Intense emotions are normal during a divorce. It might be the most stressful time you will ever experience. You are essentially experiencing two divorces: a “legal” divorce and an “emotional” divorce. Each has its timeline, which means that you will likely be legally divorced long before your emotional divorce has finished.
The “emotional divorce” takes a long time, sometimes years. Over time, and with support, you reclaim yourself and can let go of your emotions about your ex, the marriage or the divorce. This is a healing process, and for many people, it takes a year or two to recover after the divorce is finalized.
The “legal divorce” is the process of unraveling your assets and debts, and coming to an agreement about sharing income, expenses, and time with the children. Once the judge has signed off on your Marital Settlement Agreement, and your marital status is terminated, you are legally divorced.
In an ideal world, you would take time to recover emotionally before starting a legal process. However, the legal divorce often happens concurrently with the emotional divorce, bringing forward acute and raw emotions. Unfortunately, these intense emotions make the legal process much more difficult to navigate, and the legal process itself often amplifies the emotions. In other words, each makes the other more painful and difficult. A divorce coach can help you through these turbulent waters.
Every divorce will go more easily, and more efficiently, if you follow these “rules of engagement.”
The military used rules of engagement to define the orders given to soldiers about what they can and cannot do. Although it is a military term, it helps to apply appropriate rules of engagement in any conflicts or negotiations. In a separation or divorce, these Rules of Engagement will support a healthier process.
1. Show each other respect and privacy. This may feel impossible, especially when one of you wants to shame or punish the other.
- Don’t go into your soon-to-be-ex’s computers, emails, photos, text messages, etc. The desire for information about your spouse’s actions and behaviors (such as an affair) will only complicate the process. In addition to the violation of privacy, it is also self-inflicting salt into your wounds.
2. Don’t bad-mouth your ex in the community or on social media.
- Keep your divorce off social media.
3. Communicate clearly
- Arguing costs a lot of money. Your legal fees will be lower if you can negotiate without conflict. The outcome is generally the same whether you argue or not, but the professional fees will take a larger chunk of your money if you fight.
- Avoid shaming and blaming your spouse.
- Pick your battles. Coat hangers are not worth a fight.
- Be clear about what matters to you in the outcome. Imagine your goals and vision for the future.
- Be willing to listen even if you don’t agree.
4. Get professional advice. Your friends and family will offer well-intentioned advice (and nightmare stories) but the guidance you need will come from professionals who work with divorcing couples.
- Your friends and family can offer emotional support, take your kids to a picnic, or get you out for a coffee date. Reassure them that you have good professional support.
- Seek counseling if you feel overwhelmed by your emotions.
5. Put your kids first, always.
- Leave your kids out of it. Don’t talk with them about legal issues, money, betrayals, etc. Don’t tell them how “terrible” their mother/father really is—it causes your children harm when you do that.
- Don’t make them choose sides or feel they have to worry about you. Some parents sneak in digs at the other parent: “It’s more important for daddy to be with his new girlfriend than with you,” or “Mommy just gave up on our family.”
- Work with your spouse to talk to the kids about divorce. You will find guidance here and here.
- Find a way to share time with them. There are a few situations where this may not be a good idea, but usually, kids do best when securely attached to both parents.
- Commit to peaceful co-parenting with your ex, even if you aren’t under the same roof.
6. Focus on problem-solving.
- Unraveling your assets and debts, determining a parenting plan, establishing how you will share income, expenses, and time with your children—these are all solvable problems. If you can focus on solving the problem, your emotions won’t hijack your negotiations.
- Be willing to compromise and be flexible. Keep your eyes on the prize: your vision of your life post-divorce.
- Be patient. It takes time but it will be done at some point.