Making the transition from marriage to pre-divorce is difficult. It’s a journey that no one strives to experience and yet so many find themselves beginning the walk. Just to be clear, this article is not about whether or not a person should divorce, instead, it merely addresses the fact that so many marriages do end.
The problem is that because a person doesn’t plan for divorce, some of the basic precepts about it are never assimilated. And advice from other’s divorce experience is not always helpful or useful. So, whether a person is making the decision to divorce or is being forced into making a decision about divorce, the guidelines are the same.
- Divorce is a business. There are professionals who specialize in working through a divorce. They know what they are doing having experienced a wide range of divorces. Each divorce is as unique as the individuals who made up the marriage. The dynamic of divorce is influenced by the personality, character, and dysfunction of the individuals involved. A professional such as an attorney, counselor, coach, or mediator understands the process and knows how to avoid common mistakes.
- Divorce dissolves a contract. At the base of a marriage is a contractual agreement which needs to be dissolved. Marriage is an agreement to commit two lives together usually “until death do we part.” Divorce abolishes that commitment and forces the individuals to enter into a new contractual agreement. The intricacies of the arrangement can be simple or complicated depending on the amount of joint and individual assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. It is further complicated when there are children involved because of the need for custody and support agreements.
- Divorce causes strong emotional reactions. Couples, who don’t get along in the marriage, will get along less in divorce. Emotions that may have been dormant frequently come out in both parties and those surrounding them. Intense feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, remorse, insecurity, embarrassment, and sadness are sometimes mixed with feelings of surprise, relief, empowerment, numbness, thankfulness, and hope. The extreme mood swings can be disturbing but not unusual.
- Divorce does affect children. How the children do in the divorce has everything to do with what the parents communicate verbally and non-verbally to their kids. Children spend their whole life studying their parent’s moods so they can time their positive and negative behaviors. This is even more apparent during a divorce. Some kids take on excessive responsibility for their siblings, blame themselves for the separation, internalize their feelings, become fearful of the future, and are frustrated by either too much or too little age-appropriate information.
- Divorce is like a game of chess. In a chess match, two players strategically move pieces across the board to protect their king while trying to capture as many of their opponent’s pieces as possible. There is a combination of defensive and offensive moves. Divorce works very similarly. Sometimes it is better to give up a smaller piece to protect a larger one. This is where the help of professions is useful. It might seem like a piece is significant but in the grander scheme, it might not be.
- Divorce feels like a death. The same emotional reactions that a person has to the death of a close family member (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) will be experienced now. There are three rounds of emotional swings: one before filing, one after filing, and one after it is finalized. Each round has a different duration depending on the trauma related to the divorce. No two experiences are identical.
- Divorce has a ripple effect. The process of divorce changes the dynamics of the immediate family as some family members will be supportive and others will not be. Also, extended families tend to stay with their side so no matter how great the relationship was before the divorce, things change. This also impacts friendships and other groups of people (church, community, and neighborhood) as many feel they have to pick a side and cannot remain neutral.
- Divorce is a new status. No longer is a person married and they are not technically single, but instead, the relationship status box of divorced is checked. This can bring about stigmas from the cultural environment, history of divorced relatives, religious organizations, and even some vocations. Getting comfortable with the new category takes time and energy. It should not be rushed.
- Divorce requires support. This is not a time to go at it alone. But it is a time to be highly selective about what is said, to whom it is communicated, and how it might impact the process (especially when children are involved). A strong support system of no more than three people is what needed, preferably without any of them being immediate family members. At least one person should have gone through a divorce previously and another should be direct. All close relationships need to be 100% in the divorcing person’s camp.
- Divorce was never the goal. People don’t get married with the intention of getting a divorce. It is not a goal at the beginning of a marriage but it is at the end. The idea here is to finalize the end of a marriage by getting a divorce. Endings should be done well, not poorly. This requires intention, commitment to integrity, and treating the divorce more like a business transaction rather than a personal attack.
Divorcing well requires more maturity than getting married because the feelings are opposite. In marriage, there was a sense of love, intimacy, understanding, and kindness. Whereas in divorce, the feelings are more intensely negative. Keeping in mind the precepts of divorce can help to settle some of the extreme reactions so the best possible outcome can be achieved.