What’s a “good” divorce?
I’ve heard it said that a good divorce is the one that never happens; of course that’s idealism, not realism. Obviously, many of us do get divorced for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the choice to divorce is mutual; other times it very much isn’t. Sometimes there’s emotional manipulation, and sometimes there’s violence. Sometimes your partner has involved someone else, and sometimes the pain lies only between the two of you.
You may have learned to live with whatever you experienced within that marriage, whatever mess you might have helped to create, and the ending of a relationship that at one time you believed was going to forever be very right. Or you may still be fuming or resentful.
And what about divorces with kids versus without? They can be very different.
You kids haven’t chosen for the two of you to divorce. They may be relieved, shocked, or confused. So helping them cope can be complicated. Relatives can stay out of things and offer simple support. Far too often, however, they have their own agendas, are super-protective of you or your ex, and can only see one side of the coin.
So… do all these different divorce have something in common? I believe they do.
Your divorce will imitate your marriage.
Vulnerabilities that affected your marriage will be present, and likely exaggerated, in your divorce. Both your own vulnerabilities and your partner’s don’t go away when you’ve ended the partnership; they remain and continue to affect how you interact with each other.
If control was an issue, it will be in your divorce. If there were secrets, you can expect there to be more. If there was a need to be right, that fight will continue. If there was an intense need for affirmation, then there likely will be another person who comes along and fills that need. That need doesn’t go away because of a divorce. In fact, it can intensify. Greed, jealousy, lying, threats – all are likely to continue.
It’s not all doom and gloom.
If there was mutual respect in the marriage, that respect can peek through the sadness as you proceed to disentangle. If you both took your fair share of the responsibility during the marriage, you can continue this and potentially divorce amicably and without contentiousness. If you lived with some selflessness while together, you can put the kids before yourselves as you part ways and even the most difficult of situations can be waded through with respect and kindness. Often, time helps. And even a friendship can emerge from your former marriage.
So, how can you maintain some semblance of your best self during a divorce?
1) Seek objective feedback.
I know I’m a therapist, and believe it or not, I don’t think therapy is the answer to everything. But in this case, someone who doesn’t know you, your partner, your family, nor your children can be objective with you about your choices and behavior in ways a person close to you cannot. A good therapist will support you, give understanding where they can, and gently confront when needed.
2) Look for support from friends who don’t vilify your partner.
After my second divorce, people at times would tell me, “I never knew why you married him anyway.” I understood they were trying to give me support for making a tough decision. But I had loved my ex and he’d been an important part of my life. So, look for people who can be supportive of you, can listen as you cry or get angry, yet don’t undercut what was for you an important choice.
3) Choose an attorney whose style fits the kind of divorce you want.
Different attorneys are known for different manners of dealing with divorce. Some can get pretty tough, others steer their clients toward a more moderate stance. Ask around.
One of the shocking things about a highly conflictual divorce is that the lawyers, the judge, an attorney ad litem – people who’ve never known before – their decisions can alter your life. You can feel very lost. The world of interrogatories and depositions can be fatiguing. Try to choose an attorney who will effectively and carefully guide you through.
4) Take divorce breaks.
“How’s the divorce coming?” can get to be a tiresome question, although a caring one. Tell friends and family that you need to take a break from it. This doesn’t mean denying that you’re getting divorced. It means not making it the center of your life. Visit friends you haven’t seen in a while. Go for hikes. Begin a meditation ritual. Get off the emotional roller coaster.
An added benefit can be becoming more accustomed to living life on your own.
5) Realize and accept that you can learn from your marriage ending.
Even a divorce that you desire can be hard.
But if you learn from it, it can do you a world of good. Immaturity, irrationality, jealousy, anger, need, over-functioning, under-functioning – whatever was your part of a marriage ending — can be addressed honestly.
You can benefit. Your children can benefit. Your future can benefit.
Your divorce doesn’t have to define you, unless you allow it.
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Originally published on September 4, 2016; updated and republished on September 4, 2022.
Photo by Amine M’siouri.