We need to change how we talk about divorce
Communication, Divorce 360

We Need to Change How We Talk about Divorce

When we started discussing divorce, I looked it up online. The second entry on Google? “History’s most expensive divorces!” Scintillating, yes. Typical? No. Nor necessary. The six-figure divorce is not only a waste of time and money, but also pretty rare. High-cost divorces generally come from repeated court battles, but less than 10-percent of divorces actually go to court. Most people manage to reach agreement without sapping their savings. But if you start talking about divorce, chances are, someone will tell you an awful tale of going broke.

Or they’ll cite a study about divorce’s harm on children that they just read. Or skimmed, rather. Or actually, they never saw the study but glanced at an article summarizing a study that, upon closer inspection, isn’t even about divorce. Articles and reports bemoaning today’s changing family often conflate stats on social problems, such as the poverty of unwed mothers, with divorce. Unwed mothers are among the poorest people in our society, in part because more than half of unwed mothers are adolescents. A tenth grader struggling to raise a baby alone tells us nothing about the future of two professionals in their forties, say, who decide to divorce. But when you read an article decrying the poverty of children raised by “single mothers,” you’ve just been hoodwinked into thinking it does.

Who suffers from these Big Bad Divorce Myths? Those who divorce and spend years overwhelmed by anger and grief. Those who feel helpless as they watch their once-loving marriage devolve into bitterness. The kids. The families. The friends.

Even those who stay in bad marriages suffer. Despite that fact that nearly half of marriages end in divorce, we all know individuals bound in miserable unions. How might they flourish if a happy, productive, utopian divorce were an option, if the spouse could remain a lifelong partner of a lesser sort?

We need to change how we talk about divorce. The mismatch between perception and reality continues to make people behave poorly in divorce. Saddled with misplaced guilt and blame, we turn on each other and on ourselves at a time when we need compassion, self-compassion and cooperation. Getting divorced is not a license to hate, but because we overestimate its evils, we’re angrier than we need to be a spouse who failed us. That anger saps the energy we need to take positive actions to move forward. Fear, guilt and humiliation stand in the way of bouncing back—and springing forward.

It’s time to shunt off the judgment, accept divorce as a reality in the lives of adults and children, and turn our attention to what really matters: doing it well.

Many people are beginning this effort. They’re creating divorce ceremonies for themselves and new co-parenting arrangements for their kids. They’re using the new self-help centers at many courthouses to file divorce without expensive legal fees. They’re using sites such as twohappyhomes.com to organize their children’s schedules, share photos with a co-parent, and post messages to each other. More couples are achieving creative, cooperative, productive solutions to downgrading their primary relationship to something less intense.

Divorce has changed for the better, as has so much in our private lives. There are resources available to help you restructure your life without the marriage part. About two million people divorce in the United States each year, and the numbers are growing around the world. There are an estimated 50 million divorced people in the United States today. Everyone likes to say that marriage takes work. Why not work equally hard to have a good divorce?


Read More
Getting Along Better, Post-Divorce, Self-Care

The Principles of Parting

As you start on this path, you may find yourself scared or overwhelmed, and forget your vision of a more positive future. Principles are guideposts that help keep us on course in trying times. I developed my principles over the first two years of my separation. Yours may be different, but having them is important.

I finally settled on Seven Principles of Parting. Here they are:

Principle #1: Commit to self-compassion

A composite idea borrowed from Buddhism, self-compassion includes seeing your problems as part of the universal human struggle, remaining calm and mindful in the face of a negative experience rather than letting it overwhelm or define you, and viewing yourself with understanding and forgiveness.

Read More
Family & Friends, Parenting

Five Tips for Parenting, Post-Marriage

Divorce is no one’s Plan A. But it is possible to create a fabulous Plan B — even for your children.

As parents, we can establish rhythms and routines for our newly-structured family that preserve many of the treasured aspects of the old — and create new ones. Some people say that they’ve become better parents, post-marriage. One reason? They treasure their time with their children even more, and pay more attention while with them.

Parenting while divorced may require new education, extra attention paid to your own mental and physical state, and to your children’s. You don’t want to take a “head in the sand” approach, being so enamored of your aspirations for a good divorce that you fail to notice when your kids need help. But nor should you consider them lifelong victims because their parents did not stay married.

There are a lot of reasons to feel hopeful for our children. Here are five Good Parenting Intentions we can set for ourselves:

Read More

Yes, You Can Raise Happy Children after Divorce

When we first started discussing divorce, our son was the reason I told myself we couldn’t do it. Yes, my own parents divorced when I was five, and I’m fine. Or fine enough. I’m certainly as fine as most people I know. When I look around at my friends, I can’t point to any divide in happiness, success or marital status between those whose parents divorced and those whose didn’t.

But still. Wouldn’t our son be more fine if we stayed married?

Not according to four decades of research. Ideally, perhaps, we’d all awaken to a happy, harmonious marriage simmering on the hearth, casting a protective net over our children, but if you’ve reached the point of divorcing, this is not your other option.

Nor is it what kids need to thrive. Research shows that about 80-percent of children of divorce do well in life. They adapt, and see no lasting negative effects on their grades, social adjustment, or mental health. These findings arrive from a variety of sources, including a 20-year study done by psychologist Constance Ahrons, published as the book We’re Still Family. (For help on your own divorce, check out Ahrons’ book, The Good Divorce.) 

Read More