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Divorcing Well

Maybe there’s no such thing as a truly good divorce, but there are better and worse ways to do it. There are ways that are more and less destructive for everyone involved. Here are some suggestions for divorcing as well as you can.

1) Be sure that this is really, truly what you want (or work on accepting that it’s really, truly what your spouse wants)

Ambivalence can lead to all sorts of internal and external conflicts. If you’ve initiated a process that you’re not entirely sure about and you’re racing through to try to silence your doubts, then it’s time to slow down. Maybe you want to consider giving it one more shot, trying something you haven’t tried before in order to potentially save the marriage (for instance, couples therapy.)

Sometimes people rush the process because they’re afraid to change their mind. But speeding up is much more likely to wreak havoc than slowing down. Rarely is there a ticking clock urgency, except in our own minds.

If you want to keep trying but your spouse has said an unequivocal “no,” you have to work on respecting and understanding that decision, not fighting it. You want a partner who wants you, right? Emotional blackmail isn’t the way to reboot a failing relationship.

2) Feel all your feelings–every last one of them–and then be as practical and rational as possible

You are entitled to every feeling that you may experience. And you can feel them twice, and three times, and four times, and…you get it. But do it in the privacy of your own room, or with someone you trust (not your soon-to-be-ex).

If you’re being demonstrative about your feelings in the hope of changing the other person’s mind, that’s manipulative. Even if someone stays with you a little longer (or a lot longer), resentment is likely. Also, you might be teaching your kids that behavior, which can stunt them in their future relationships.

The best scenario is to purge your feelings, again and again, and then think about what an amicable split looks like. Educate yourself about the divorce process, including the rules of what you’re entitled to in your particular state.

Whenever possible, do mediation instead of a long, drawn-out adversarial divorce process. It’s best for your mental health, and for your children’s mental health. And it’s best for your ex’s mental health, which should be important to you if you do share children. You want him or her to be in as good of shape as possible in order to parent your children effectively. No matter how upset you are with one another, your children need both of you, and they need your emotional  support.

Adversarial processes keep negative feelings current for far longer than their natural life span. They distort the grief process. Sometimes attorneys do this for their own financial gain. They may be stoking your anger at your spouse.

Even if you have legitimate reasons to be angry, consider whether the anger serves you and your family. Perhaps it’s giving you fuel to stand up for what you deserve, and if that’s what’s needed, if your spouse is genuinely trying to take away what’s rightfully yours, then stay good and mad. But in most other situations, it’s probably just keeping you in a holding pattern. It’s hijacking the emotional energy that’s better spent grieving and moving forward with your life.

Often people think anger helps them move on, that hating that ex makes them morally superior which aids healing. I haven’t found this to be the case. Recognizing that relationships are complicated, that there are no winners and no losers, that there was some positive time spent and some valuable lessons, that there are good reasons the marriage began and good reasons it’s ending, and taking in all of that, remembering all of it, cultivating a balanced view while wishing the other person well–that’s an emotionally healthy approach that’s worth striving for.

3) If you have children, then adhere to the “best interests of the child” standard

That’s what the courts will generally do if it comes to a child-custody evaluation because you and your ex can’t agree. But it’s best to think in those terms well before that.

Barring cases of abuse, contact with both parents tends to be best for the children. Hearing their parents badmouth and squabble with each other is definitely not.

Communication between parties and fairly consistent rules across households is also best. So whenever possible, aim for communication that’s cordial and respectful, even if it’s emotionally detached. Trading information contributes to your children’s well-being. Putting that front-and-center can help you get through a painful time.

Divorcing Well

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2016). Divorcing Well. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Dec 2016
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