What’s a “good” divorce?
Some might say a good divorce is one that never happens.
But obviously, many of us do get divorced. You learn 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 very right for you. Sometimes the choice to divorce is mutual, and sometimes, it very much isn’t. Sometimes there is 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.
All of these divorces can look and feel very different.
When there are children, you watch, and hopefully help them deal with their lives changing.
Often, that task is extremely difficult.
And then, there are the onlookers — the people who love you, your children, and maybe even your ex. They can be helpful, and stay out of things as much as possible. Far too often, however, they have their own agendas, are super-protective of you, and can only see one side of the coin.
Your side. That can feel good, at least temporarily. Yet most of the time, there are two sides to the pain. Two perspectives. Two important stories.
So what can somehow speak to all of these various types of divorce?
Divorce imitates marriage.
Vulnerabilities that affected your marriage will be present, and even exaggerated, in your divorce. Both your own vulnerabilities, and your partner’s.
If he needed to control the money, finances and even hiding money will be a huge issue. If she was passive and indecisive, she will be petrified of making life-altering decisions. If there is a need to be seen as “right,” a parent will talk inappropriately to children about the actions of the other parent. If there was an intense need for distraction and/or affirmation, he’ll get entangled in another relationship far too soon — “She says all the right things to me, things I haven’t heard in years.” If she held grudges, her anger may turn into intense bitterness, and entrench itself into her very being.
We, sadly, don’t rise to the occasion to get divorced. Intense stress leads us all to use strategies to protect ourselves from hurt and pain.
This is not all doom and gloom. Your strengths can be present as well.
If there was mutual respect in the marriage, that respect can peek through the sadness. If both people take their fair share of the responsibility, they can divorce painfully, but amicably. If both put the kids before themselves, even the most difficult of situations can be waded through.
Often, time helps.
What can you do to try to 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, or your partner, or your family, or your children, can be objective with you about your choices and behavior. A good therapist will support you, give understanding where they can, but gently confront if 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 on one hand what they were trying to do — to give me support for making a tough decision, and one I struggled with a lot. But I had loved this person. We had no children, but he had been an important part of my life.
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 in your life. The man or woman will always be the other parent to your children and surrounding yourself with people who smash them into little pieces isn’t helpful.
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 having strange people in your life, who have suddenly become someone you’re counting on, and whose decisions can alter your life — a judge or an attorney ad litem. 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.
This doesn’t mean to deny to yourself that your divorce is occurring. But it can become all you talk about with others. “How’s the divorce coming?” can get to be a tiring question, and one that only fuels your sense that you’re not moving through your feelings.
Tell friends and family that you need to take a break from focusing on the divorce. Do something you love to do. (There can be financial constraints on spending during a divorce, so often this has to be more simple things.) Visit friends you haven’t seen in a while. Go for hikes. Begin a meditation ritual. Get off the emotional roller coaster.
Start to become accustomed to being unpartnered, and living your own life.
5) Realize and accept that you can learn from failure, and change for the better.
Divorce is failure. That doesn’t feel good, it’s not warm and cuddly. It can hurt for a long time.
But if you learn from it, it can do you a world of good. Whatever vulnerability, immaturity, irrationality, jealousy, anger, need, over-functioning, under-functioning – whatever it was that was your part of a marriage ending — can be addressed honestly.
You can benefit. Your children can benefit.
Your divorce doesn’t have to define you, unless you allow it.
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