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.
Listen: What do you do when life pulls the rug from underneath you?
4. Talk to friends and family about it rather than leaving them to speculate.
Separation and divorce is often stigmatised, and people don’t know what to say or how to react. They also aren’t sure if they have to “choose sides”, and make up stories about whose “fault” it is, and so on. We decided to tackle it head on. We sent a joint email to our family and friends that said, in essence, “We’ve decided to live apart, because we’re having trouble making each other happy, despite being in counselling for 18 months. We still love each other very much. We don’t know if we’re going to divorce, but we have permission to date other people and we imagine it will become clear to us in time what we should do. We don’t consider that either of us is at fault and there are no “sides”; we are on the same side, so please keep supporting, and talking to, both of us as you always have. We’re still one family, just living in two households for now.”
Remember that the assets and income you’re dividing when agreeing on a property settlement will likely feel unfair and a bit miserly to both of you.
5. You’re now dividing between two households what used to support just one; of course you’re both going to be worse off!
It would be odd if either of you didn’t feel financially disadvantaged. You should both be feeling the pain, because you’re no longer benefiting from combining household expenses. Of course you should be aiming to hurt approximately equally, or to spread the burden equitably – whatever that is to you, or according to family law in your jurisdiction. But you should both expect to feel some financial pain!
6. Don’t stop doing everything that you used to do together just because you’re separated.
Rituals are important in creating a sense of continuity. One thing we used to really enjoy, as a couple, was competing in a pub trivia team together. We decided that we both wanted to keep playing, and there was no reason why we shouldn’t. So we sent a joint message to all the other team members, like the one that we sent to our family and friends, and assured them it wouldn’t be awkward, and it hasn’t been. Our teenaged sons used to come occasionally, and loved it – now they come every week and it’s become a family ritual.
This post originally appeared on Quora and has been republished here with full permission.