For someone who had never thought about divorce, when I was going through my own I certainly talked about it enough and quickly made up for lost time. To say my divorce consumed me would be an understatement. In every conversation, my vulnerability came through, and – depending on my audience – either bonded with or pushed people away. Hindsight is always 20/20, and there is so much I would say to younger me – or to others who are going through divorce.
1. Be careful what you say publicly.
Be mindful of what you tell others about your ex and your divorce because people are listening and absorbing and, most of all, formulating opinions. If you are talking to your family or friends, they are likely already in your corner and anything you say to them can and will be used against your spouse – even down the road when your relationship may be less antagonistic. In the same vein, anything you say can and will be used against you – in a court of law or in the court of public opinion. It's not always clear which one is worse.
Through our divorce, I shared some relationship details with close friends and family. Understandably, many of these people became incensed and made unsolicited comments about my ex – as well as judgments regarding his overall character – not all of them accurate. Recognizing this, I found myself defending and even elevating the person who had hurt me most, something which angered people even more. But I did it because although he had behaved (and sometimes still behaves) in a manner with which I am at odds, I know now relationships are complex, and forgiveness is powerful.
2. Watch what you say when your kids are within earshot.
No matter what happens between you and your spouse during your divorce, your spouse will forever be your children's parent. Hearing one parent badmouth the other can be devastating as children struggle to identify and compare themselves to the people they love and admire most. Regardless of age, kids tend to internalize and misinterpret what they hear.
On one occasion, my husband and I were arguing in front of our children. My husband pinpointed the time, for him, when our marriage began to deteriorate, a time that coincided and had a lot to do with our move to the United States after living overseas. Our son, who was born nine months before that move, automatically attributed our marital problems to him, which couldn't be farther from the truth. That he could think such a thing was heartbreaking and took a lot of convincing and a long time to overcome. At the time, he was six.
3. Speak to your lawyer when you're not overly emotional.
Your lawyer may be the most understanding person you have ever met. But keep in mind the clock is ticking and cha-chinging, even during those "heart-to-heart" talks. Be prepared when you speak to your lawyer by having an agenda for your conversation in front of you. Save your emotional discussions for trusted family, friends, a therapist, or perhaps a divorce coach whose rates are typically lower than those of your divorce lawyer. Your post-divorce bank account will thank you one day.
Whenever I picked up the phone to call my lawyer, I noted the time and remained conscious of it. Even so, when those bills arrived each month, I saw how quickly a few short calls added up. To be more efficient, I began compiling my questions, saving them until I had enough to justify a phone call. Sometimes, because I had just waited, my issues resolved themselves.
4. Your spouse is your adversary.
We all know some divorces are more contentious than others. Some of us consciously uncouple and some of us, well, don't. You may be one of the lucky ones that are the winner of a "good divorce." But as good as it is, where the terms of your divorce are concerned, you and your ex are legal adversaries and your interests, no matter how closely aligned, are not the same. Save the assumption of "being friends" for when the ink is dry on your divorce decree.
Toward the end of our divorce, my husband and I sought mediation. We were still a few issues away from coming to an agreement and spent hours in a conference room over three sessions arguing about how to resolve them. To the surprise of many, we went out to lunch together after one of these sessions. Though we were able to share a meal and engage in pleasant conversation, we didn't get controversial in our conversation – each of us recognizing that although we were congenial with one another, we were not in a position yet to be friends.
5. Don't kiss and tell.
Even if your spouse has seemingly moved on, gotten married, or started a new family, discussing your sexual escapades with each other can still make for an uncomfortable situation. We can all guess what one other is doing in the bedroom. But hearing about it, even comparing our ex's sexual prowess to a new partner's, can create antagonism where it doesn't need to be. Even if you find it difficult to get along, you can show each other a modicum of respect by not denigrating your past with details about your present.
Early on in our separation, my husband and I had a few uncomfortable conversations. I can only speak for myself when I say the information did nothing to help me heal from my pain. It did the opposite, in fact. I, too, have been guilty of offering up more details than necessary about my sex life, only to be received by my husband's revulsion. I have since taken the hint, and so has he.
6. Congratulations aren't always in order.
In recent years, more and more people have begun celebrating their divorces as they become final with an informal get-together, a party, or a vacation. For some, divorce is anything but a happy occasion and, instead, a sad occurrence or even a tragedy. When you hear about a couple's recent split, before throwing around the congratulations, listen to what they have to say to gauge their situation. The end of a marriage is nothing to be taken lightly, and you want to remain sensitive to someone else's pain, even if it's pain you haven't experienced firsthand.
When my divorce became final, the last thing I felt like doing was celebrating. Yes, I felt relieved the process was over, but as the quiet set in, I started to mourn the end of my marriage. I was grateful to those who acknowledged the range of emotions I was experiencing and didn't seek to impose on me their thoughts about how I should be feeling.
7. Stop talking about your divorce on dates.
Have you ever been out with someone new or are months into a relationship when the person you are with tells you about every motion they filed, how their spouse is worthless and lazy, or that they wish a house would fall on their ex? I have, and the experience is not a pleasant one.
No matter how unique you think your divorce story is, it usually isn't. Sometime, somewhere, it has all happened before. Divorce isn't you. It's something you went (or are going) through.
And you are so much more than that. Give your date, and anyone else for that matter, the privilege of getting to know you. Because, divorce or no divorce, remember, that's what matters at the end of it all.
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