couples

How to have a good divorce, from someone who's been there.

When a couple separates, even if it looks like it happened quickly, it’s usually been a long time coming.

For me, it was one of those things that happened gradually – then all at once.

Now, I can see what went wrong. At the time, I thought they were just the normal ups and downs couples inevitably go through.

I took comfort from a girlfriend’s somewhat dark humour: “If you’ve been married 10 years and haven’t at some point wanted to set your partner on fire, then you’d better check whether you both have a pulse”.

But a big hint for me was when I heard about other couples splitting – and felt envious. I wanted to be free, like them. I felt trapped in a series of circular arguments that felt like they would never abate.

We talk all things good divorce on Just Between Us:

It wasn’t so much what we fought over but the way we fought that caused our ultimate demise. There wasn’t any cheating or lying. It would often start small – but it was constant. We fought about what I saw as his inability to self-regulate his emotions. He found me too sensitive, I found him too aggressive, we couldn’t meet in the middle. He liked to rant and rave and move on, I felt so wounded by his behavior that I struggled to let it go.

When the situation became tense and volatile, we couldn’t consider the other person’s needs.

There are a standard list of things couples fight about: money, how to raise kids, housework. But what no one tells you is that after you separate, you continue to fight over many of the same issues.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are divorcing after two years of marriage. Image via Getty Images.

Money is still a big one - even more so, as you no longer have the buffer of coupledom. Now it's everyone for themselves.

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You stand your ground on certain issues. You let other things go, because it’s just not worth it. You try to disengage yourself and stick to factual statements to move things forward. If you’ve got kids, this person is going to be in your life for some time to come, so you have to find a way to work around it.

Selling the family home was a big, emotional decision, but in the end I couldn't afford to keep it on my own. Not only that, but it was full of old memories of the life we'd built together. My parents divorced when I was 5, and when I got married I wanted nothing more than to provide my kids with the stable home I'd missed out on. That house represented the quiet certainty I had that I'd finally achieved my dream.

Letting go of the house meant surrendering my fantasy of a 'happily ever after'. It also helped me to move on and start a fresh chapter. If I'd stayed, and been surrounded by all of those once-happy memories, I'm not sure I would have been able to do that as easily.

Take a look through some other celebrities who have recently been divorced:

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When it came to negotiating a settlement, I found it easier to appeal to my ex's generosity than to make demands.

In the end, we reached a fairer settlement when he felt that he had some control over what we agreed than if I had dealt with him via lawyers. I got advice from a lawyer about what I could expect, from best to worst case scenario, and I approached him on the basis that neither of us wanted to spend money going to court. I presented what I thought was fair, and waited for him to respond.

It took time and negotiating, but eventually we settled on something we could both live with. (I'd caution against trying to go through this process too soon after separation as the emotions are still running too high, and you might be inclined to scream things like "BUT I GAVE UP MY CAREER!" which may well fall on deaf ears.)

Strictly speaking I was more than entitled to what I ended up with but if making him feel generous was the price I had to pay, so be it. There's no getting around it. Separation and divorce are shitty, shitty things to happen to a person. But it doesn't have to be the end of your life.

Here are my top tips for a "good" divorce:

1. Get a good lawyer, based on a recommendation, no matter how amicable you think it will be - it's always good to have third party advice and you are entitled to that

2. Find more than one friend to vent to, or a therapist - my friends were long-suffering during this time but I tried to spread myself around. When I apologised for being a constant downer, one lovely friend reminded me this was a hard time in my life and it won't always be like this, and that's what her job was - to be there during the hard times and good.

Couple feet sleeping separately on the bedroom, symbolizing couple having family problem

3. Try to take the emotion out of financial decisions - look ahead to what will help you in the future and be sensible rather than employing wishful thinking

4. Remember that people's reactions are often more about themselves than you - if their marriages are insecure they may react strangely, don't take it on board

5. Put everything in writing - keep a diary of events, make requests via email, create a paper trail. Again, even if it's amicable, but especially if it's not - having things in writing means fewer misunderstandings

6. Expect to feel bad, to have moments of intense grief, allow yourself to go through the process

7. Remember that there are good things about being single - reconnect with yourself, do things your own way, you don't have to always consider another person

8. Remember you are strong, you can do this, it won't always feel this way.

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