Worried about a bad divorce? These simple tips will help you have an almost-perfect divorce, while protecting your children and launching your family into a healthy future.
1. Don’t threaten divorce if you haven’t thought it through carefully. Be sure – either you make the decision with clarity, or your spouse has decided. Perhaps you’ve offered to go to therapy with them or make other changes, but the divorce has been decided.
2. Don’t rush into the legal process. Get the support you need. Divorce, even an amicable divorce, is a life crisis. You need to connect with friends, family, and perhaps your therapist to get through this stressful time. Don’t listen to your friends’ horror stories or well-meaning advice to “lawyer up.” Every divorce is different, and you can make your divorce easier. Give yourself some time to deal with your emotions before you jump into a legal process.
3. Consider how to protect your kids. You and your spouse agree on that one thing: You both love your kids. Ask your spouse to work with you to divorce in a way that protects your kids from the damage of a bad divorce. Try to focus on your kids and take your emotions (grief, fear, anger, etc.) elsewhere, to a friend, family, or therapist.
4. Don’t put your kids in the middle. The loyalty traps are consciously or unconsciously using your kids as messengers, spies, confidants, or allies. Let your kids love both of you because this has been shown to help kids become resilient and healthier over the long term. Don’t make them decide which one of you is the victim or is to blame for the divorce. They deserve parents who respect each other even if they can’t be married any longer. Don’t “trash-talk” your soon-to-be-ex. My young client Rachel told me the most painful thing about her parents’ divorce was the way her mom and dad spoke about each other.
5. Be prepared to compromise in your negotiations. Use an out-of-court process such as mediation or Collaborative Divorce that gives you more control over the decisions and the outcome of your negotiations. Very few divorces actually need the involvement of the court, although some high-conflict divorcing people need an outside decision-maker. It is healthier for you and your family to work together with your soon-to-be-ex (STBEx) and peacemaking professionals. Focus on what matters most to you and be open to listening to and understanding what matters most to your spouse. Work together to craft agreements that work for both of you, as well as for your kids. Even if your ex is reactive or provocative, don’t take the bait.
6. Stay calm, and take breaks when you feel triggered. Remember that arguing during meetings with professionals who are running their meters is expensive. Remember that your agreement may not seem “fair” because everyone’s idea of “fair” is different. Focus instead on what is acceptable.
7. Use a team approach: working with a divorce coach can help you and your STBEx navigate the divorce process with respect and dignity.
8. Work out a way to share parenting time that is realistic and works for everyone. Kids usually struggle when they have to go back and forth between two homes, so make it easier for them. While frequent contact with both parents is ideal, too many transitions can be hard on kids. Find a schedule that is appropriate for your kids’ ages. Be prepared to reevaluate the schedule if it isn’t working well for you or your kids. Make sure your kids have what they need at each home so they don’t have to move with baggage each time. And try to find housing that is relatively close to their other parent’s home. Between two and seven miles apart is ideal.
9. Work on your co-parenting relationship. You might think of your new post-separation relationship as a business partnership. You are partners in the business of raising your children.
10. Find ways to communicate without conflict. You can use apps, such as Our Family Wizard. Most parents use a shared calendar, and text only for logistics or emergencies. Emails that are brief, neutral, and informative are helpful, especially just before the children transition from one parent to the other. This creates a more seamless transition for the kids. Plan regular check-ins with your co-parent to discuss how the kids are doing or to clarify changes in the schedule.
11. Don’t jump right into dating. You probably aren’t ready, and your soon-to-be-ex will probably have a strong reaction to your getting into dating before the divorce is well underway or done. Don’t blindside your ex: if you are in a new relationship, tell him before telling your kids. But wait…wait until your new relationship is a committed relationship of significant duration (9-12 months).
12. Stay focused on the future. Think about your goals and plan steps toward those goals. Think of this new chapter as a new opportunity for growth and change. Dottie told me that her divorce was the impetus she needed to turn her baking hobby into a new small business. She now delivers her baked goods to many cafes and restaurants in her city. If you want to see a therapist to process what you can learn from the problems in the marriage and the divorce, this will help you find new ways to be in relationships without repeating mistakes.
This post originally appeared on Psychology Today.