How To Avoid A Nasty Divorce (And Keep Things Civil And Calm)

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How To Avoid A Nasty Divorce (And Keep Things Civil And Calm)

Unite your family rather than divide.

People often ask me if I can help them avoid getting divorced. They are having difficulties in marriage and are fearing the worst — a separation of their families that ends in bitterness, fighting, conflict, and pain.

The effects of this kind of divorce, we imagine, will plague our children for a lifetime and render us in the category of "shitty parents".

I remember when I got married to my first husband, we vowed never to get divorced. Both of our parents had gone through a divorce and although everyone was on speaking terms, there were a lot of unresolved hurt feelings that resulted in disgruntled looks over holiday dinners and sidebar complaining when the other party wasn’t around to hear about it.

With our divorced parents, no one was overtly in conflict but there was a constant underlying discontent that was like the pink elephant no one was ever going to talk about. As you can imagine, holiday gatherings were not something I excitedly anticipated.

That big pink elephant was enough for me and my first husband to vow that we would never get divorced. And that plan worked for about 15 years. We lasted past the birth of 2 kids, a few job transfers, and more than 3 homes.

We lasted through flirting and two near affairs, one on each of our parts that we didn’t find out about until later. The typical stuff that almost everyone goes through, we went through too. We were in it for the long-haul, and we still are, just in a very different way than we ever imagined.

One day, something happened that we weren’t expecting. Well, it seemed like it happened all at once, but really, it didn’t. It was an accumulation of a lot of situations that eventually led to the breakup of our marriage.

At first, we tried to save it, of course. But it was obvious to us that our current relationship was dissolving — rapidly.

Through the shock of "I never thought this would happen to us", we made a decision to, instead of separating emotionally from each other, unite as much as possible. Rather than oppose each other, lie, cheat, or let the pain force us to withdrawal from each other, we banned together as much as humanly possible during our divorce.

It wasn’t easy figuring out how to avoid a nasty divorce, but it was important.

In fact, people in our community were aghast that we were so open and honest about our separation and new relationships. In our culture, we are used to people cheating, lying, and fighting, so the fact that we were working together in full disclosure rattled people.

We got hate mail, nasty phone calls, and a lot of hurtful looks. Although it was difficult to face, I knew that people were scared that what was happening to us could happen to them.

Somehow, I managed to keep that frame of mind through the whole ordeal so that I could maintain my focus — separating with all the love and care I could provide so that my kids got through it with as few bruises as possible.

When couples are afraid of divorce there is a lot of indecision, confusion, and anger. Our brains are desperately trying to reconcile the situation in a way that makes sense. We make assumptions, blame others, feel ashamed of our emotions, and feel guilty. We are trying to find congruence and meaning where there may not be any.

Every challenge seems like a big deal and the marriage feels like it’s on the chopping block in every moment. Marriage challenges do not necessarily mean that the end is near. However, when we are afraid of divorce, every potential conflict feels like "this might be it."

Challenges are one of the most life-giving opportunities we experience.

Think about birth for instance. Is it challenging to carry and deliver a baby? Any woman who has been through it will tell you it is. Reflect on some of the biggest successes in your own life. Were there challenges? Absolutely!

Any great victory requires overcoming obstacles. We just don’t think of marriage — something plain and simple — as rewarding enough to count as a great success. And so the challenges that arise are often looked upon as more of a burden than an adventure.

When marriage challenges become present to the extent that we begin to wonder if we’re going "make it", our minds do not frequently get excited for the potentiality that lies on the other side of the challenge.

Instead, our minds go to the fear that it will be over. In a divine paradox, regardless if your marriage stays intact or dissolves, choosing fear over potential is choosing pain.

People often ask me if I can help them avoid divorce because they fear the pain of separating from their families. And I get it because I’ve been through it. But the problem isn’t the possibility of divorce. The problem is the current relationship you have with your spouse.

If you have children, it doesn’t matter if you stay together or not, you are going to have a relationship with this person for the rest of your life. And the perfect time to work on a relationship is when you are still together. Because when you are no longer together, communication gets exponentially more difficult.

Instead of asking the question, "How can I avoid divorce?", a better question to ask yourself is, "How can I improve my relationship with my partner now?"

Because no matter what happens, you are going to need that relationship to be as strong as possible.

If couples do choose to work on their relationship, often they will choose to go to therapy. And while I encourage couples to go to therapy, if they think that is a step they want to take together, I advise them to get coaching as well. I assure couples that the paradigms of those two professions are very different.

And if therapy is sought without coaching, not only will the healing take longer, the marriage can go back to baseline, but not grow beyond it. I say this not because I do not believe in therapy, but because most people find me after years of being in therapy with no clear leap in the quality of their life experience.

Coaches focus on growth and potential. So whether individual or couples coaching is sought, the focus of the program will be in relationship optimization.

This is what couples need when they are in the place where they are contemplating a divorce. There have been years of unresolved feelings, and while dredging them up can sometimes be good for healing, they need to also be met with an intention for growing past any prior limits toward a potential that has yet to be realized.

The challenges in front of a couple in this position could, in fact, be the thing leading to a great victory. However, the victory will be completely missed if they spend too much time looking behind them toward the past rather than forward into the future.

I’m divorced from my first husband and I’m glad that we didn’t avoid it. He is a very special person to me and always will be, but it was time for us to move on in our intimate relationships.

I dealt with all kinds of emotions around our separation. I went through depression and grieving and anger more than I ever had before in my life. I had a lot of guilt and shame to work through. I felt like a "bad mom" and we’ve had conflict to deal with in a much larger proportion than when we were married.

But the success that we have achieved as a family never ceases to amaze me. The successes far exceeded anything we would have achieved if we were still together because when we were together, we weren’t working on our relationship. It was "good" and we didn’t know that good could always be a hell of a lot better.

Recently my current husband and I organized a community event. We needed a lot of volunteers, and my ex-husband and his girlfriend helped us out along with our children. As we cleaned up from the event together, I felt the most amazing gratitude in my heart for each of us and the beauty of my unique and amazing family.

Far from feeling divorced, we felt united with each other in a cooperative spirit that is inspiring to those around us. Our children feel that and know on a deep level the values that we instill in our family and that they are loved, no matter what.

Relationships are unlike so many things in this life that are disposable. Our families are our greatest treasures. Choose to keep your treasures. Don’t throw them away.

Ani Anderson is a master coach, speaker, business mentor, and author. If you are interested in uniting rather than dividing your family, visit Practical Alchemist and have a free discovery call to find out if coaching is right for you.

Watch our YourTango Experts discuss how to have a "good divorce", especially when kids are involved in this video below.