Do you ever regret getting divorced? Is there any chance you and Jeff will get back together? I’ve recently fielded these questions. I guess people figure I have had enough time on my own to know whether I made a mistake or not. We started the divorce process last October. Jeff moved out in January. The divorce was final in May of this year (2012).
And the answer to those questions? Absolutely not. (Cue Taylor Swift’s, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together). Although, I do regret changing our children’s lives forever.
I can see why it may be confusing to an outsider. Jeff and I get along so well. We sit by each other at our kids’ sporting events and school functions. We hug each other, laugh together and share dating stories. We are friends.
Listed below are some of the things we’ve done in order to make our divorce easier on ourselves and our family.
8 Ways to Make Divorce Easier
1. Minimize Conflict:Our mediator told us on the first day of our divorce process that studies show the most resilient children of divorce come from families where conflict between ex-spouses is minimal. I can’t say Jeff and I have eliminated conflict entirely but we keep it in check by putting the kids’ resiliency first. A good question to ask yourself – When your child is 18 years old what do you want them to say about you and your ex-spouse? Bonus: Less conflict means less energy drain for the parents too.
2. Communicate: I recently heard a divorce lawyer say that divorcing couples often wish their ex-spouse would just vaporize. But they don’t. They show up at the family reunion or the dance recital. Divorce re-organizes families. If you can keep the channels of communication open the changes will not feel so isolating and scary. The person you were married to is still a person with an ego and a heart. Play to your mutual humanity. You are going to have to work with your ex on major decisions for a while so why not make it tolerable, amicable even. Your blood pressure will thank you. If you have to, be the bigger person first. Withholding information only delays the closure. I used to wince when I saw a text from Jeff. I always worried it was going to be something negative like a request I couldn’t fulfill or a problem he blamed on me. There were a few of those from both of us but overall we have settled into regular communication that is just plain openness regarding schedules, the kids’ grades/moods/discipline or an extended family update.
3. Help Each Other: Learning how to do tasks outside your comfort zone is a slow process. Guide each other – answer questions to support the other as they traverse new territory. Teach the other how to manage your area of expertise. Jeff helps me with a lot of the financial stuff and I do most of the school/sports paperwork (but make sure his name and email address are included). He offered to help when I was having trouble with the furnace and I fed the boys dinner even though it was their night with Dad because football practice started early. Just because you couldn’t be married doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. You could be each other’s champions. Divorce is hard enough, why make it difficult for each other?
4. Learn Something: Don’t see your divorce as a failure. See it as an opportunity to learn about yourself and relationships in general. Often when we hit rock bottom, we bounce. How can I go up from here? What mistakes did I make? How can I be a better person next time? Use the communication skills you learned during those long tear-filled discussions to make your next relationship better. I know I did a lot of soul-searching during those sleepless nights when my marriage was ending. I learned I’m an introvert. I learned I have a need to connect deeply with myself and others. Jeff and I both improved our ability to be honest with ourselves and with each other, even when it hurts… a lot.
5. Get Out or Get Help Before You Do Something Stupid: So many divorces occur after one or both parties does something unforgettable like have an affair, blow an entire savings account, hurt someone physically or do severe emotional damage. Your chances of building a friendly relationship with your ex are severely reduced when one of you is so wounded you can’t see straight. Jeff and I could see the writing on the wall. We got help (counseling) and then when that didn’t work we got out before one of us really screwed up and made it more complicated.
6. Financial Stability: Divorce changes standards of living. Know that going in. Unless you’re a Kennedy or a Rockefeller, divorce is going to make you prioritize and re-budget. Money is a huge stressor for most people. I can only advise you to not make it your primary focus. Your long-term relationship with your ex-partner and your children’s best interest should be the focuses. It may help to picture the face of your child as she hears you and your soon-to-be-ex fighting over who pays for school pictures. Keep that image close to your heart. If relationships are priority one then fairness has a chance when it comes to division of assets and liabilities. Jeff and I are extremely fortunate in that we did/do not have any major financial burdens or worries. We know this is one reason we are able to maintain an easy-going relationship.
7. Neutralize Leaver/Left Status: I recently took a class in Family Mediation. The instructor, who has over 30 years mediation experience, told us to be aware of the Leaver/Left dynamics. She said in almost every divorcing couple there is a Leaver and a Left. The Leaver has been visualizing and processing a divorce in their head for a long time, maybe years. They have reached a level of acceptance regarding their life going forward. They are ready to move on. The Left person is in shock emotionally and has not had time to process the dramatic change that has befallen them. They have a hard time making decisions and dwell in the past. A skilled mediator recognizes both states of acceptance and proceeds with them in mind.
By the time Jeff and I decided to meet with a mediator I was well into Leaver mentality. I believe Jeff was coming to terms with the end of our marriage and focusing on the future by that point as well. We had spent enough time working on our marriage and struggling that we both were ready for relief. Both looking forward.
8. Keep Extended Family Connections: When you get married you add your spouse’s relatives to your family tree. Good or bad they become part of your tribe. The relationships change you and support you. They help you grow. How the relatives see you and how you interact reinforces your identity. It’s damn hard to give up those ties and links to your family community when you divorce. If at all possible maintain some level of connection. Those people (most likely) did not cause your marriage to end. If you’ve been good to them they’ll miss you as much as you miss them. You may not go to birthday parties on that side anymore but send a card or an email.
I was terrified I would lose contact with Jeff’s parents and family. They had always been so gracious to me and I love them. I don’t see them as often now but we do keep in touch via Facebook. We even have an occasional family dinner when relatives visit from out-of-town. I am so grateful for these continued relationships. I know our children feel much more secure regarding the strength of their family as well.
Divorce: The Perfect Time to Be Your Highest Self
I am not so naive to believe Jeff and I will continue this lovely ride of divorced bliss forever and always. I know the whole picture could change with the addition(s) of a serious significant other for one or both of us. We can only hope we make good choices in new partners, ones who respect our ongoing relationship.
I wouldn’t wish divorce on anyone but if it happens consider it one of the most grand opportunities to be your highest self. There will only be a few times in your life when you will be making decisions of this magnitude. Step up your integrity and ensure an easier journey for yourself, your ex-spouse and your children.
What relationship skills do you have? What kind of relationship could you maintain after a breakup? What do you think is the hardest part of divorce?
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