Happily Torn Asunder: How to Be Divorced Like an Adult

If you don't want to kill each other, a decent divorce can look like this...

Posted May 27, 2013

Wasbands and Ex-Wives

Divorces are as varied as the folks who get them. There are the Kramer vs. Kramer nuclear catastrophes that cause damage, heartache and pain rippling through generations.

There are the SBD types, Silent But Deadly, where the lack of any external emotion is replaced by a smoldering, equally searing silence. There are the middle-of-the-road divorces where they could have stuck it out but something turned the screw just over the edge. These people tend to manage well for the most part, with some predictable flair-ups but mostly they're civil and stick to the DDP (Divorce Decree Playbook).

And then there's my kind, where two people who love and (gasp) like each other deeply, did all they possibly could to MIW (Make It Work) but simply could not. You hang in as long as you can, so you can tell the kids (and yourselves) you made valiant efforts to stay together, and then finally you tear yourselves heartbreakingly asunder. You're exhileratedly relieved, deeply sad, damaged and broken, but utterly determined to do the least harm.

With that group, of which I am grateful to be a part, you can miraculously find each other again doing your favorite part of the job you did in your marriageparenting. My ex is a phenomenal father and co-parenting partner. We call and text and e-mail all the time to keep each other updated. It's a little miracle of sanity and grace that grew and blossomed after we tore our marriage apart.

Where ever you are on the Divorce Spectrum, you can choose the higher road or the lower road. Every time. If I could be the boss of you, on behalf of your own sanity and your kids' mental health and well-being, I'd make these your Top 10 Rules of the Rocky Road of Divorce.

1. Breathe First: Whatever you want to say, do, text or post to or about your ex – and in front of your kids – breathe first.

2. Communicate Clearly: So much nonsense gets started because of miscommunication. Share a Google Calendar you all check regularly. Remind each other of important dates or deadlines so nobody messes up and wrecks family rhythm. If you want to say something tricky, send an unemotional, judgment-free text message. We have so many modes of communication these days. Use the ones that best fit your relationships.

3. Don't Let Resentments Build: Something bothering you? Nip it in the bud. Bring it up BEFORE you fight about it to PREVENT fighting about it.

4. Eyes on the Prize: What's your goal? Kids' best interest? Rebuilding your life? Keeping the peace? Is what you are doing and saying, how you are behaving and acting moving toward that goal or pushing you far from it?

5. Have (Broken) Family Meetings: Remind yourselves and your children that you are still a family, still a team working together, depending on each other. Show your kids you are a united front, unable to be divided and conquered. Meet regularly as parents and as a unit. Raise issues. Solve problems before they explode. Sync your calendars and keep the lines of communication open and flowing.

6. Hold My Tongue: (See Breathe First) Is it worth it? Will saying or doing it help the situation or make it worse? Choose wisely. If you feel yourself slipping you must hang up or walk away. Choose silence. Nod. Smile wanly and SHUT THE DOOR.

7. Respect Time (Even if you don't respect your ex): Don't be late for drop offs and pick ups. If you say you'll call by 8, call by 8.

8. Use 'I' Statements: When you have to raise a tricky issue related to, ugh, feelings, use 'I' statements, not 'You' statements. For example: "I feel stressed when I haven't heard from you and you are an hour late dropping off the kids," instead of "You are such a jerk about being late."

9. Watch Your Face: Especially the eyes. We all claim we didn't say ONE MEAN THING about our ex to the kids but WHO READS AND EYE-ROLL BETTER THAN A KID?? DUH!!

10. Write It Down (The Divorce Playbook): We are all imperfect human beings who overreact, who forget, who get triggered and act badly, who change our minds and regret decisions. It's just how we're wired. Given that, write everything down. Have a clearly written out Divorce Playbook that outlines specifically all of your joint decisions, made during reasoned discussions. Don't make any new policies or rules in the heat of an argument or crisis. Work together in the spirit of your best parenting partnership to create a Parenting Plan that outlines all the specifics of who pays for what, what holidays are whose, what are all the custody details and what are contingency plans if something changes. Outline clear consequences for anyone not abiding by the rules. And either of you imperfect human beings mess up, when things inevitably break down, try a little tenderness. Chances are if you give it, you'll get some back.

About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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