I had a lovely lunch this week with an old friend, Alix, who's divorced and remarried. As girls will do, we turned the conversation personal. "Marriage," Alix commented, "has become a throwaway. People just seem to toss it aside when it doesn't work for them anymore." But as a therapist (and divorcée), I've found quite the opposite to be true. Most thoughtful, caring people think very long and very hard before they pull the plug on their marriages.
Alix's divorce was a tough, ugly one. I witnessed it, so I know. But Alix and her ex, Ty, have a better divorced relationship than any I've ever seen — and, as a couples therapist, that's saying a lot. Alix and Ty take family vacations together. Their new spouses have been woven into their extended family unit and have their own independent friendship. Their children move between their two homes seamlessly. They are vociferous supporters of each other in their parenting roles.
When it comes to your own divorce you might be thinking, "Not in this lifetime!" or "I'd rather hang from my toenails than vacation with him/her!" And, you have to believe me, Alix and Ty could have said those very same things, but they made the choice not to. It's true, as with most negotiating in relationships, that both people have to want the better outcome. Without that desire on both sides, it's a tougher goal. But because the lessons to be learned from Alix and Ty's divorce are invaluable, they're worth sharing. Here are — with props to Alix and Ty — the top five ways to have a better divorce:
- Want It: As with almost everything else in life, if you don't set your sights on something, you're not going to get it. Want that job? Apply. Want to win the lottery? Buy that ticket. Want a better, more peaceful divorce? Set your sights on it, and you'll get a heck of a lot closer than if you don't.
- Rise Above: It's so easy to get lost in the emotional, logistical and financial pushmi-pullyu that seems to come part and parcel with divorce. But you have a choice in this. You can opt to react to every negotiating point with anger and aggression -- or you can try a more tranquil approach. You'll learn pretty early in the divorce process that you're not going to get everything you want, so save yourself a lot of angst and get ahead of that reality. Try not to approach your divorce as a battle to the death, but instead, as a business deal. Cooler heads will prevail.
- Know Your Audience: Your kids are watching. You're now setting the table for their future relationship with their other parent and for their own intimate relationships. Do not, under any circumstances, share the details of the derailment of the marriage with your children. Whether they're 12 or 20, it doesn't matter. No kid wants to hear that Dad cheated or Mom is frigid. If you need to talk to someone, call a friend or get yourself a good therapist.
- Keep Your Dignity: Whether you go off the rails in public, tell your in-laws the unhappy truths of the marriage, or take a golf club to your ex's car, you're in danger of losing your dignity and self-respect. Nothing is wrong with advocating for yourself and trying to get your needs met, but ugly behaviors do nothing but demean you. I know a woman who posted flyers all over town trumpeting the news of her husband's affair with the town librarian. Is that the kind of post-divorce legacy you want to craft for yourself and your kids?
- Forgive Your Children's Other Parent: You may never have as blissful a divorce as Alix and Ty and, frankly, few do. But, if there are children involved, you'll have to work with your ex to successfully transition your kids to their newly revamped life. Perhaps you won't ever be able to forget your ex's transgressions and there's no mandate that you do. But as much as you're able, try to find some compassion for the only other person in this world who loves your children as much as you do. Do this not only for yourself or for your ex, but for your kids. This isn't their mess, and they deserve two parents who are giving forgiveness their best shot.
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