This is Tracey Bryan’s response to the question ‘What steps can you take to ensure that your separation and divorce is as amicable as possible?’ on Quora.
My husband and I were very happily married, and are presently very happily separated. Many of the ingredients are the same – respect, compassion, shared concerns, shared values, strong communication, and empathy.
1. Try to fix your problems for long enough, but not too long.
I think a lot of times Dr Phil is full of sh*t, but some of his advice is really good, and I remember him once saying that you know you’re ready to leave when you can leave without any resentment. When you can put your hand on your heart and say, “Well, I tried everything I could to make it work, but I just can’t find a way, so I’m out, but hey, I wish you every happiness”. If you’re still feeling angry or bitter with your spouse, it’s probably an indication that you’re not at that point yet.
I’ll qualify that by saying that I think there can be two reasons why you’re angry with your spouse:
- it can be because you haven’t put in enough effort to get to that zen point, but it can also be…
- because you’ve done it and realised that the relationship’s hopeless, but then not had the courage to follow through and leave.
Rather than acknowledge that it’s their own lack of courage, or desire for comfort, that’s caused them to stay, many begin to feel trapped and resentful. They stay in marriages they’re not happy in, and then feel like their partner’s trapping them in an unhappy marriage and resent them for it. Then when they ultimately do divorce, they hate their partner for having “stolen” so many years from them. When, actually, they’re really angry at themselves for staying so long. But it’s easier to direct that anger outwards at their ex.
So if you want an amicable divorce, give yourself enough time to try and sort out your problems and get to that zen point, but don’t overshoot it – it’s a recipe for resentment.
How long is that? Well, only you can know, but I think it’s probably not more than a year or so. It’s not many years and it’s certainly not five years.
And during that time, you have to actively work on your problems, by getting counselling and trying new things. Just hoping things will get better is not “working”.
2. Remember why you married your partner, and honour the important role they have played, and will continue to play, in your life.
In my case, as the parent of two amazing children, who we continue to co-parent, and as the man who I’ve spent virtually all of my adult life with, and been by my side and supported me as I’ve grown from a “big teenager” to a middle-aged woman.
3. Don’t view the fact that you’ve now decided to live in separate homes as a “failure”.
You’ve spent a long time together – in our case, 25 years and more than half our lives. We’ve been very happy and created a family and a lot of wonderful memories. We’ll continue to celebrate a lot of great times together, such as the graduations of our sons, 21st birthdays, and hopefully becoming grandparents in future! We’ll always be family, and always share precious memories. That’s in no way a failure, just because we’ve decided that our future paths lie in separate households.