In the midst of divorce, it is only natural to become overwhelmed by your emotions.
Ending a marriage, even under the best of circumstances, is hard. Often spouses feel deeply disappointed and afraid, and this disappointment and fear can naturally turn into anger at the other spouse.
As friends and family rally around to offer support, they sometimes make the mistake of criticizing the soon to be ex. All too often friends will try to build one party up by tearing the other party down.
Lawyers are notorious for offering support in this manner, encouraging parties to fight for more in divorce negotiations even when the legal fees are more than the potential assets.
It is really important, especially if you have kids, to resist the temptation to turn on your (soon to be ex) spouse. Don’t let anger be your guide.
Letting Go of Your Anger After Divorce
Try to imagine your life as a garden that needs to be restored and tended. There are many beautiful plants in this garden, your children, your extended family, your friends and colleagues. And, yes, your soon to be ex is also in this garden. The plants all have grown in relation to one another over time and although you may want to chop down the tree that represents your spouse, doing so will cause you to lose all the plants that thrive next to, and because of, him or her.
You can change the layout of the garden, moving plants aside, but if you storm through the garden in a rage with a weed whacker and a chainsaw, you will discover too late that you have damaged or entirely destroyed many plants you loved.
Have Kids? Proceed with Caution and Intention.
If you have children in common, you and your ex spouse, now co parents, will be communicating on a regular basis for years, if not decades.
While children are younger than 18, you may communicate daily. You will be asking your co parent for favors in the future. Maybe it will be picking a sick kid up from school when it is “your” day but you have an important meeting. Or you want to take the kids on a special trip that is not part of the parenting plan. Perhaps you will have a rebellious teenager that needs two parents working together to get that child back on track. This is why you want to maintain a level of civility and kindness throughout your divorce. The person you chose to be your partner in marriage will continue to be your partner in parenting.
Your Future, After Divorce
Friends, family members, and even lawyers, can help you navigate today’s decisions with an eye to the future. Seek out other people who have been through the divorce process and ask them what went well and what didn’t. If you are using a lawyer, find a lawyer who will talk to you about what life will look like in two, five and ten years.
Avoid the lawyer who wants to assign blame for the end of the marriage, it may feel good in the moment to get some sympathy, but an approach that looks backwards will not help you move forward. Focus on the future and what you want it to be like; dividing up assets and debts is hard, but you will get that done, managing Thanksgivings, graduations and all the recitals and games of a busy child is a trickier problem, you want to get that right.
Even if your divorce negotiation is going smoothly, try to make as many decisions about specific issues as possible. Anticipate conflicts that may arise in the future, for example, what will high school graduation be like? Will there be one big celebration with all family members in attendance? How will you communicate about gifts for birthdays and holidays?
Be very specific about financial responsibilities. Consider using technology that can support divorced parents like Our Family Wizard.
Now is the time to make a plan. If it is hard to discuss now, it will only be more difficult in the future.
Never Jeopardize Your Future Because of Divorce
Getting divorced is hard work. It is not just sad, but also boring and exhausting to get all the paperwork in order (although better with Its Over Easy), clean out the marital home, and make lots of hard choices. However, it is the start of something new, and, hopefully, something better. As you enter this new phase, think about what you do want, what your future could be. Look around at your life, at your garden if you will, and admire and appreciate what surrounds you. Consider how you can maintain what you value even as you make changes. Think about your children and how they are experiencing the divorce.
In twenty or thirty years, when they are adults, what will they say to you about the divorce? What is the experience like for your spouse? Over time their experience and feelings will be revealed, as they always are in families. Try to think about it right now, and adjust your behavior to minimize harm. Tread lightly.
Sophie is an attorney and mediator based in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut. She is a member of the NY Bar, a certified mediator, and a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.