couple of months prior.
These are the initial steps I took to protect myself and my family, as well as to deal with the almost overwhelming anxiety I felt. By and large, once I had reliable information, I felt less anxious. My fear of what could happen was lessened by knowing what usually happens in separation and divorce cases in my state. I still worry about what comes next, but I can sleep at night. And so can my kids.