Divorce is not a death sentence. At the end of the day, difficult decisions to divorce may be made. None of us enter our marriages with the notion that we will divorce, but based on the statistics in our country, about half of marriages ultimately end in divorce. As common as divorce may be, however, there is still stigma associated with going through a divorce. Many individuals may even feel like they failed – even after they may have tried almost everything to save their marriage! In many instances, taking the steps to extricate oneself from an unhappy marriage is actually a sign of resilience, taking considerable strength, grit, and determination.
Even in the midst of the conflict that inevitably increases leading up to and post-separation, it is possible to separate with sincerity, respect, and integrity. It is possible to divorce with dignity and respect for ourselves and our soon-to-be ex-spouse. As difficult as things may be now, negative emotions related to the separation and divorce (sadness, loneliness, anger, etc.) are temporary. No matter how painful the experience may be, it is possible to follow a higher road during your divorce --- a path which will likely lead to decreases in psychological and physical stress, lowered conflict, and enhanced well-being and satisfaction after bouncing back from divorce.
1) If there has been domestic violence or abuse involved in the relationship, physical and psychological safety take priority. The suggestions below may not apply. Seek help immediately – via domestic violence shelters, clergy, mental health experts, physicians, or other professionals.
2) Seek professional guidance in order to help you divorce with dignity and to maintain a modicum of respect for yourself and your partner. Individual therapists as well as couples’ therapists (who also specialize in divorce and separation) are helpful during this time. If available, look for a mediator in your community who can work with you as you prepare for a legal separation/divorce. Attorneys may be consulted and/or retained to assist you both in division of marital assets and liabilities. If available in your area, seek attorneys who specialize in collaborative law and/or mediation.
3) If children are involved, this further complicates matters (see further suggestions in: Divorcing with Dignity when Children are Involved).
4) As tempting as it may be, try to give your ex-spouse space for both of you to begin the healing process. If this is difficult, set boundaries regarding times and/or formats to check-in (e.g., once per week, only over email, etc.).
5) When you do connect with your ex-spouse, try to keep exchanges courteous and respectful (e.g., no name-calling, yelling etc.). Now is no longer time for shame-you, blame-you discussions.
6) It may be necessary to schedule “business meetings” to discuss separation – division of assets, property, even pets. If conflict is too high, these discussions can be done via mediators or attorneys.
7) Seek the support of friends and loved ones. As you reach out to friends and family, let them know of your intention to divorce with dignity. Emphasize that, while you may occasionally want time to vent, you want to keep the negative talk about your ex-spouse to a minimum.
8) Focus on self-care. Rest. Exercise. Take care of your physical health.
9) Avoid “over-doing” it. This includes excessive drinking, spending, and taking other activities to excess.
10) Keep a journal. This is a difficult time – the added insight and introspection that journaling can offer may be useful to you during this time.
11) Engage in activities you used to enjoy before you were married. Again, in the spirit of self-care, have fun and relax.
12) If faith, religion, or spirituality are important to you, stay connected to your faith during this time in whatever way may comfort you (e.g., pray, talk with your pastor, attend church or a spiritual retreat). Spirituality and faith can greatly improve resiliency during stressful times.
13) There will be times of disappointment, of sadness, of anger, of depression and even, relief. At some point, you will likely experience excitement and anticipation regarding the new chapters in your life – if you aren’t there yet, that’s okay. Have realistic expectations for yourself.
14) Give yourself time. Give your ex-spouse some time. Give your friends and family time to adjust. We all heal and recover at different paces – some of us may be stuck in anger for a long period of time, while others have already grieved much of the loss of the relationship during the marriage.