There’s been a rash of celebrity divorce in the last couple of weeks (Gwen Stefani and Reba McIntyre announced yesterday, and Will Smith is denying divorce rumors at the moment but then, so did Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.) It got me thinking. While pain is inevitable at the dissolution of a relationship you once cherished, there are definitely better and worse ways to divorce.
So here are some thoughts on how to make your divorce as healthy as possible, if you find yourself at this difficult crossroads.
1) Be very sure that you’ve tried all you can, and that this is the best–the only–decision for you at this time.
Ideally, that’s a conclusion you reach alongside the other person so that you’re able to forgive one another. Because you’re both undoubtedly going to have some grievances and negative feelings, a sense of how the other person has let you down. But you also want to be able to see the strengths in each of you, and the efforts you made.
Not everyone believes in couples counseling, I know that, but often it can be a place to come together at the end of a marriage, just as you came together in the beginning. Sometimes successful couples therapy is about beginning to grieve together, and making a plan for the future (especially if you have children.)
Slow down and be thoughtful about how you carry out the decision (for example, how you tell people, including your children.) Make a plan together, if possible. If there’s too much anger between you, then make a plan alone, or in consultation with trusted friends and family. Clarity is key.
2) Make a conscious decision to respect your ex, and the love that you once shared.
Sometimes people decide that they’ll feel better quicker if they denigrate the other person. This is not a good long-term emotional strategy. It is especially damaging if you have children together, because even if you think you’re concealing the negativity from your kids, it’s leaking out somewhere.
In the long run, it’s far healthier to recognize that there were positive aspects to your relationship. Ultimately, the positive couldn’t overcome other factors. But if you steep yourself in hate and negativity, you’ll end up questioning your own judgment, losing valuable parts of your past, and will have trouble trusting and loving in the future.
3) Accept the grief process.
Anger is a part of that, especially if there has been some sort of betrayal (an emotional or sexual infidelity, or a sense that the other person abandoned you when you needed him/her.) But think of anger as a temporary stage. This will help with tip #1, above.
The end of a marriage will involve grieving. For most people, it will involve the following steps: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Perhaps some of those steps will be quick for you, some you may skip altogether, some you’ll do twice (or three times, or more times than you can count.) But you will heal. Remember that.
You might need individual therapy to help you proceed through steps. Again, remember that it’s not necessarily an orderly progression. Grief is messy. Pain is a sign that you were able to invest emotionally and to care deeply, and that says good things about you. It says you truly lived.
Also remember that acceptance is an amazing place to be. It means that you can see the relationship for what it was, with all its attributes, and you can see yourself fully, too, and you can embrace what’s next.
Seedling photo available from Shutterstock