Have you recently made the decision to divorce? Has your spouse sprung the “D” word on you? Or have you jointly decided to call the marriage quits? Whatever the case, what’s so important is to set the stage for an amicable parting of ways. How you communicate and feel about one another has its faults – otherwise, you wouldn’t be in this position to begin with – so you should do some soul searching and envision a mindset that will get you through the challenging process with the least harm suffered. And the time to start is now.
The least harm suffered doesn’t just involve you; it involves both of you – plus if you’re parents, both of you and the kids. You both have a responsibility here. Aside from the strictly legal issues of divorce, are you paying enough attention to the emotional aspects? You should be. Let’s set aside the court-related aspects of divorce resolution … the who gets what … and talk about the more intuitive aspects of an amicable divorce.
The goal of an amicable divorce is simply this: peace. You and your spouse are severing the most binding of ties: that of being emotional teammates in the game of life. That’s not something you can switch off quickly like a light switch. But you can make a conscious effort to get out of each other’s way, not rub salt into the wound, not make matters worse than they are. Maybe it’s not the ideal definition of peace, but peace is a process. Peace has to be built. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Don’t play the blame game; for example, blaming the other partner for what went wrong in the marriage. Pointing fingers can sabotage your case and the delicate relationship that now exists between you both. A cousin to blaming is holding animosity. Animosity builds and expresses itself in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Take responsibility for your own actions and stop dwelling on your spouse’s.
2. Don’t nit-pick. Don’t sweat the small stuff and fight over every little thing. Decide what's most important to you and what is negotiable or that you can let slide – at least for now. Focus on what needs to happen and what’s best for you and what’s best for the kids – if you are a parent. If you exaggerate an insignificant issue, you will be thought of as frivolous or petty. You may not be taken seriously when it counts. Plus, your attitude can create resentment and a tit-for-tat dynamic. Make your disagreements or dislikes known only if they are important to you and your future and the children’s future.
3. Avoid a revenge mentality. Even if you feel you have been dealt with unfairly, don’t give in to the urge to give your ex a dose of their own medicine; it will perpetuate the mud-slinging and make you both miserable. You can destroy each other’s reputations. You can cause financial ruin. If you’re having a discussion about the terms of the divorce, do so in good faith. You have a say-so and a right to your requests, beliefs, and feelings – as irrational and vindictive as they may be – but you can choose to act on them or not. The process is all about negotiating and being reasonable.
4. Create a parenting plan together if you are a parent. Collaborate, don’t dictate or demand. This is probably the first divorce go-round that will involve cooperation. It will set the stage for good communication and co-parenting now and after the divorce is finalized. Having children means that your relationship and decisions now will affect not only you but your children, for years to come.
5. Create an environment of mutual respect and dignity out of court. I’m not saying don’t hire an attorney; just be honest, open, and sincere. You may want to avoid exposing your personal feelings and thoughts but you’ll want to lay your cards on the table when discussing financial matters and the welfare of the kids as they relate to the divorce. Don’t withhold important information from your soon-to-be ex, for whatever reason. Be transparent.
6. Don’t avoid your ex because you fear that if you make contact you’ll lose your temper, say things that would be detrimental to your divorce case, or because making contact is painful. Some communication is necessary to move the divorce forward, especially before attorneys get involved. Figure out what needs to be said and be tactful and non-argumentative. If you play the “he said/she said” later through your respective attorneys on all communication, some messages can get lost or misconstrued in the translation. If you’re not up to face-to-face, try voicemail or email.
7. It’s not about winning. It’s important to accept that, especially if kids are involved. Divorcing is about finding peaceful solutions that benefit both sides. And the more peaceful things are, the less emotional and financial tolls will occur – financial tolls meaning that it can even cost you less money in legal fees when you have an amicable relationship. However, finding peaceful solutions doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of his/her requests.
8. Build a foundation of trust. Show you are fair, that you’re not hiding something, that you are not harboring ill will. It’s natural to have uncomplimentary thoughts about your soon-to-be ex, but you don’t have to express them. And remember, trust is a two-way street.
9. Agree on some ground rules. If you need help constructing rules, see a relationship therapist together. A third party can help you articulate those "ground rules" and help keep you accountable to them as you navigate the divorce and transition into life after divorce. For example, how and when will you discuss divorce-related issues with one another? What agreements can you make that you can both accept? How and what should you tell the kids?
10. Finally, accept that you are hurting. You may have been advised that you need to be thinking clearly, but how can you when you are struggling with so many emotions? They can distract you from making intelligent and practical decisions that can have significant consequences for your future. Get plenty of rest, have heart-to-heart talks with close friends and family, and seek counseling for clarity.
If you put effort into planning how you want things to go (more or less), peace between parties can be achieved. Not all goes exactly as planned, of course, but knowing that you’re doing your very best to foster a positive climate should give you some relief and determination. Your actions will rub off on him/her too. Also take comfort in knowing that eventually, issues will get resolved and life as you once knew it, will resume.