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How to Have a Good Divorce

From a miserable marriage can come a good divorce.

It is possible to make a good divorce after a bad marriage ends. Yes, there is such a thing as a good divorce! It's one that benefits all parties.

There are some valid reasons for divorce , although they don't make the process any less painful or challenging, especially when children are involved. While every situation is different, here are some ways you can help ensure you and your ex-spouse have a good divorce that benefits all parties involved, especially the children.

1. Follow the empathic process when communicating with your ex and with your children.

The empathic process gives your kids the chance to regain a sense of control. When parents divorce, children often feel out of control because they didn't have a say or any options in the decision to divorce. It is important to stabilize your children and make sure they feel they are truly loved and valuable members of the family. Allow your children to have a voice in the day-to-day decisions, such as new sleeping arrangements; home decor, including sheets, blankets, pillows, and bedspreads; where to go on spring break; and, finally, new family traditions. These small experiences of choice help your children feel invested in their new family.

The rules of engagement of the empathic process include the following:

How to successfully communicate.

The rules of engagement in the empathic process include both intimacy and respect. Each person speaks a third of the time while making physical contact during communication, such as touching their partner’s hand or arm to maintain an intimate atmosphere. In addition, both partners maintain eye contact during communication. At no time does either partner defend against accusations sent their way.

The last third of the time is used for mutual conversation with both partners invested in the successful outcome of the dialogue. This approach can be used weekly, at a set time, in a set place, as a block of time for reviewing the week’s problems and mutually solving them. The empathic process creates a safe place to which partners can return at any time.

Know your mate.

Never use confidential information as a weapon while fighting. If you invite your mate to honestly tell you what he or she thinks of you, only to turn around and accuse your partner of meanness for saying hurtful words, trust will be broken, and intimacy will be injured.

Also, pay attention to your partner’s feelings, and refrain from saying hurtful or reactive things. You can win the battle but lose the war by damaging your esteem and demeaning your partner.

Time in rather than time out.

Know yourself and develop coping skills that allow you to meet your own needs rather than have your partner meet them. It is important to accept your partner, the person you love, as he or she is. No one wants to perform for approval. And in a healthy relationship, each partner is free to express his or her love in a way that is natural for him/her.

Agree to not always agree but to walk together.

The human dilemma is that we are all different and cannot agree about everything, even if we are in love. What is important is that you respect and validate differences and not try to create someone new out of the person you love. For your relationship to be balanced, it must benefit both parties. Therefore, mutuality is the key to a happy relationship.

Wants versus needs.

People often say they want something but need something else. Your needs are based on those early childhood relationships with your mother and father and the manner in which you interacted with your parents. Your wants are the ideal that you aspire to in a relationship. For example, you may want a peaceful relationship and yet find yourself hypercritical or demanding, creating arguments at every turn. Your childhood patterns may influence the argumentative and hypercritical style—it’s what you know how to do from your interactions with your family of origin.

However, an argumentative style may not be what you aspire to in a relationship—hence a dissonance between wants and needs. By recognizing the difference between wants and needs, you can work towards healthy and balanced communication. Bringing your wants and needs to consciousness allows you to act deliberately and consciously in your relationship's best interest.

2. Get professional counseling help for you and your children.

If you need professional help for you or your children, get it. You are all going through a very difficult time, one that can be especially challenging to manage on your own. Counseling can help you recognize the patterns in your life that drew you to your ex-spouse. It canl help you understand and work to ensure that you don’t repeat unworkable relationship patterns again. Divorce is like a death, and it must be both understood and grieved.

3. Act adult.

Divorce can send otherwise perfectly calm, rational adults into fits of irrational, immature, childish—to not burden your children with your own fears and negative emotions towards your ex-spouse, and to not criticize him/her; remember, your ex is still the parent of your child, Your child identifies with both parents, understanding that he is part of each of them. To speak negatively about your ex-mate is to undermine the identity and security of your own child.

It is also important to keep in mind that your children are still children with developing brains. Young children think in concrete operations and cannot always understand the nuances of adult language; they may think that they are the cause of the divorce, and you have to help them understand that they are not.

4. Model what you want to see.

Remember that at all times, your children are watching. Teenagers, especially, may see your unhappiness and wonder whether happy relationships are even possible. This is your chance to show children that although your marriage has ended, your potential for happiness has not ended. And, when the time has come to start dating again, you have the opportunity to give your children a second chance by showing them what a good, strong, happy relationship is like.

Divorce is never an easy thing for anyone involved. It may be a challenging, emotional, and psychological journey for families to undergo, but in the final analysis, this is the time to show your children how to be happy. From a miserable marriage can come a good divorce. It takes a lot of work and focused effort, but the enduring benefits to you and your children are well worth it.

More from Gail Gross Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed.
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