Do you see divorce as an opportunity or the end of the world?
Divorce is always an opportunity but many people don’t see it that way certainly when they first realize that it’s likely and especially if they aren’t the decision-maker.
For the person who takes the lead on ending the marriage, they’ve concluded that life will be better outside the marriage. That doesn’t mean that the divorce is what they want or that it isn’t painful, hurtful and difficult.
Nor does it mean that every aspect of life will be better. Finances might be worse but emotionally, life would be calmer. Lifestyle may change but parenting may be easier.
For the decision-maker, weighing all the considerations, they believe that life on balance would be better.
And usually that’s not just by a little. What people tell me is that it’s the ‘I can’t stand it any longer’ type of better or the ‘I can’t live the rest of my life like this,’ or even the ‘I feel myself sinking into depression and withdrawal.’
So what does it take to see divorce as an opportunity? How do you start to see divorce as an opportunity if you aren’t the decision-maker? Can you help your STBX see divorce as an opportunity?
Joining me for this Conversation is attorney and mediator Gabrielle Hartley. Gabrielle has been developing a non-toxic approach to divorce for over twenty years and keeps 99 percent of her cases out of the courtroom. She’s the co-author of Better Apart: The Radically Positive Way to Separate. You can find out more about Gabrielle at her website where you can download her free The Five Essential Elements To Becoming Better Apart.
Listen in below or keep reading …
If You’re Uncertain About Divorce
Hartley says that by the time people come to see her, they’ve usually already made the decision and have realized (or their spouse has) that the partnership is no longer serving them. But for those people who are uncertain, she always advises that they take a step back and examine the decision from all angles. Don’t discount what your inner voice is telling you. Working with a mental health professional and coach can also help.
“You don’t want to make this decision lightly,” said Hartley. “You want to take every step you possibly can not to leave any stone unturned.”
This deep examination can sometimes reveal changes that you can make that will help you become better together. I’ve worked with a few couples who by the time we’ve completed their mediated divorce, have decided to reconcile. I’m convinced it’s because the honesty and frankness that happens in these negotiations opens a path to open communication that has been closed and shutdown.
Hartley believes that the hardest marriages to end are those where there’s nothing specific wrong, where the spark just isn’t there.
“There is a big tendency for people to look for that epiphanic or catalytic moment when there really is none,” said Hartley. “I always encourage people not to create drama. Maybe you just go to counseling and you figure out a way to negotiate the separation.”
The decision-maker often sees divorce as an opportunity because of the support they’ve received. So if you’re the person whose spouse has made this decision, this is your first step. Don’t go through this alone. I often talk to my clients about getting the support they need.
And for the non-decision-maker, this isn’t going seem like an opportunity at least initially.
“They don’t want to hear that divorce is a gift often because there’s so much pain,” said Hartley. “It’s like a maelstrom has just swept into their life and through them.”
With time that shifts and even the non-decision-maker can see it differently.
“Sometimes the person who didn’t make the decision winds up happier because they can’t have any regrets because it wasn’t their choice,” said Hartley.
For the decision-maker, there is often a nagging question as to whether it was the right decision especially when they see their former spouse happier than before.
Slow It Down
Once the decision-maker has shared their decision, the temptation is to want to plow ahead with the legal process. They want to get through this ugliness as quickly as possible and to put it behind them. That strategy, while understandable, doesn’t create a good environment for discussions. The non-decider needs time to process the decision and catch up. Given time, emotions calm.
“The best thing always is to take space because when you’re in an emotional swirl, you can’t make good decisions,” said Hartley. “The decision-maker needs to recognize that they’ve been making this decision over a protracted period and the other person while you think they should have known, they’re shocked when they hear that the other party is done.”
While most professionals will tell you to slow things down and not to make any snap decisions, Hartley says it is nevertheless important to listen very carefully to any settlement offers being made because they can often get the best outcome in the beginning.
“The person who decides to leave is usually filled with guilt and that guilt goes away,” said Hartley.
Hartley also advises her clients to be responsive rather than reactive so as not to inflame things. Making the decision-maker angry can make them feel justified in their choice and that will quickly erase any guilt they’re feeling.
Feed Your Soul
If you are able to slow down the legal process and take a step back from separating your lives, then Hartley recommends using the time to reconnect with yourself, doing the activities that have previously brought you joy.
“When the person who’s the heartbroken non-decision-maker starts to fill their mind and time up with activities and with people and with all sorts of things that feed their soul, they do start to feel better,” said Hartley. “You start to feel truly grounded and it’s almost like a rebirth for them.”
This is a time for getting reacquainted with your core values and how to bring your life back into alignment with those values.
Hartley also recommends making lists – lists of things you like, people you enjoy, things that make you feel good, anything that helps you look at your life in a positive way. I remember doing this while waiting for my husband to move out: the things I wouldn’t have to do anymore, the things I wouldn’t have to put up with anymore. Once it was on the list, it help me let it go. That meant I didn’t say anything to my STBX about it and at that point, there really was no point in raising these issues.
“Making a habit of thinking positively, even if it’s only five minutes a day to start with will help you see the end of your marriage, even if it’s not what you wanted, is an opportunity,” said Hartley.
Be Responsive Not Reactive
While divorce involves both you and your STBX, you can heavily influence the tone of proceedings by not reacting. Hartley recalls her grandmother saying to her that it really does take two to argue when Hartley and her brother were quarreling. So if you can disengage from arguing (and that is not the same as giving in on issues), you will make your relationship with your STBX more civil.
Here are a few strategies for managing your reactions:
- Set up a separate email account and use this account for communicating with your STBX. Commit to checking it just once a day and maybe at a specific time. “You’re the one who is controlling when you’re seeing it and it’s not just popping up whenever, while you’re in the middle of a meeting,” said Hartley.
- Always take a step back and take five deep belly breaths before responding to anything. That’s breathing in through your nose, out through your mouth for a count of three. There’s science backing up the calming effect of this.
- Practice a self-response of ‘that’s interesting’ to anything from your STBX. Again, this helps to create a pause and gives your brain the chance to kick in with a more intentional response than your initial gut reaction.
- Create a personal mantra that is the absolute opposite of how you feel. So if you feel overwhelmed, you might say ‘I can do this.’ If you’re feeling anxious, you might say, ‘I feel calm.’ Repeat the mantra to yourself first thing in the morning when you get up and periodically during the day, when you’re feeling triggered. “It might feel a little weird or uncomfortable when you first do this, but it really starts to reset your thinking,” said Hartley.
Don’t Accept The Conflict Model
The typical portrayal of divorce in society and in the media is one of conflict, contention and disagreement but it doesn’t have to be that way. Rejecting this conflict model opens the path to seeing divorce as an opportunity.
That doesn’t make divorce easy. It never is.
“Divorce is going to be messy. You can’t kid yourself it’s all going to be wonderful,” said Hartley. “It is possible to come out the other side feeling better, even if you’re really upset to begin with. Oftentimes, people can be better together when they are apart.”
My guest for this Conversation was attorney and mediator Gabrielle Hartley. Gabrielle has been developing a non-toxic approach to divorce for over twenty years and keeps 99 percent of her cases out of the courtroom. She’s the co-author of Better Apart: The Radically Positive Way to Separate. You can find out more about Gabrielle at her website where you can download her free The Five Essential Elements To Becoming Better Apart.