At the same time, excessive altruism sets up for resentments down the line.
I have seen with divorcing couples time and time again that agreements based on selfishness, stinginess, or overly generous settlements tend to come back to bite you both.
Guideline #5: Choose legal advisors with a proven track record in mediated settlements.
The adversarial court system results in everyone losing except the lawyers. Check if your legal advisor has a history of successfully helping clients to negotiate a mutually fair settlement.
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Guideline #6: Find a trusted person with whom you can talk through your feelings of hurt, shame and guilt, anger, sadness and fear.
Painful feelings about a failed marriage are inevitable. Talking them through with a trusted person can help you to move through and beyond them, much like talking through feelings of grief after a loved one's death can help you cross the river of feelings and emerge safely on the other side.
If you do not talk them through to a state of calm, you will be at risk for "acting out" the feelings through self-defeating hostile actions like drawing out the settlement process or making it needlessly warlike in an attempt to get even.
Guideline #7: Treat divorce as a gradual process, not a one-time action.
Divorce is like a large, round and bitter pie with many slices that need to be digested.
With regard to the order of which pieces to digest first, before you forge a legal settlement agreement it's generally better first to have divorced emotionally. Once you have accepted that the marriage is over, learned from your mistakes, and reached a point of willingness to let your spouse go his/her own way, it will be far easier to negotiate the divorce settlement in a collaborative way.
The legal piece usually needs to be the last piece of the pie that you deal with.
Guideline #8: Remember that there is life after divorce.
Divorce can be experienced via many alternative meanings. It can mean shame and failure or bring about chronic warfare. Alternatively it can end old antagonisms, heal long-standing wounds, and launch a fresh start toward a new and improved life situation. The choice is yours.
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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Denver, has authored multiple books on the process of psychotherapy and the skills for marriage success. Her current project is an online relationship communication skills program called PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.