When you get married, you don’t really think about the possibility of a divorce. We were raised with fairy tales that all end with, “…and they all lived happily ever after.” But no one prepared us for, “…and they slowly grew apart until their love was no longer.”
I guess “Until death do us part” was easier to live by centuries ago, when life expectancy was much shorter, and people sometimes died of scurvy at 25. But now, we have to look at the big picture. People go through experiences over the course of their lives that make them change. What you wanted at 20 years old might not be what you want at 40. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In this new era of “conscious uncoupling” (thanks a lot, Gwyneth Paltrow), a family doesn’t need to crumble just because a marriage does. Divorce can and should be a collaborative and respectful process. Here are a few tricks that helped me achieve just that.
1. Make sure it’s final
Is there still hope? I know it depends on the cause for divorce, but make sure you did everything you could to save your marriage. Go see a therapist. Make dates with your partner. Try new ways to connect and communicate. There is nothing worse than regrets, and knowing you did everything you humanly could will take care of that.
2. Don’t use the ‘D’ word lightly or as an ultimatum
If you want your partner to pay attention to you, screaming “divorce!” will likely get you nowhere you want to be.
3. Don’t agonize over how divorce will affect your children
Children are resilient and what they need most is a harmonious home. Children can see and hear their parents fight, and it can negatively impact them. They’ll be better off with divorced, happy parents than with parents who feel obligated to stay together.
4. Be a team
I remember sitting down with my husband to tell the kids that we were going to get divorced. Their eyes filled with tears and fear of the unknown. Be a strong parental unit, answer their questions together, show them a united front, and speak the same key messages. Be prepared, it is one of the most important discussions you will ever have with your kids.
5. Include the kids
The kids helped me shop for my new house and choose the furniture, they decided on their room colors, and on the day I was moving, they helped me move boxes along with my ex. The most important message here: There can be unity despite there being a separation. We are all building a new life together, and their opinions matter.
6. Leave your feelings aside
Moving forward, any decision made should have one focus and one focus only: Is this the best decision for the kids? Anything else is irrelevant.
7. Don’t talk badly about your ex
Never, ever say anything bad about the other parent to your children. Never. Ever. No matter what they did. I can’t stress this enough.
8. Start your negotiations with the end in mind
You want to foster a cooperative relationship, so agree to disagree. Agree to let some things go. Agree to be fair. Agree that you can’t win them all. Agree that this person will be in your life for a long time. Agree to be civilized. Putting aside strong emotions in favor of cooperation will pay off in the long run.
9. Use mediators
Try them first. If you’re lucky, the first few sessions will be paid for, but even if they’re not, people usually achieve a resolution within hours. It’s win-win. Not to mention, dealing with them is far less stressful and threatening than dealing with lawyers.
10. Keep on laughing
When life gives you lemons, use them as garnishes for your drinks. What I mean is, sure, this is not the best time in your life, but nothing lasts forever and the sun will rise again.
11. Make sure you have a great support team
Call your mom. Call your dad. Call your friends. Call a helpline. Get the dog you’ve always wanted. Take up knitting. Whatever helps you get through the day.
12. This isn’t a competition
Don’t make this a battle of who won and who lost. Nobody wins in a divorce. Period.
13. Try to live close to your ex
I know, it sounds funny, but you will appreciate it when your kid forgets their favorite toy at your ex’s place and you have to go get it at 9 p.m. or else there will be no sleeping in your house that night.
14. Never make your kids choose
Both parents should be there on special occasions. Also, try to avoid bringing third parties to special occasions for a little while. A new person will eventually be part of the picture and will need to be included, but everything in due time.
15. Be flexible and accommodating
Life happens and nothing fits in a mold, let alone a shared custody mold. Don’t let an extra hour here or there become a big deal, and be prepared to switch days out of your normal schedule.
16. Invest in apps designed for separated parents
With homework, friends’ birthday parties, and everything in between, it helps to stay organized, especially when there are two parent schedules. You can share content and communicate efficiently with your ex-partner, while sharing important information such as health cards, insurance, passports, etc.
17. Don’t make your children live in suitcases
Sure, they can move their favorite toy from one house to another, but try to have the essentials ready at both places to minimize the feeling of moving every time they have to go to the other house.
18. Find the custody schedule that works for your entire family
I personally found that alternating weeks was too long spent away from my kids. Yet, the 2-2-3 rotation didn’t have the stability I was looking for. With my ex, we decided the 5-2 rotation was the best formula for us. We’ll most likely revisit when the kids are older and ask them to weigh in on the final decision.
19. Use it as a learning experience
If divorce is going to suck, you might as well get something out of it. Take some time to write down on paper what you are looking for in your next relationship, as well as what you will not tolerate. This will help you put any new prospect into perspective.
20. Don’t throw yourself on the dating scene too quickly
The scene has evolved. Getting back in the action is a great step forward, but make sure you are ready and make sure you know what the new rules of engagement are.