Guideline #1: Find a non-blaming understanding of what happened to your marriage.
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Divorce almost always raises negative emotions like anger, resentment, disappointment, shame, guilt, and anxiety. Painful feelings like these can tempt folks to dump blame on the other and to resort to punishment. Yet blame and impulses to punish or get revenge back will not heal anyone. They just add to everyone’s emotional damage.
The alternative to going to war begins with building an honest understanding of what each of you did that led to your divorce.
Claire acknowledged that she married too young, and had her children before she was ready. Eddie, her husband, said that while he understand that she felt too young, he became increasingly frustrated when she went out and about like a teenager, leaving him to handle the children and home management as well as his fulltime job.
Claire and Eddie agreed that divorce would give them both a fresh start. While Eddie would still be the main parent, parenting would feel easier without the continually provocative presence of a non-contributing wife. Claire wanted to feel free.
Aim to find an understanding that is descriptive rather than judgmental. Understand the unraveling of the marriage in terms of
a) stresses that you faced (e.g., job loss, illnesses, deaths in the family, addictions, infidelities, chronic mental health issues, major differences in life-path visions, etc),
b) differing developmental life stages (adolescent, pre-career adult, retired adult, etc),
c) skill deficits like anger management issues, poor listening skills, argumentative instead of collaborative, shared decision-making etc.
Claire and Eddie agreed that they had never learned to make decisions together. They each felt like they were the one carrying the bulk of the load, doing more than their share. They felt no sense of partnership, in part because they each made decisions on their own about they wanted to do (in Claire's case) and what needed to be done (in Eddie's case).
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Eddie and Claire agreed that the arrival of their children when Claire unexpectedly became pregnant the first year of their marriage brought a host of additional responsibilities to their household that they never succeeded in addressing together.
Claire rebelled internally at having to do childcare. She had grown up in a family of twelve children. As the youngest, Claire had been sent to live in her older sibilings' homes to help out as a nanny. The last thing she wanted to do as a young adult was nannying again, even of her own children.
To accomplish the goal of understanding together what went wrong in the marriage, use your very best cooperative talking-together skills. Talk quietly. Explain your concerns. Listen to your partner to learn rather than to argue or dismiss your partner's perspective as wrong.