When divorce proceedings and mediation get heated (as they are often bound to), it's all too easy to get wrapped up in a ball of frustration and anger toward your ex. But will that really help you heal and move on? Here, relationship experts Lane Cobb and Micki McWade talk you through it.
Working for a smooth divorce is no small task, as Cobb explains: "Holding your power during a divorce can be a difficult proposition, since it requires a steady head and an open heart — two things that are often in rare supply even in the best of times. But doing so can shorten your healing time exponentially." So what's the best way to keep it together? "Be present. Being powerful in the face of tragedy requires that you accept what is happening in the present. Refusing to face reality is a recipe for suffering. Accepting what’s so empowers you to do, be, and say what is needed in the moment."
While lashing out is not recommended, that's no excuse to bottle your feelings inside. Here's more from Cobb: "Express your emotions. It's a mistake to suppress your emotions for fear of appearing weak. Feeling hurt, angry, fearful and regretful is part of the grieving process. Self-suppression causes inner turmoil, while self-expression creates clarity and increases self-esteem."
What's more? Seems intuitive, but don't forget to act like an adult. Says Cobb, "Act responsibly. When tension is high, intelligence is low. It isn't unusual for people to do or say things they regret when under stress. Dealing with conflict gracefully means being responsible for your communication. The less mess you make now, the less you have to clean up later on."
If you don't feel strong enough to do this on your own, seeking professional help might be the key. McWade explains: "Both mediation and collaborative divorce help partners reach a comprehensive, considerate settlement without having to make the either person bad or wrong. Collaborative divorce offers a team which includes a lawyer for each party, a mental health professional who guides both people, and their attorneys, to communicate effectively and also advises on children's issues, and a divorce financial professional who helps both partners gather and assess financial information, ongoing support options and tax ramifications. Both mediation and collaborative divorce focus on the solution, not the problem, respecting both people and providing support, as needed. This is constructive, not destructive."
What's the benefit of going this route? According to McWade, "The goal of these alternatives is to recognize both people are parents, connected by their children, and will have to share them forever. You can decide today to allow the situation to deteriorate further or to do the best you can to maintain civility, for the sake of your children and your own future."
Cobb also warns against being swayed by external influene: "Listen to your intuition. As much as possible, stay mindful of your personal value system and use it as a guide post. Stress can make us do things that are not in our best interest."
McWade agrees that stress-induced choices are bad news: "Fanning the flames of negativity between you as parents is not wise. Choose differently, whenever possible. The kernel of wisdom in this realization is not to make things worse than they already are. Seek understanding rather than cultivate animosity. Get help if you need it. You'll be glad you did twenty years from now, when you're sitting together in a hospital waiting room as your daughter or daughter-in-law is giving birth to your first grandchild. You don't want to ruin moments like this for any reason."
While you're working toward civility, keep this advice from Cobb in mind: "Avoid pointing the finger. It can be hard not to blame your partner for the break up of your relationship, but there is very little power in playing the blame game. Taking an honest assessment of your role in both the marriage and the divorce will empower you to focus on finding an amicable solution rather than one that causes mutual suffering."
But don't do this to the detriment of your own healing. Cobb continues: "Stand for yourself. There is no honor in being a martyr. Personal empowerment requires that you maintain your self-respect. Instead of playing the victim, take an active role in the dissolution of your marriage, and set the tone for moving on with dignity and a sense of purpose."
When the drama all seems too much to bear, remember this advice from McWade: "The first piece of information I give my divorcing clients is this: when there are children, you will be more or less connected to your spouse forever. If you plan on attending graduations, religious events, performances, award ceremonies, weddings, funerals, births of grandchildren and grandchildren's events, you will likely see your ex-spouse occasionally for the rest of your life."
No one is asking you to be friends with your ex (thankfully!), but that doesn't mean that your divorce has to leave a sour taste in your mouth. Remember these tips when slogging through your divorce and, when all else fails, just breathe.
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