To me, it’s rude to tell someone to ‘be rational’ while they’re going through the emotional maelstrom of a divorce.
And when it’s about your financial decisions, it’s damaging and counter-productive. Sure, the ‘best’ decisions might come about after you’ve turned off the emotional part of your mind.
When you’ve adopted a completely robotic approach to all discussions, interactions and decisions.
But I don’t believe that going the full Spock, as it were, is a healthy approach to rebuilding your life.
So in this article, I discuss how you can balance the emotional and rational as you move on from your divorce.
I’ll also address some of the ways the financial system gets it wrong about emotions and money.
To be blunt, the system tries to construct a rational wall round an emotional hurricane.
At best, it’s constraining. At worst, it blows apart and hurts people.
Finally, I’ll talk about some of the traps I’ve seen people fall into – and how you can avoid them.
The Emotional Hurricane
Divorce is an emotional hurricane.
The 5 stages of grief will huff, puff and blow you around.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance will all come to visit. Sometimes one at a time, sometimes all at once.
They might also bring along regret, fear or obsession to keep things interesting.
All the while, there you are, looking for safe harbour while this hurricane blows it all up.
It is, if nothing else, quite an isolating experience.
And that’s before you take into account the ingrained societal notion that emotions are ‘bad’. That they’re a hindrance, a flaw that prevents you from making the ‘right’ decision.
Unless you’re the stoic robot in the face of it all, then you’re unreliable and out-of-control.
This idea of the cold, rational participant is a myth.
It’s a spectre imagined by theoreticians enthralled by the fetish of computed intelligence.
The simple reality is that emotions are not bad (nor are they ‘good’) – they just are.
Where they become damaging is where they’re allowed to overwhelm all other factors in the world. When they sweep away patience, or prudence, or consideration, or your future.
Then, sure, the impact they’ve had could be a negative one. Because it’s a bad idea to let current emotions limit your future decisions.
But to say that emotions are fundamentally bad is quite patronising.
(This idea – ‘emotional people can’t make good decisions’ – just reeks of head-patting arrogance)
Experience, Not Denial
Instead, I’ve found that it’s important to experience these emotions. Give yourself the time and space to experience them.
It’s not sustainable to avoid them, or deny, repress or delay them.
It is, of course, rather easy for me to say ‘experience these emotions’.
Life very rarely gives us the time and space to do this at our own leisure, or at a time that’s convenient or suitable.
But there are things you can do to carve out some space for yourself:
– Be easier on yourself. Having an emotional reaction to something does not mean you’re weak or flawed. Humans have emotions – robot’s don’t.
– Learn to recognise your emotions and let yourself experience them.
– Journaling is a good way to capture those emotional clouds flying past. And by putting shape to them, you can then mould your reaction to them.
Because when it comes to emotion and finance, the trick is the balance when the two. Experiencing emotion is one thing; becoming a slave to your emotions a whole other thing.
Avoiding or dismissing powerful emotions delays an explosion; it doesn’t defuse a bomb.
Swimming in a sea of anger and recriminations for years might damage you more than anyone else.
And if it’s to the detriment of the rest of your life and priorities, well you could be sabotaging yourself.
(If you think your emotions have enslaved you, I urge you to find somebody to help you out of this destructive cycle. This is beyond my area of expertise. So please take the time to find a medical professional to help you work through it.)
Why Do We Care?
Why does a financial adviser give a stuff about any of this?
Because our financial system has let us down by prioritising rationality and ignoring emotion. It makes people feel inadequate for being human. It seeds doubt and forces poor decisions.
Moreover, it abandons people at a time when quality, financial decisions will set them up for life. And because the fetish of rationality ignores the reality of the people behind the money.
So in the next part of this article, I’ll explain where it’s all gone wrong.