Whatever you do – don’t google Divorce. I’m serious – and don’t ask your divorced friends, colleagues or mum’s neighbour about their experience… oh and absolutely DON’T watch the BBC’s Dr Foster. Divorce has understandably bad connotations, but does it have to have such a bad reputation? And would we be better off as a society if it didn’t? These five tips for an amicable divorce will guide you through how to deal with divorce or separation at the beginning of the process.
If you make the extremely hard decision to separate or end your marriage, or if that decision is made for you, neither you nor your partner are doing something inherently wrong, evil or damaging. Instead, you are being human – striving for a contented life.
Make no mistake, the ending of a marriage is a sad thing, but I’d argue not a bad thing. The dissolution of unhappy marriages, indeed the availability and prevalence of divorce contributes positively to the stability of society. Staying together for the sake of the children, religion, fear of social or cultural stigmatization, or going to counselling when you know in your heart of hearts it over is corrosive. It creates poor self-esteem and squashes hopes and dreams. It may set unrealistic expectations for your partner and a bad example to your children who learn bad relationship habits and that staying in an unhappy situation is just what parents do.
How you turn a decision to leave into reality, how you conduct yourself, how you treat your partner, your children and your extended family and friends… well, that’s a different matter. It takes courage to end a marriage or partnership, especially if there are children involved. However, it takes other qualities to do it well. We know for example that it’s not the divorce that impacts children but how parents behave that causes distress (Quantitative review of the literature in 2001, sociologist Paul R. Amato).
If you are starting out on this journey then take a moment to consider your expectations. Divorce doesn’t have to be the train-wreck it’s portrayed as. Look up, aim higher; your children, friends and family will thank you for doing so. Whatever you feel about your partner and their capability to behave well at this time, you have a choice. You don’t have to fall into lowest common denominator thinking. Be true to you – be your better self.
Our 5 tips for an amicable divorce, from experts and the experience of people we’ve helped before, are the first in a series to support your separation. These tips focus on the beginning of the process – telling your partner you want a divorce. How you start the process will set the tone for months and years to come so it makes sense to invest some time in getting it right.
All relationships have their problems but some problems are more indicative of the demise of a relationship than others. Research from John Gottman shows there are four communication attributes that make the relationship more likely to end in divorce are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. When all four are active in a relationship, it’s probably too late to save the relationship. Many therapists agree when defensiveness and stonewalling are present, your relationship has a chance to survive with outside help such as couples counselling. To change, criticism and contempt requires individual counselling for the person who engages in them.
Couples counselling works when both of you recognise there are issues in the relationship. Both of you are willing to work to resolve them and accept you both play a part in the issues. The golden rule for seeking couple counselling is – if you know it’s over don’t drag it out with reconciliation therapy as this leaves your partner feeling deceived and angrier. Be honest – if it’s over say so, and use a therapist to help you both engage in an amicable parting.
This is one of the most an important conversations you will ever have. It’s important to think it through and plan what you are going to say. Plan a time when the kids aren’t around (create the situation if necessary) and a time when you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Consider how shocked will your partner be. The more surprised or shocked by your revelation your partner is, the longer it will take them to accept the divorce.
It’s tempting to think that once you’ve made a decision to end a relationship that you need to sort everything out straightaway. You don’t. The first conversation is to convey one message and one message only. This is ‘it’s over, I’m sorry this is so hurtful, but I’m decided and I won’t change my mind’. You may have to repeat the message several times but don’t focus on the future or sorting out other issues. It’s best not to defend yourself against criticism levelled or rise to any bait. This is the time for maximum self-control. Make it clear you hope to discuss things and make amicable arrangements with everybody’s best interests at heart, but that now is not the time.
Just because you’re ready to sort things out and move on, doesn’t mean they are. Understand as the instigator you are in a very different position to that of your partner. You may have been thinking about this for months or years. They have to catch up and won’t be capable of making decisions about the future until they have processed the news. Rushing leads to intransigence and escalates problems and costs – the emotional toll can be very high – so learn to manage your frustration if things feel slow – rushing will cost you a great deal.
Setting the right tone from the outset of the process will save time and money. Don’t be afraid to plan what you are going to say and when even rehearse it or write a script. Getting this conversation right is a kind thing you can do for your family to ease the transition.
In our next blog – the squashy middle… 5 Tips to help you stay the course.