THE BLOG
05/21/2013 02:43 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

Did You Financially Self-Soothe After Your Divorce?

Self-soothing is an action taken to make oneself feel better about something. Babies self-soothe with pacifiers and blankies. Addicts self-soothe with nicotine, alcohol and other pharmaceuticals. Chocoholics self-soothe with Hershey's and Godiva (my vice was the Twix bar). How do some divorcees do it?

Some say that divorce was the single most stressful event of their lives. Rarely is it fondly recalled as an easy life transition, happily agreeing to timesharing or a parenting plan, and gleefully dividing marital assets or sharing debts. No, divorce is typically remembered as an emotionally exhausting, life-sucking, life-altering event, leaving behind significant debris in its wake. Stress levels often fly off of the charts, as divorcing couples navigate a hostile legal process, and try to manage all of the emotions triggered by the divorce itself. Many divorcees reportedly felt depressed, anxious, guilty and angry during their divorce, and many admittedly turned to financial self-soothing to cope with these feelings. Financial self-soothing is the term of art used to describe individuals who use the action of spending money as a way to make themselves feel better about something.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. and Kathryn Patricelli, MA, who identified grief, loneliness, depression, despair, guilt, frustration, anxiety, anger, and devastation as some of the feelings often triggered by divorce, also stated that "[d]ifferent coping strategies and skills are appropriate to address each of these aspects of divorce." They identified a number of methods for coping with these emotions that people can use to help them through their divorce, including (1) prioritize; (2) put things away; (3) talk about it; (4) support yourself; (5) explore dormant interests; and (6) avoid dangerous and self-defeating coping behavior. Financial self-soothing falls into this sixth category, and can be devastating to a divorcing or newly divorced person.

What's so bad about financial self-soothing during the divorce process? As a divorce coach, marriage educator and legal investigator, Cathy Meyer, wrote, "If you are spending money that is considered a marital asset, you will be held accountable should you end up in divorce court." She describes the process by which people dull the pain of divorce by spending money: "He took the other woman on expensive vacations and shopping trips. I had to distract myself from all the pain so I went shopping for new shoes, which led to new clothes to go with the new shoes and you should see the new carpet I had installed last week." The reality of this behavior is that you are, in essence, depleting your own assets, may need these assets in the future to survive, and may be required to repay to your ex any and all intentionally squandered assets as part of a settlement.

What else is so bad about financial self-soothing? Post-divorce, after everything has been divided and distributed, many people are at risk for squandering their newfound wealth by spending the settlement assets. Financial planner Douglas J. Eaton implores his clients to answer some hard questions about themselves before making financial choices. "The most important question to be answered is: 'What is most important to you about your money and why?' Only when you determine 'what' and 'why' you may focus on the 'how.' In other words, do some soul-searching to define who you are and do not allow your money to define you." In order to avoid falling into the dangerous financial self-soothing trap, Eaton offers the following tips:

• Focus on your future. Visualize the things you want to achieve over the next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years, and set aside the necessary funds that will be needed to help you reach your goals.
• Don't loan money. You are not a bank.
• Don't try to "live up to the Joneses" by making purchases you can't afford. In fact, you may find it necessary to down-size post-divorce. Accept the change graciously, and don't strive to maintain a lifestyle you can't afford.

As a family law mediator and divorce coach, I offer my clients the following advice: The best thing you can do for yourself during and after a divorce is to seek and find comfort in positive ways that will help you rebuild your new life, without jeopardizing your future. Surround yourself with friends, who will help you focus on moving forward, not so-called friends, who enable you to dwell on the past. Invest in professionals, who will help you organize and prioritize.

If you are reading this as someone who has successfully navigated a divorce, what coping mechanism tips would you offer to someone experiencing divorce today?divor

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