couples

The 7 steps to having a good divorce.

The day Gwyneth Paltrow and her then-husband Chris Martin announced their ‘conscious uncoupling’ in 2014, they were on holidays with their children. Together. A year later when their divorce was finalised in a London court they were once again on a family holiday.

For most couples, that level of togetherness while being apart is not realistic or even desirable. But a ‘good divorce’ (especially if there are children’ involved) is a positive goal, even if it doesn’t quite stretch to family vacations.

Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, pair who coined the term, 'conscious uncoupling'.

As part of our Debrief Daily podcast, we spent an episode exploring this idea of a 'good divorce' and in doing so, we managed to unearth the Gwynth Paltrow and Chris Martin of regional Victoria. You can listen to the podcast here. Grant and Kerryn don’t talk about 'unconscious uncoupling' or serve their kids kale but they served them up a good dose of respect, love and a good, kind, compassionate break up eight years ago.

We also gained the insight and experience of Bill Hewlett, a Counsellor from Relationships Australia whose job it is to help couples have the best divorce possible. We’ve summarised their advice below as the keys to unlocking your hearts without releasing recrimination, resentment, antagonism, nastiness and pain.

So with one in three marriages heading for splitsville and defacto relationships just as painful and fraught to end please feel free to pass on their tips and add your own.

1. Be Respectful and have Self Respect.

Bill Hewlett says generally "how you manage life will indicate how you will manage divorce and the more fragile you feel about yourself the more angry you will feel about someone else". He says if you are breaking up, try not to beat yourself up and see the relationship as a failure you regret. At the same time though, he advises that you don’t let someone else take all the responsibility for what went wrong. Allow for self-respect, self-reflection and the opportunity for life insights.

Shelley says keeping her self-respect meant her breakup eventually became an empowering experience. She said while her heart was crushed but she always aimed to keep her dignity.

2. Be Kind.

Shelley was devastated when she and her ex-husband Joel broke up more than a decade ago. They met at college when she was 19 and he was her first love and the second boy she’d ever kissed. However, as they suffered their private pain they never lost sight of being kind to each other. They were thoughtful and mindful about how they spoke and behaved civilly at all times because they wanted their son (then 2 and now nearly 14) to be calm and feel loved. Shelley says her goal is now to inspire other women to be kinder. Do you understand the Dalai Lama connection now? But wait there's more

3. Let go of anger.

Counsellors often say that the couples who show contempt and criticism for each other usually won’t make it and then won’t divorce well. Bill Hewlett says “contempt and eye rolling is dangerous territory." All of the people we talked to on the podcast and those we chatted to for research had one thing in common: they weren’t angry people. Shelley just doesn't do fury and the rest managed to let it go.  Rebecca Huntley says she feels her parents parting was amiable because her mother just couldn’t hold a grudge.

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Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep play a divorced couple in, It's Complicated.

4. Be financially independent in the marriage.

It shouldn’t all come down to money. But it can. The more financially independent you are in a relationship the less there is to fight about when it ends. Shelley’s divorce was amiable because they split everything 50/50. Grant says Kerryn took a bit less than she could have of his superannuation and he appreciated the gesture. Less fighting is also cheaper. An average American divorce costs $50 000 Shelley’s cost just a $350 filing fee. She and her ex-husband have never argued about money in the ten years since they broke up.

5. Put your children at the centre.

When Grant and Kerryn broke up eight years ago they made an immediate pact to put their two kids first and never use them as pawns. Whenever things got tough they came back to this vow and still do.

Shelley says almost exactly the same words. “Whenever we have a disagreement we always come back to the centre – our son”. Shelley’s son was two when she and Joel divorced. So to reduce the burden on his need to adapt they worked together to replicate his bedroom in each house – painting them the same colour, having the same bedding and the same toothpaste. Bill Hewlett carries out child inclusive mediation where kids are encouraged to talk about how it like to be in world where parents don’t get on. He says “parents can be so injured they don’t realize what’s happening with the kids.” He urges that re-partnering is most tricky and must not be hurried for the children “if you going to re-partner with someone else don’t create a new family and ask kids to just fit in with it. Kids can feel they don’t’ matter. That can be a terrible impact on a kid and can affect them for the rest of their life”

6. Do things when you are ready.

Shelley admits that when her ex-husband fell in love and re-partnered she was upset. She admits she even ‘hoped she wasn’t as pretty as I was and she was stupid’. So, Shelley decided they wouldn’t meet until Shelley felt strong enough and knew she wouldn’t embarrass herself or lose her dignity by appearing jealous She then realized that her ex-husband’s new spouse Jill was “beautiful and kind and we had a lot in common”. Eventually she came to love her because she loved Shelley’s son. “She respected me as my son’s mother, she invited me into her home, she loved and kissed and hugged my son in my absence.

7. Think long term and focus on the outcome.

Kerryn and Grant have both repartnered since they broke up. She says that even in the hard times we didn’t respond in the moment, we focused on the end game “you are connected forever through your children, grandchildren, you don’t want to be in a position you can’t attend functions. We’ve seen friends go that way”. Shelley says it took a while but she now sees her ex husband’s wife like a sister she loves and will always have in her life but doesn’t always have to agree with. Shelley was rewarded for her openness because her ex-husband’s partner actually introduced her to the man she has now married. It’s complicated but it works.

Of course it takes two to tango and two to break up. In divorce we can never control the behavior of our ex-partner but we can try to control our own. They’re the seven tips we’ve learnt … we’d love yours.

Find out more about the Debrief Daily Podcast Just Between Us here.

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