- Rule #1: Get outside help.
- Rule #2: Get a dog, not a boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Rule #3: Don’t be a jerk, period.
Allow me to explain each in detail.
Rule #1 – Get Outside Help
No matter how much your family and friends love you, they will become saturated and overwhelmed if you share every twist and turn of your journey through Divorceland with them. Don’t do it.
Of course, it is important to share your experience with your family and friends. Give them the Cliff’s Notes version of what is going on, not the 585-page, blow-by-blow, serial novel.
It is also perfectly acceptable (and important) to ask for, and receive, their support during this time. But recognize the inherent limitations in support from family and friends.
First, most people going through divorce do not have family or friends who are trained psychologists and/or divorce coaches. So, their perspective is going to be limited to supporting you through the subjective experience of divorce – not providing a broader context of divorce as a process that has physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual components.
Additionally, your friends and family cannot, and should not, be objective about your divorce. Their only job is to love you. You are the home team, and your family and friends should be sitting in your bleachers, wearing your colors, and rooting for you.
You do, however, need objective feedback about your experience of the divorce. Objective feedback is information and perspective provided by a trained professional, like a psychologist or a divorce coach. Why do you need their input? Two reasons.
First, knowledge is power. There is a lot of psychological “stuff” that gets played out in divorce. It can be very helpful for the parties to learn about this “stuff.” It provides both an understanding of, and a context for, the experience. Invariably, clients who work with an objective professional end up feeling more secure when they discover what’s going on below the surface, which helps lessen their internal fears and discomfort.
Second, the objective professional will also help you question and process your assumptions and expectations about divorce. This is invaluable, because, believe it or not, you may actually have some misperceptions about your marriage, your spouse, the law, the process of divorce, or perhaps the world, generally. Really! It is much more helpful, and cost-effective, for you to work through these projections in a therapeutic context, as opposed to spending tens of thousands of dollars working through them in the legal process.
Rule #2 – Get a Dog, Not a Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Love is good! Starting a new intimate relationship while getting divorced is a bad! Don’t get the love you need by finding a new squeeze while going through divorce. Instead, get a dog. The dog will love you unconditionally during this process and beyond. Further, dog food and vet bills are far cheaper than the expenses associated with dating.
As I mentioned above, there is a lot of psychological “stuff” going on during the divorce. Take time to learn about this “stuff” and to process it. There is no shortcut to feeling the sadness, grief, anger, etc., which always accompany divorce. You can try and avoid these feelings, as well ditching the opportunity to learn about yourself so you don’t make the same mistakes in the future, by immersing yourself in the busy-ness and the feel-good pheromones that come with a new relationship.
Make no mistake, however – the sadness, grief, anger, etc., will eventually catch up with you. When they come-a-calling, they will surface at the most inopportune time (like in a fight with your new squeeze) with compounded interest, much like a high-interest rate credit card. What a mess! Then you will be dealing with the old feelings, in the new relationship, and that is like mixing oil and water. Good luck!
Also, divorce is the best opportunity out there for you to learn about you and to grow personally. Divorce hurts like Hell, and most people do not want to go through it twice. Since divorcing your spouse does not generally kill you, most of you will move on from your marriage, and will choose the opportunity to try, try again in a new relationship. So take the time to learn about what went wrong, and how you contributed to both the successes and the failures of the marriage.
Here is what I suggest to all of my clients. Do not date during the divorce. Find out who you are and what you need (many of my clients have completely lost themselves in their marriages), which often needs to occur with the help of a good therapist or coach. Then, focus on yourself, and meeting your own needs. If you are not yet strong enough to support yourself with your own self-love, then get a dog. You will get the love and companionship you crave, without all of the baggage that comes with a new relationship started during a divorce.
This is not to say that dating is off limits forever! Once you are through the divorce, and if you have been doing your work, which is to heal and learn from the loss of your marriage, you will be ready to date at some point after your divorce is finished. If you have any question as to whether you are ready, get the input of your therapist or coach.
Rule #3 – Don’t Be a Jerk, Period
This is, by far, the hardest rule to follow throughout the divorce. Period. Dot. Exclamation point.
Regardless of how amicable, or not, your divorce is, you will be tested – in multiple ways and often. In response, you will either decide to respond from a place of integrity or not.
By definition, integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. This definition of integrity is not quite complete, because integrity also means the state of being whole and undivided. Knitting the two definitions together, integrity means you are going to act in a principled way from the parts of you that are whole and undivided, as opposed to acting in a dishonorable fashion from the parts of you that feel less than and divided.
Bottom line: You will have to make a choice – at each and every turn. Some of these decisions may be easy, like figuring out who will get the Tupperware. Some of these decisions will be damn difficult, like figuring out when each of you will see your kids or determining the length and duration of spousal maintenance. In these moments – the easy and the difficult – you will need to decide who you are. Are you going to act from the best parts of you or the worst? Are you going to be kind or spiteful? Are you going to be honest or lie? I suggest you choose integrity and for good reason.
In divorce, one factor, and one factor alone, is responsible for screwing up kids, and driving the length and the cost of the proceeding through the roof. This factor is the level of acrimony between the parties. The greater the animosity between you and your spouse, the worse your kids fair, and the more money you and your spouse will spend on attorneys, child psychologists and court costs. And the shittier you feel when all is said and done.
Inasmuch as you might like to, you cannot control how your spouse acts during the divorce. Instead of trying to make your spouse behave, I say “control the controllable,” which is you and your response. Even if your spouse is a complete jerk throughout the divorce, the acrimony will be one-half of what it otherwise would have been by your refusal to engage your spouse in the endless game of tit-for-tat, jib for jab, strike and parry.
I guarantee you will be happier with this approach, as will your children. And while you need not really care about how your spouse responds, in my experience some spouses are torqued by my clients’ refusal to engage (which often makes my clients very happy), while other spouses begin to see the futility of getting their needs met through hostility, and magically their tone softens.
Standing in integrity, and refusing to engage your spouse, does not mean being a pushover in the divorce. Far from it. In fact, I believe “no” is a complete sentence, which needs neither an explanation nor a justification. She wants you to parent the kids only three days a month? No. He wants you to live on $500/month when your marital standard of living was $5,000/month? No. Get comfortable with this one-word answer, and with the another one-word answer (yes), and leave the defense of your interests to your attorney.
Divorce is a big bag of suck, to use a term from Glee. Your experience of it can be made better, or worse, by your willingness to use these three rules. Try it and see for yourself. Share your experience on my website (suzannegrandchamp.com) or on Facebook (facebook.com/sgrandchamp).
Suzanne E. Grandchamp, Esq.