You’d like to think that, if anything ever happens in your relationship that makes you and your spouse question whether you’d be better off apart, you’ll both act like the mature, reasonable adults you are. Unfortunately, we’re only human.
Certain factors that may come into play when deciding to split, like adultery or deception, make it extremely challenging to focus on what needs to be done in order to ensure your breakup is as clean as possible — especially if children are involved.
You’re livid. Jealous. Sad. Insanely disappointed with your partner, yourself and maybe even the entire institution of marriage. And yet, you’re expected to deal with this emotional turmoil while also making the best decisions for your family and yourself. How do you cope? I spoke with several divorced women and one family therapist who provided six divorce “rules” that will help make this difficult time a lot easier.
1. Leave your children out of your mess — This “rule” was mentioned by every single person with whom I spoke, and was so critical that lots of them returned to it again and again. No child needs to hear one of their parents call the other one a four-letter word or feel he or she has to take sides in a fight they can’t possibly begin to understand. “Children were not born with tools on how to cope with emotional distress,” says family therapist Christina Berdebes. They need love and guidance. You are their trusted role model on how to handle emotions, like skill and love.”
2. Find a therapist — It seems like a recipe for disaster: Take two people who aren’t getting along and are having trouble communicating, add a divorce and the need to decide how the rest of their lives will be spent and how to divide their assets, throw them in a room together, and expect that they’ll easily find solutions without fighting. Impossible! An objective third party, like a trained therapist, is crucial in the divorce process because he/she will help you move forward with as little conflict as possible. “Divorce signifies as a loss in your life, seeking professional help would assist you on obtaining the tools to help yourself, possible kids, and the dividing of assets,” Berdebes says.
3. Join a support group — You know the stats and are aware of the fact that many couples divorce, so why do you feel so alone as you embark on your own journey? Finding a group that will support you emotionally — like a divorce support group — can help you feel less alone and allow you to work through your feelings in a safe space. If the idea of joining a group of strangers seems awkward to you, Berdebes suggests enlisting help from people you know well — like a sister or best friend — and assigning them “roles” to play (your sister can be your shoulder to cry on and your bestie can be the rational one when you’re too emotional).
4. Practice acceptance — It’s over. It’s time to say goodbye to this chapter of your life, take with it the lessons that you learned, and remember that you still have a lot of life to live and you’ll be OK (and probably better off). If you refuse to accept your reality, you’re not going to find your new happiness or allow yourself to be open to exploring new possibilities. “Some people do not know where to start or how to think about themselves because they gave so much of their identity in order to fix what was lost,” Berdebes says. “Think about when the last time you were alone and happy. Remember that feeling — what was going on in that time period — and formulate a new plan taking anything you can from that moment.”
5. Forgive — Nobody’s perfect. Most of us enter into a marriage with the best of intentions but, for various reasons, discover along the way that the relationship isn’t working for us. You can stay angry at your partner for an eternity, but that kind of negativity is only going to weigh heavily on your heart. “Some cannot accept that the marriage is over, and your self-esteem/confidence decreases as a result of divorce,” Berdebes says. “If you analyze your accountability in the relationship and start to notice you are human and allow mistakes as a learning curve, it will be easier.”
6. Give the word ‘divorce’ a new definition — When most people hear that you’re going through a divorce, they offer their condolences and looks of pity. A failed relationship is sometimes treated like a death from which there is no return — which is total nonsense. “Your past will not define you, nor will it dictate your future,” Berdebes says. “The word ‘divorce’ does not have to signify what society thinks about it, which is negative. The word ‘divorce’ is from the Latin word divortium, meaning ‘to turn and go separate ways.’ Start to use the statement: I am going on a separate journey and it’s OK to do so.”