I was appalled by the very word. Good girls didn’t get divorced. I had always been a good girl. A good Midwestern, Catholic girl. But, I was going to get divorced.

What’s more, the divorce stories that I had encountered in my life were not pretty. The first two couples I knew who had split were two of the sweetest, most loving couples I had ever met. In one case, the soon-to-be-ex-husband urinated on his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s car. The other case was much more ugly. These previously kind, caring people had turned into monsters. How had that happened? 

All my friends advised me that that’s just the way it was. The nature of divorce transformed two former lovers into armed warriors. There was no way to avoid struggle over money and possessions. You just prayed that you could reach an agreement before you had to go to court and waste a big chunk of the money that you had. They agreed that sadly, when all was said and done, it was virtually impossible to stay friends with your ex. 

I was baffled. How was it that two people who had loved each other, vowed to spend a lifetime together, produced wonderful children - could come to this? Why did it have to go all wrong? 

I turned this over and over in my mind. It seemed to me that each of us is only really close to a handful of people in our lifetimes. So, each of those intimacies is unbelievably precious. Surely the person whom I had been married to for so long, the father of my children, qualified as one of the most important, if not the most important, person in my life. So, although, we had reached a point of no return, the last thing I wanted was to make an enemy of him, to sever him from my life. 

Somehow, I was determined to get through the whole thing without wrecking everything. 

1) Meditation - The first thing I did was to meditate and focus on the end result of a loving, respectful and honorable dissolution of our bond. I wanted an intact family that could still celebrate holidays, birthdays, graduations and weddings without discomfort - in fact, with joy. I included this goal in my daily meditation for several years. 

Because, that’s one thing I learned, divorces are usually not quick. 

2) Counseling - We worked with a series of marriage counselors, at first to try to preserve our marriage, but ultimately to help us navigate the painful separation dialogue.

It was much easier to discuss the volatile topics in a safe place. 

3) Children - We put our children’s needs first and worked around their lives. Before, disrupting the family home, we waited for our youngest child to graduate from college and move on to her first job and apartment. 

4) Mediation – Since we both wanted to avoid going to court, we chose to work with a mediator. When I began to feel that I couldn’t hold my own representing myself in those sessions (I had always had an agent to be my advocate), I suggested that we continue our negotiation in writing.

5) Written Negotiation – Although, this strategy of responding to each other in emails was quite unusual, it really seemed to work for us. We were both more measured, more careful and, I think, more clear in writing. We took time between each new proposal to reflect on the repercussions and confer with our advisor attorneys before generating a response. Instead of letting the lawyers drive our communication, we tailored the process to our strengths. 

6) Support – Despite the break-up, we continued to help each other do the things that we had previously always done. I helped him get his house put together. He helped me sort out my computer and accounting. 

Two years later, we’ve spent the last two Christmases together as a family. We watch each other’s cats when we travel. We share news of our children as we receive it. We talk easily.

I am so grateful that it was possible – a kinder, gentler divorce.

Divorce, It Takes Two

How to divide and conquer, with compassion
Janet R. Stampfl

Janet R. Stampfl is the author of the young adult book The Moon Key. She is also a former soap opera screenwriter.

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