People going through divorce often ask me “what’s the key through getting through this process as best as possible?” After eighteen (18) years of practice I now believe the answer is a pretty simple, yet profound, question that can be asked of every decision, every action in divorce:
What would Love would do?
The question – what would love do – is the mantra behind the organization of the same name. What Would Love Do International was founded by Christine Horner in response to a call from the United Nations for video submissions to the question “what would you do to make this world a better and safer place?” Choosing from a place of Love, as opposed to fear, was Ms. Horner’s response. So, too, in divorce. I believe the answer to the question “how can I get through this divorce better and safer,” is “choose Love over fear.”
The issue, of course, is how on Earth, in the midst of divorce, especially a contentious one, do you do this? Choosing Love does not mean being a martyr, falling on your sword as the saying goes, and giving up everything. No.
Choosing Love starts with you loving you.
Self-love is not selfish. It is as vital as the air we breathe or the water we drink. Self-love in divorce means first evaluating what options are best for you before you consider what options are best for your kids or your spouse. For many divorcing people, especially women, this practice is often new, scary and uncomfortable. Many women, and some men, have put others’ needs – their kids, their spouse, their dog – first for years. Instead of putting everyone else’s needs first, you must start with putting your needs first, and evaluating the options and possible action steps from this perspective. This does not mean that you will make decisions solely from this place, because decisions in divorce are often textured and layered and require a weighing and balancing of needs and interests. What I am saying is this: What is important to you must be identified first, and included as an integral part of the weighing and balancing of needs and interests.Once you have started with honoring your needs and interests from Love, I recommend evaluating every issue or decision or circumstance from the perspective of Love as it applies to your kids and your spouse.
For example, let’s say spouse is almost an hour late in getting the kids to you at the end of parenting time. You decide that self-love dictates an honest response: You are mad at this development. What would Love do with respect to the kids’ needs in this situation? Kids don’t want to watch their parents fight or bicker, so a calm transition, without addressing the issue in their presence, is probably warranted.
Finally, and admittedly the most difficult perspective to consider from the perspective of Love, is that of your tardy spouse. Love might ask the question “why were you tardy?” Love might recognize that despite the best of intentions, shit occasionally happens, plans change, and people are late. Love may also know that hostile confrontation and shaming have little likelihood of redressing the tardiness so it’s unlikely to happen in the future. Love might simply ask for what it needs.
So, in this circumstance, after consideration of these perspectives, maybe an email goes out to your spouse that says “I was torqued you were an hour late tonight with the kids. I didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, so I didn’t address this with you at the exchange. Why were you late? I know that it is sometimes impossible to get anywhere on time with our three kids, especially if one of them is sick. While I do expect you to be on time for our exchanges, if you run late, please text me and let me know this. I’d also appreciate knowing why you are running late, so I don’t make up a bunch of stories. Thanks.”
I am in no way, shape or form saying that any of this is easy. Far from it. In divorce, we say that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That is to say, people tend to act from what’s familiar, and continue to make decisions from a triggered place of negative self-limiting beliefs and habituated patterns. In other words, it’s easy to reflexively choose from the same place – and the same perspective – that got you to the threshold of divorce in the first place.
The question is: How do I step out of the reflexive, old-school beliefs and patterns? The answer is you need to buy yourself time – somehow, someway. Even a moment or two can make a huge difference, but preferably an hour, or a day, or a week. In my experience, immediate responses tend to be reactive. Even if you literally have to bite your tongue, wait to reply. Buy yourself some time to let the emotions wash through you, so you can step out of a knee-jerk reaction, and choose to respond from a place of love.
Operating from the perspective of “what would Love do” is not easy in divorce. But, it’s not impossible either. Every day, I see clients who choose to navigate divorce from a place of loving themselves, their kids and their spouses, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when a part of them would like to lash out, even when they feel hurt and betrayed. These same clients, perhaps not surprisingly, also tend to get through their divorces “better” — more quickly, most cost-effectively, and less painfully. So, if you want a better experience of divorce, choose Love.