I hate divorce. It’s extremely painful for everyone and leaves many lifelong ugly footprints in so many lives that I’ll do whatever I can to get people to stay together in a healthy way. Still, there are times when there just any fuel left to work on remaining together, and couples decided to divorce. Usually, both people in this situation are emotionally worn out, fearful and anxiety-filled – change is full of unknowns, it can be earthshakingly scary.
Even though divorcing couples don’t feel their best, most start off saying they don’t want things to be nasty, and certainly most reasonable people want to end their marriage in as peaceful way as possible, and that’s how they begin the process. Then the lawyers get involved and the being reasonable mojo is lost. Here’s an example of what is likely to happen:
A. Jim files for divorce. Sue gets a letter and copy of the filing from Jim’s lawyer. She reads it sees that they will be asking for full custody of their children, he wants all of his business he has built, and she will receive no financial support.
B. Sue freaks out and yells at Jim with Mama Bear ferocity.
C. Sue’s lawyer writes Jim’s lawyer and says Sue wants half of the business, 100 percent of her retirement, and wants alimony of more than half his salary and full custody of the children. The lawyer also says that if Jim is not forthcoming with the requests that all of the texts he has been sending to their child’s school teacher will be released to the school, their family, and their friends.
D. Jim freaks out and calls Sue and calls her names she’s never heard him say before.
E. The divorce nightmare begins.
Because I have experienced this personally and have seen it unfold hundreds of times in my work, it has become obvious that something needs to be done to prevent it. Toward that end, here are some ways a divorcing couple can save themselves from all the unnecessary misery:
1. Promise yourself you won’t take the low road. You can’t control your spouse but you can control yourself. Stay as rational, reasonable and respectful as you possibly can no matter what. If you need anti-depressants to help you through, get them.
2. Hire a counselor to lean on. You’re going to need someone to vent to, lean on, coach and help you process things that will be happening and have it be 100 percent safe.
3. Hire a collaborative lawyer and/or mediator. Most lawyers are trained to be adversarial attack dogs with no concern for how their dirty tactics will affect the family who will be living with the aftermath. They want to win at all cost. Collaborative lawyers and mediators are compromise and settlement-minded. They agree from the start to negotiate and work it out, and to not take any of it to the court house.
4. Control and oversee your lawyer. Have a clear understanding with your lawyer or whoever you’re working with that nastiness and aggression will not be tolerated and that you are to approve every message and document that is sent to your spouse or their representative before is sent.
5. Continue to see and communicate with each other in divorce counseling. Hire a family counselor who can provide a safe place for you to communicate and tie up loose ends concerning your lives, children, property and settlement issues. If you have children you will be working together on some level for life, and you owe it to them to get along and be cooperative.
Divorce brings out the worst in people. It strikes us at a core level of primal fears involving safety and survival. It takes a lot of awareness, mindfulness and self-discipline to get through it without creating self and collateral damage, but I am here to tell you that it absolutely can be done. If you ask me, it’s worth it.