As marriage counselors, we are very up front about our perspective on marriage. We are pro-marriage. Unless it is clear that there are physical and emotional safety issues, we are going to fight for your marriage. We are going to hang out in the marital trenches of pain as long as you do. However, there is the reality that about 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. And sometimes, we realize they should. If this is the case for you or someone you love, we hope you read through this post. Separation and divorce can be a devastating time and we want to shine a light on a few must do’s if this is something you are facing.
We do realize this is a bit biased and self-serving. Still, we highly recommend therapy before and during divorce. Even if you know without a shadow of a doubt that this marriage is over, we think therapy is essential for 3 reasons:
- The obvious reason is for support. The process of separation and divorce is overwhelming and complicated. It is a tall order to assume you can manage the array of emotions, logistical demands and, if you have kids, to be there for them too. Support is essential during this process.
- There is a “right” way to divorce—not a perfect way, but a right way. There are experts who have done the research and observed the steps that help a family transition into separation in healthy ways. Let someone who specializes in separation, divorce and co-parenting guide you. If you have kids, be vigilant in reading, talking and learning about healthy separation and co-parenting.
- Self-Reflection. This is a big one. If you are facing a separation and are in the midst of grief and despair, don’t worry about this one yet. With support, let yourself go through the emotions of loss. However, at some point, we feel it does make sense to self-reflect. Self-reflection is NOT beating yourself up i.e. “What is wrong with me?” or “I’m a failure” but rather, a non-judgmental look at yourself and your tendencies. The point is not to blame yourself or anyone else for that matter. The point is to gain insight into dynamics that may be keeping you from getting the quality of relationships you deserve. We truly believe it takes two people to create the unhealthy dynamics that often lead to divorce. Give yourself the gift of learning about yours. Doing so, you can learn healthier ways to help you in your future relationships. Oh, and it helps you to not be so mad at your spouse or ex-spouse. Carrying anger for years and years doesn’t do you or your family any good. Let someone help you work through this and see your part too.
This isn’t the time to put yourself on the back burner and get lost in the busyness of life. Self-care is an absolute must. Make sure you work into your schedule time with supportive friends and family, therapy, exercise, spiritual time, and sleep. It is common to feel depressed or anxious during this time. Talk to you primary care physician or therapist about ways to manage symptoms such as appetite and sleep changes. This time period is emotional enough. It is hard to make some of the comments complicated decisions that separation and divorce require when you are sleep-deprived, anxious or depressed.
3) Don’t Do This Alone
You may be the kind of person that handles things on your own. You may not feel like socializing and talking to others during this time. However, we encourage you to seek the wisdom, support and guidance of people you trust. You need a sounding board to help you navigate the legal process, the de-coupling process and if there are children, parenting decisions. We believe that the way you go through the separation and divorce process sets the foundation for the type of co-parenting relationship you will have. Let someone help you make decisions and react to behaviors of your spouse or ex-spouse from a logical place, rather than an emotional one. Emotions are so high and it is extremely easy to react to each other from a place of anger and resentment. It can also be easy to pull your kids into the conflict. Recognize how overwhelming this process is and be intentional about putting the right kind of support around you. This will ensure that you 1) make sound and clear decisions that are best for your family; 2) do not inappropriately pull your children or family into the middle of your conflict; 3) set up a functioning relationship with your spouse/ex-spouse to make healthy co-parenting or family decisions in the future.
There is a reason there are hundreds of books written about the process of separation, divorce and co-parenting—there is a lot to it. Don’t go through this time without learning, and if you are too overwhelmed to sort through all of this information, that’s okay too. Solicit the help of trusted people in your life to help you.