Divorce doesn’t have to be devastating. Here’s some suggestions for navigating it with style and finesse for a different style of happily-ever-after.
No one enters a marriage expecting it not to work out – and when things fall apart and divorce is the result (as it is for some 50% of marriages these days), it can be a traumatic experience, yet it doesn’t need to be as painful as you might think.
Although smooth divorce might sound like something of an oxymoron, for many couples it isn’t.
Thank Gwyneth Paltrow for coining the phrase “conscious uncoupling.” When she and her husband divorced, they did so with grace, love and empathy, proving to a new generation of married couples that a divorce doesn’t have to spell the ugly end. Not only was it good news for couples everywhere, but particularly for their children, who are more than often the casualties of a marriage break-up.
Despite any undercurrent of resentment, guilt and fury that might underpin your divorce, it’s entirely possible to stay cool, calm and collected and move through the process with as little collateral damage as possible.
Here’s some different techniques to try.
COOPERATE, COMMUNICATE, MEDIATE
Sitting down and speaking calmly with your soon-to-be ex-spouse might be the last thing that you want to do, but taking the time to compose yourself and communicate can be one of the healthiest things that you do for your divorce.
“I wish someone had told me that it doesn’t have to be terrible!” says Lauren, a 35-year old mother-of-three young boys from Melbourne. “I think TV and movies make divorce out to be this traumatic, nasty thing. I’m sure it is for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially where kids are involved.”
“Don’t play the role of victim and begin to make decisions that reflect your strengths. It’s important to develop a healthy response to mistakes and failing,” shares therapist Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW.
PICK YOUR BATTLES
If you want your divorce to be smooth sailing, it can be helpful to pick your battles rather than try and fight them all.
Trying to hurt the other person, make a point, or drag things out because you feel wronged, can achieve quite the opposite and make things harder on you, as well as the other person.
“I let my emotions really get the better of me,” says Georgia, a 31-year old from London who divorced two years ago. She still carries hurt feelings about the way things ended with her ex-husband and regrets the way that she handled herself.
Get into the habit of asking yourself, “Is this really worth my time, good for my mental health, and my family?”
Compromising on the small things will keep the process moving along. True, it might be a sting to the ego to lose some ground, but sometimes you’ve got to lose a battle or two to win the war.
TAKE THE TRANSITION GENTLY
One of the biggest mistakes that many divorcing couples make is to rush into the process, going from spending every moment together to never seeing each other again and hating each other. It’s a big jump.
And whilst you don’t have to stay friends with your ex – or see them again, depending on your situation – it’s important to allow yourself proper time to grieve, come to terms with the situation and seek closure, including saying your goodbyes.
If children are involved and you aim to co-parent after the divorce, you might need to make some compromises on what separation will look like. Maybe you’ll live alone, but not too far away from the kids. Or maybe you’ll schedule a regular family day and still do things together. It’s about finding what works for your unique situation, which makes it even more important to keep things civil with your former partner.
Research suggests that when divorced parents remain amicable, children cope with the emotional changes well versus children whose parents remain in high-conflict marriages instead of splitting up. There are many ways to help a child’s emotional state during divorce, including not sharing the details of your divorce and encouraging them to express their feelings during the process.
YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
Navigating the murky waters of divorce may be more manageable if you have the freedom to open up, share and talk with a support group like friends, family, others who have also divorced, and a therapist.
“I was lucky that I had people around me that were incredibly supportive, said all the right things and made me laugh, it got me through the whole time relatively easily,” says Clarissa from Brisbane.
“I’d hate to think how I would have felt if I had had no one to talk to or distract me. It would have been hell!”
Without a doubt, self-care can fall by the wayside during divorce for many people. After all, when you’re running through a mental list of everything that you want to say, do and fight for, it’s hard to think about fitting in a 7am yoga class or doing some mindful meditation.
Try tapping into your support network, keep up your positive lifestyle habits, and if you can adopt some new ones, too. It will give you something to take your mind of the turbulent situation that you’re experiencing and allow you to have some optimism that things will get better.
And they will get better.
DON’T RUSH THE REBOUND
When it comes to moving on, experts say slow and steady is best, as divorce can wreak havoc on even the most confident person’s self-esteem.
But how long should you wait?
“Ask yourself, “Do I feel like ‘me’ again” says Psychologist and Dating Coach, Melanie Schilling and only if you say ‘yes’ to that question should you consider delving a bit further and getting back out there.”
And if you find that you’re not ready, she advises that you should spend some time to build up your confidence and resilience first, also adding that if you can’t share your story with potential new dates without adding daggers and bitterness, it’s probably a sign that you’re not ready to date again.
It’s not uncommon for many divorcees to take 12 months or more before even considering dating someone new.
And it’s far more important that you work through whatever emotional issues you’re going through now – whilst giving yourself time to prioritise your healing – than it is to jump into the arms of someone new.
Working through your baggage now will prevent you from inadvertently carrying it into your future relationships. And when you’re ready to move on, you will, and with the strength and security from knowing that you handled things as healthily as possible.