Heartbreak

3 Things The Smartest Women Learn When They Get Divorced

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Grammy-winning pop singer Adele has mined the pain of her divorce for material for her latest album, "30," weaving notes of sadness into a crescendo of hope and positivity.

I can relate. 

I’ve been that person on the other side of the conference room table when my own marriage was ending.  I’ve also worked as a divorce attorney for ten years. 

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If you’re a survivor of a recent divorce, it might not feel possible to see any bright future for yourself. But life after divorce doesn’t have to hold you back from a new beginning.  

As difficult as it may seem, the end of a marriage can also mean the beginning of a new, and happier life.

When my own marriage came to an end, I got through it by accepting what I call "the three tenets of divorce", which helped me put aside the loss and look ahead to a brighter beginning.

Here are the 3 things smart women learn when they get divorced.

1. You don’t own your spouse (and you never did).

One of the things that we need to start thinking differently as a society is that we don’t have ownership of everything, including your spouse.

Getting married in your 20s doesn’t mean you automatically have the right to keep the other person forever, especially if you’ve stopped doing the work of being a good partner.

If society were to give up on the idea of marriage as something akin to ownership, it could lead to better behavior, people working on their unresolved issues, and becoming their best selves. 

When both partners realize they are not owned by the other, then they may work harder on the partnership. They may start taking accountability for their actions, like getting counseling or examining their own responsibility in the problems in the marriage. 

We work hard and create goals for our work lives and physical health. Why not work just as hard to create goals for our sexual, emotional, and romantic relationships?

People who’ve stopped participating in their relationship often find themselves on the receiving end of a divorce.

Marriage is hard work and successful marriages happen when a couple grows, works hard on themselves, and builds a future together.

If one person doesn't believe that they need any work, think that they can simply coast on the promises made at the altar, or believe that marriage is simply blindly promising to stick with someone who refuses to change or grow, they may be in for a rude awakening. 

And doing the work doesn't necessarily mean your marriage will be saved. It's also possible that two people, working and evolving together, determine that they no longer want to be in an amorous or sexual relationship, based on changed goals and needs. 

If this realization is made after a couple has done the intentional work together of determining their future, it should be given the utmost respect.

2. Divorce doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship.

Even though the divorce marks the end of your amorous and sexual love with your former spouse, it doesn’t mean you won’t still be in each other’s lives, especially if you have children.

There's a clear exception for abusive relationships, which must come to a definitive end. But short of that, it's possible to do the hard work of creating a relationship of mutual respect, even through the hurt.

It’s not easy to do, but it is the best possible scenario for your kids. Divorce impacts children negatively at any age, and conflict between parents multiplies that effect.

When you treat your ex with respect in front of the children, when you honor that they're a human being that you once loved so much, you show your children that they're loved and respected entirely by you — even the parts of them that they identify with their other parent. 

And if you're going to spend the next 18 years (at least!) seeing your ex at dance recitals, baseball games, graduations, and even weddings, wouldn’t it be so much easier if you tried to tolerate and even enjoy the moments with that person instead of holding resentment, blame, and anger? 

Frankly, kids are smart, and if you hate your ex, you won’t fool them. But you might be setting them up for self-hate and terrible relationships in the future.

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3. What your ex did in the past doesn't matter when making legal decisions.

Your ex may have done the most atrocious stuff that led you to decide to divorce them, but you must move beyond the past when making decisions about your future.

Keeping your wits about you during the most trying days of a split is an "emotionally intelligent divorce" — and it’s not easy.

Decisions made with emotional intelligence aren’t made from the perspective of a defeated person who has failed at marriage, but as a person who is moving forward, with their eyes on their future, independent self. 

Being emotionally intelligent during a divorce is the ultimate act of self-care. 

Emotionally intelligent divorce requires staying cognizant of the fact that divorce is a legal process while acknowledging the good and bad emotions that will flow throughout the process.

The process will require you to make a level-headed series of legal decisions which will impact your finances, your children, and your future. 

When working through this series of decisions with your lawyer, an emotionally intelligent divorce will require you to tap into your most goal-oriented, business-minded, and "high-road" self when making those decisions. 

When making decisions in your divorce, don't give yourself over to pain, rage, fear, or a desire to "get even" — it only leads to errors, wasted time, and higher attorney fees. 

This doesn't mean that you can't rage, grieve, and feel resentment. You can and should! 

Go through those emotions and experience them to the fullest, but don't live there and, most importantly, don't make legal decisions from that emotional place.  

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It's wise to be aware of your moods when it comes time to make decisions that will affect your financial future. There are emotional states that lend themselves to good decision-making and emotional states that do the opposite.

Take note of where you are when it’s time to decide and, if necessary, postpone decision-making until you can acknowledge your emotions and move beyond them with your best and future self in mind. 

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These tools are designed to help someone going through a divorce, but they do not guarantee divorce will be the right choice for everyone or that it will be easy or painless.

I encourage couples to have conversations before marriage, before they have kids, about the work they need to do with themselves, and with each other. 

I also encourage each person to imagine the possibility that their partner could choose to leave the marriage, and could be justified in doing so.

You can’t hold on to something simply because there’s a marriage contract. Divorce is a consequence of not doing the work needed to maintain the relationship. 

And if divorce does happen, it’s not the end of the world. I know, because I’ve been there.

When my clients say to themselves, "I will never find love again," I tell them to flip that coin and consider that it’s possible that they will.

While it may not be what you are focusing on, what if something amazing is waiting for you on the other side of that door? 

Stop thinking of divorce as an end.

Empower yourself by realizing that life after divorce is the beginning of a new phase of your life, in which you move past the parts that were not working.

If you approach divorce the right way, you can make plans a reality and live in the future you’ve created and chosen for yourself.

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Holly R. Davis is a founding partner of Kirker Davis LLP. An accomplished and nationally-recognized family law trial attorney with over 10 years experience, her legal practice focuses on high-asset divorce, business and professional divorce, custody matters, and complex litigation.

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