Myth 1: A divorce means I won’t have to deal with my ex ever again
Yeah, it’s not so simple, or easy. Sometimes it might be nice to consider or fantasize that this is true, but if you have children together, it is not an option. Consider the word itself: divorce. Yes, it is the legal dissolution of a marriage, a noun, but it also a verb, synonymous with “disconnection, disassociation, alienation, setting apart, and cutting off.” It is reasonable to think that the divorce will actually allow you to separate and disconnect or cut off, and you might very much want that, especially if you are upset about your divorce. If that is your orientation, recognize that is anger talking, not your higher and best self. The truth is, even if you “win” a horrible custody fight, the “loser” is still the parent of your children. You cannot escape that reality. You are going to have to deal with your ex. Often. Unless they choose to leave their children, which, sadly does happen, but not too often. Even if that does happens, don’t fool yourself into thinking that will actually be helpful. The consequences of dealing with a child whose parent abandons them is a whole separate area of inquiry. Just know that even in your darkest moments when you wish your spouse really would just go away, that if they did, it will have negative consequences for your child and you will have to deal with that, too.
Are you curious about what would have happened (or what could happen) if you had used the six months to two years of your adversarial divorce to learn better communication skills, develop trust and accountability and grieve your losses? What if you had both received “permission” to slow down, obtain appropriate emotional support, including from your lawyers, and you both had some time to really work through your intense emotions before you “negotiated” your settlement, or showed up in court to engage in a public display of all the worst moments of your marriage? Be clear: once the fight is over, the lawyer goes on to the next case, and you will be left to deal with the person you chose to marry and with whom you chose to have children. Yes, you also chose to divorce, but the myth is that a divorce “will change everything” and that somehow all the things that bugged you about your spouse will now magically go away since you are “divorced.” Unless you consciously try something different in your divorce process, in my experience, you will continue to suffer the same dynamics that drove you to divorce in the first place.
If you have children, you will most certainly be dealing with your former spouse. How you communicate going forward from the moment one of you announced you wanted a divorce, will depend on your attitudes at the start of the process and the decisions you and your spouse make about how you are going to move through your divorce process. Adversaries or people capable of doing better, and emerging from the divorce whole, confident in your decision to separate, and good parents to your children?
Since it is a myth that you won’t have to deal with your ex, perhaps it is time to consider the manner in which you will deal with your ex? I suggest curiosity about how to improve your communication, and maintain a civil, if not friendly attitude. Consider talking with a lawyer trained in Collaborative Practice before you make a tough situation, worse.
Myth 2: You know you are right, and you are sure the court will see it your way
I recently heard: “Humility is one of Life’s great teachers. You either look for it yourself, or it will find you.“ How true.
What does humility have to do with divorce? Actually, quite a bit. You could certainly choose to be arrogant, self-righteous and full of anger toward your spouse for screwing up your perfect marriage. Or you could try a little self reflection, and recognize that you were a participant in that relationship and a contributor to it ending.
Take ownership for your share of responsibility for the breakdown in communication, or the lack of trust and accountability that has developed and no doubt, led to the circumstances you now find yourself: divorce.
Sit yourself down in the reflective chair of a good therapist and take a hard and compassionate look at yourself and start to become aware of your thoughts, patterns and behaviors, including your speech. How would you like to be on the receiving end of what you are saying?
Next time you are certain you are right, ask yourself: “Do I want to be happy or right?” I hope you choose happiness every time. Being right is overrated. Also, this snappy phrase can be a pretty effective way to diffuse an argument. Try it next time you feel a fight brewing. Say the words: “You may be right.” And wait for a noticeable shift that will certainly occur. Your spouse (or child) may interpret that as “Finally. You agree that I’m right!” But you didn’t actually say that. You simply acknowledged some space for the possibility that they may be right. Try it. See what happens.
The idea that the court is going to see things your way, is just another myth. In my experience, the court does the best it can with limited time and resources, and within the rigid rules of an adversarial system. A judge rarely assigns the type of blame and validation most clients in the adversarial model are looking for. The court usually makes the best decision it can, that will likely leave you both dissatisfied. The court is a blunt instrument that will give you a decision. It will not be nuanced, and it may not be helpful.
That is why there is a higher rate of post-judgment modification requests from contested hearings than if you take the time to settle the case yourself. Cases that are resolved by agreement have a higher likelihood of staying out of court in the future. You should ask your lawyer about Collaborative Practice and mediation as appropriate alternatives to an adversarial divorce.
Myth 3: Your kids need to know the truth
I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard this, usually after the damage has already been done. There is no putting the toothpaste back into the tube on this. It is not true. What your your kids (however old) need to know is that you both love them, and that you both will be there for them. Truth is subjective anyway. They do not need to know your “truth.” I suspect you don’t even know your own truth yet, and what you want to share is something nasty and unkind about your spouse because you are feeling hurt and you want an ally. It is not a conscious thought, because only the meanest person would do that deliberately. I do know that having an obsessively negative narrative about your spouse and sharing those thoughts with your children can be quite insidious and extremely harmful to them.
Although you may never admits this out loud, you may actually want your kids to hate your spouse as much as you currently hate your spouse for “putting you” through all of this pain and suffering. You feel alone, and you want allies. But think about it…your children love your spouse (kinda like you did when you first got married and made all those plans for your future) and the research shows that even kids who are abused by a parent still love them and crave a relationship. Abandonment is often worse than abuse.
Your kids need to have a relationship with both of their parents, and they are a part of both of you. If you put down the other parent to your child, you are striking at half of your child’s core identity, half of who they are as humans. It is unfair and unkind to make the kids your ally in a divorce. They need to be kept out of your adult issues, even if your kids are adults themselves.
The kids do not need to know anything about why you are separating. They need to be assured that no matter what, you love them, you will respect their other parent, and you will be better co-parent’s than spouses. No kid, however old needs to hear that a parent was unfaithful, or a loser, or spent too much money, was an addict, lazy, or whatever your angry narrative is at the moment. Name calling and undermining the other parent to a child splits the child in two and it will mess them up. Divorce is a psychological risk factor for children.
The risks that you ignore include: drug and alcohol use, abuse and addiction; depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or suicide, promiscuity and a lifetime of low self-esteem and unhealthy adult relationships. I think you know you can do better than that. Do better. Change your definition of what the truth is for why you are breaking up and moving out. If possible, find a common narrative that you can both live with and consistently express to your family, friends, and community. Creating a common response relieves some of the shame and avoids finger pointing and blame.
Myth 4: Divorce Has to Be Ugly
Actually, it doesn’t. You need to take responsibility for the level of toxicity you wish to bring to your divorce. What if you considered going through the divorce process akin to a grieving process? That frame of reference may be appropriate, so long as there are not issues involved in the divorce such as financial fraud, or active abuse of a spouse, false allegations of abuse of a child, or alienation of a child.
There is a way to care for yourself and those around you as you grieve the many losses that divorce represents. You “lose” your best friend and lover; you “lose” half (or significant) time with your children; you “lose” half (or a portion) of your financial wealth; you “lose” your home and all the stability it represents. You “lose” the idea that your marriage was different. You “lose” your idea that you were somehow different, better than the “other” fifty percent of the population whose marriage ends in divorce.
Divorce is like a death in the family except no one is bringing your food. It is easy to become isolated, depressed, lonely, afraid, anxious about the future, angry about the past, and down right mean and bitter. That is the grief talking. You need to work through those emotions and come to healthy acceptance.
You can also try to shift the frame from one of “loss” to one of “opportunity.” Consider that this major life transition is going to lead you to a better, more fulfilled and satisfied life. You do not need to turn your power over to a process that will make you sick with heartache, bitterness, anger and resentment for years to come.
A divorce only has to be as ugly as you choose it to be. Talk with a lawyer about Collaborative Practice and mediation as alternatives, and commit to your own mental, physical and spiritual health as you go through this process. If you are facing active abuse, false allegations of abuse or imminent financial ruin, then by all means, go to court and take care of yourself. Court is there if you need it and you can still show up and act with courage, dignity and respect for yourself and others.