“What if I didn’t blame the other person for anything, and held myself 100 percent accountable? What if I checked my own s— at the door and put my children first? What if I reminded myself of the things about my ex-husband that I love, and fostered the friendship?” Gweneth Paltrow
One of my clients comes from a very conservative religious background and has struggled with reconciling the thought of potentially leaving her marriage with her beliefs. So I had to giggle a bit when she asked me,
“If I am to walk through the terrifying process of un-winding my marriage, what are your ten commandment equivalents I will need to follow to make it through that process without losing myself or my sanity?”
So here are my ten tips to divorce differently (or should I say commandments…):
Release the need for ANYONE else to understand your reason for the decision you’ve made for yourself. If they happen to understand (or pretend to understand)…that’s lovely, but it’s not necessary in order for this decision to be valid and real for you.
Let people be wrong about you…Your Mother, your mother-in-law, your brother or sister, even your husband. The people around you will have their perspectives, their opinions, and their stories about you. In their own minds, those perspectives are “right” otherwise they wouldn’t believe them. Let others be completely wrong about you…your peace exists on the other side of that.
Know (and be able to articulate) what is true for you and let that guide your choices through this. In my case, it was a small voice inside of me that said, “This isn’t it.” For one of my clients it was, “I can’t go back to what it’s always been,” and for another it was, “I want to have a good relationship with the father of my children.” Knowing what is true for you, holding to that, and letting it guide your actions will feel like a life preserver on some days when you get tested…(and you will be tested).
Similarly, it will help you to have a mantra of some sort to grab ahold of when things get tough… some of my favs are: All is well, this will pass and it won’t feel like this forever.
Have some form of a daily practice to keep your own peace so that when things become difficult, you have made some deposits into yourself and are able to give or react from a place of feeling filled-up (rather than depleted). This can be meditation, reading, journaling, walking outside, or even just being still and breathing deeply. There is no wrong way to do this, but 15-20 minutes for yourself in the morning – every morning – can work miracles.
You can still love him. No one can stop you from loving your soon-to-be-ex, except you (and your thoughts about him and his worthiness of your love). You can be loving towards him, regardless if he’s loving towards you. You can think loving thoughts about him. For example, rather than assuming this will shatter him you can see him as coming through this stronger and happier than ever. (If you have children together, you truly do want him to be the strongest, happiest version of himself). Do it selfishly for you because loving will always feel better than hating.
You can lead him through this. He will likely follow your lead as you move through this (although clearly that’s not guaranteed). If you’re loving and peaceful about it…he’s at least as likely (if not more likely) to meet you there than if you try to paint him as the villain of this story. Even if he rages, or cries, or drops to the floor, or begs or yells….you can be present for any of that in a loving way knowing that he’s processing emotion in the only way he knows how to do. There’s nothing for you to fix or change because it’s not yours. Be willing to lead him through this and be that strong and gentle light for him in what might feel like a dark place. One of my clients was able to do this so beautifully throughout the process of her divorce after 34 years of marriage and after signing the divorce papers, the two of them literally went and got ice cream together.
There’s math and there’s drama. In divorce, when it comes to dividing up the couple’s assets and liabilities accumulated through the marriage, it’s essentially a math equation. Getting a clear picture of the total assets and debt…that’s math. You thinking you deserve more because it is your spouse asking for the divorce…that’s drama. Your spouse wanting more because you cheated…drama. Fighting over who gets the fine china, the bedroom set or the coffee table…all drama. None of those things will matter to you at all one year from now, so spend more time dealing in the math rather than the drama of divorce.
This won’t ever feel good. Even when you know for sure that ending the marriage is the right answer for you, it’s never going to feel good; it’s not supposed to. Change is hard and heartbreak can be debilitating. Even when it’s the right answer, this is a loss so you will move through the stages of grief as if it were a death. It will not be easy, but it certainly can feel less awful and more peaceful.
You don’t know what’s going to happen. Our minds do not like not knowing the answer, so it likes to fill-in the blanks for us, often with the worst case scenario: he’ll be destroyed, my kids will suffer, I will be alone forever. These are just thoughts. They’re not facts. You have no way of knowing what a year from now or ten years from now looks like, but the good news is that you don’t have to. All you have to know is how to navigate the next step in front of you at any given time.
No one taught us how to divorce peacefully, so most of what we see others doing is both hurtful and hateful. But if you can embody these tips to divorce differently, your divorce can look and feel very different than other people’s experiences.