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Principles of Parting

Adopt a set of positive principles to help get through divorce—and thrive.

Luboslav Tiles/Shutterstock
Source: Luboslav Tiles/Shutterstock

All transitions are always hard, but divorce adds some curveballs. We plan in advance for other transitions, saving up before sending a child to college, researching shipping companies and the relative cost of packing materials before moving. The decision to divorce, however, can erupt like a volcano.

Even if you’ve been discussing it for months, planning a positive divorce can feel morally wrong, disrespectful to the marriage. No one spends the waning years of marriage flipping through glossy divorce magazines for inspiration, or clipping photos of cute kitchen wares to stock their soon-to-be-solo shelves. The lurking history of divorce as a punishment or a sign of failure can contribute to this willful lack of preparation.

Almost every clinician I’ve spoken to says a version of the same thing: people divorce too fast. This doesn’t mean we leave marriages lightly, but rather that once we decide to go, we rush out without making a plan. We hurry to decide and divide when we’re too upset to think clearly. We jump into new relationships before emotionally exiting old ones. We don’t realize we’re grieving the loss of a now-defunct vision for our lives, and we stuff down our sadness, only to find it bubbling back up in other ways. All of this rushing can contribute to the angry, contentious divorces we see. Slowing down, preparing, can help us part more smoothly.

“It’s like driving a car; it’s a hazard. But like in a car, you have to know how to drive,” says psychiatrist and Psychology Today blogger Mark Banschick, author of The Intelligent Divorce book series. “You’re going through something that puts you at risk, but you can come out on the other side. If you’re going to do it, do it right.”

I came up with seven Principles of Parting that can help make this transition smoother, happier, and a real route to the unfurling of those quiescent visions of a better life. Principles are guideposts, beacons of light that help us stay on course in trying times. Yours may be different, but having them is important.

Here are my Seven Principles of Parting:

  • Commit to self-compassion
  • Take ownership of the future, and the past
  • Don't confuse filing with closure
  • Build a tool kit for the transition
  • Combat anger with empathy
  • Beware of the urge to compare
  • Create positive moments

For a more detailed explanation of these principles, see Principles of Parting on Chapter two in Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well, gives a fuller description and examples (from my own life and others.')

Read about Principle #1: Commit to Self-Compassion. A composite idea borrowed from Buddhism, self-compassion has three parts: seeing your problems as part of the universal human struggle; striving to remain mindful and present rather than fixating on a loss or becoming overwhelmed by it, and forgiving yourself.

Self-compassion has been strongly correlated with positive divorce recovery. The good news? Self-compassion can be built.

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