Divorce is never painless, but there are ways to make it less painful.
- Do not demonize the other person.
Demonizing the other person is a short-term gain with long-term consequences.
You loved your spouse at one point. You loved your spouse so much that you got dressed up and said to a room full of people that you wanted to be with this person for the rest of your life.
I understand that you no longer want to be with your spouse. You can make that decision without making your spouse the devil incarnate (unless your spouse really is the devil incarnate).
In the short-term, you may feel better believing your spouse did everything wrong and you were the innocent victim who did everything right. You may want to be compensated for the suffering you have endured just in being married to that person.
Most people in Maine and NH are not compensated for the suffering they have endured being married to another person. Moreover, unless there are piles of money and assets involved, you could spend a lot more money in attorneys’ fees attacking the other person than you would actually receive if the Court actually decided to compensate you for your suffering.
Litigation is painful. Yes, you get to tell the Court how awful the other person is. However, the other person also gets to tell the Court how awful you are. No one looks good on cross-examination. Every petty, rotten thing you have done or the other person thinks you have done may come up in cross-examination. You can have a divorce that goes on for over a year if you choose to demonize the other person and fight it all out in Court.
- Do not put the other person on a pedestal.
You may not want the divorce. You may not have known it was coming. You may be willing to do anything (well, almost anything) to keep the other person, to win the other person back, or to prevent the other person from leaving.
In the short-term, if there is a way to save your marriage that is ethical and respectful, then, please, see if the other person will give it one more try.
If, however, the marriage is ending, the other person has moved on, then it is time for you to move on as well. Putting the other person on a pedestal interferes with your ability to find love again. It keeps you in that painful position of adoring someone who does not love you. You deserve better than that.
- Do not involve the children in your warfare.
People will say to me, “The children have a right to know why we broke up.” Not in most instances, they don’t.
You want to tell the children so that they can see that you were right and your spouse was wrong, that it is not your fault that you are getting divorced. It may not be your fault, but it is certainly not your chldren’s fault.
The children love both of you. If they are biologically yours, they have received 50% of their DNA from you and 50% from the other parent. Even if your child looks just like you or acts just like you, there is still another half of that child that is genetically just like the other parent. When you teach your child to reject the other parent, you teach your child to reject 50% of him/herself, whatever parts remind your child of the other parent.
If the children are not biologically yours, if you adopted them, then they have already experienced the loss of one set of parents, even if they were too young to remember it verbally. Losing a parent is traumatic.
The children need to know that you both love them and will both be there for them to the best of your abilities.
- Protect your children from abuse.
Protecting the children from abuse is not the same as involving them in your warfare. If your children have been abused by your spouse, notify the appropriate authorities. You will need to look at what safeguards should be in place to protect the children. Seek out as much information and support as possible.
If you have been abused by your spouse, please note that people who abuse their spouses are much more likely to abuse their children than those who do not abuse their spouses. Even if your spouse has never hit your child, your child has likely been exposed to the trauma of watching you be abused by your spouse. Your child also may have experienced emotional abuse and/or the power and control games used by an abuser. If you are not there, your spouse may choose to hit your child. In the future, when your spouse is in a new relationship, your spouse may abuse that new partner in front of your children.
Do what you can to protect your children from being abused.
- Own your part in the divorce.
We all play some part in a relationship beginning and ending. What was your part?
For example: “It’s not my fault that we broke up. She was the one that was cheating.” Sometimes people have affairs because they are unhappy in a relationship. Sometimes people cheat because they like to cheat. Sometimes someone has an affair but wants to stay in the relationship. Some people consider cheating a “fireable” offense, while others are willing to work through the issue. What choices have you made and are you making?
For example: “He’s always drunk. I can’t take it.” Maybe he was “always drunk” before the two of you even married but you thought that you could change him. Maybe you got sober and he didn’t. Maybe he was injured and now lives with chronic pain and this is how he medicates that pain. Maybe it’s your job to nag and it’s his job to drink in your relationship. What choices have you made and are you making?
You can only learn from your part in it if you know what it was.
- Divorce impacts cognitive functioning in the short-term. Give yourself time to process things.
Recognize that divorce can impact your cognitive functioning.
It is not just the conflict and the stress associated with it. You are grieving and that takes its toll on you as well.
Moreover, you are learning new things, a lot of new things, all at once. Your brain is used to functioning on auto-pilot for large portions of the day. Now, it is being asked to figure out how to live separately from someone you once loved. You have parenting schedules with your children that you never had before.
If you need more coffee to get through the day, that’s OK. If you need to take a mental health day from time to time, that’s OK, too. You will bounce back, but you have to give it time.
- Allow yourself (and your children) time and space to heal. Be gentle with yourself.
The grieving process takes time. When someone died, people used to engage in ritual mourning practices for a year.
Give yourself a full year to grieve. After all, you are grieving the loss of not just your spouse, but also some pretty significant hopes and dreams. Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that come with grief.
You may find the first holidays after separation particularly triggering. Maybe you loved your in-laws and are having your first Christmas without them.
Then, the first heavy snow falls in January and you realize that you have to shovel the walk and snow-blow the driveway and clear off the car, when your spouse used to take care of this for you.
In February, you want to be able to take the kids to Florida on vacation as you used to do, but you really don’t even have enough money for a staycation.
You see a movie about a couple in love in April and it reminds you of you and your former spouse, back when things were good.
Your former spouse and her new boyfriend come to pick up the kids in June. You didn’t even realize she was dating, let alone that she had someone who was serious enough to come with her to pick up the kids.
Your anniversary was in September.
You have the kids for Thanksgiving, but you will be alone for Christmas, as your former spouse has the kids and your parents live far away.
Once you’ve been through a full year, you will have a better idea of how to live with the changes that divorce brings. You will have strategized how best to celebrate holidays when your former spouse has the kids. You will have a year’s worth of experience living singly under your belt. You will have new memories and new patterns.
- Budget, budget, budget.
Your financial situation often worsens and sometimes precariously so in the months after you file for divorce. You are now supporting two households on the same income you once used to support one. Your standard of living is likely to temporarily decrease.
Now is not the time to buy or lease a new vehicle. If you do so, you may not be able to buy the condo or house you were just looking at, as you just killed your income to debt ratio.
- Mediate if possible.
Mediation is a win-win-win.
It is a win financially, as it typically costs (much) less than litigation.
It is a win emotionally, as you are able to move through the conflict, as opposed to being stuck in the adversarial process and posture in the court system.
It is a win in terms of personal power, as it allows you to have much more control over the outcome than when you put the case before a judge to decide.