By Larry Wilson, JD
Clients oftentimes wonder whether it is possible for a couple to have a “good” divorce. Divorce is perceived as costly, painful, expensive, conflicted and highly intrusive of privacy by those who have not had this experience before.
Clients fear that changes will arise in their relationships with children, they may have to move to a new home, or to a strange and less comfortable community. They fear losing their family, friends and they fear disrupting existing patterns. They fear that their financial resources will diminish significantly.
How could a process that obliges people to encounter and work through such hazards ever be “good”?
Ask couples immediately after they have finished a divorce whether their experience was “good” or not. You invariably will hear a broad range of responses. Some may report their experience as horrific or excruciating. Others will describe their experience as unpleasant, costly or exhausting. But invariably, some couples will describe their experience as having been good, or the smartest thing they ever did – or something similar.
If you ask the same question to the same divorced couples ten years later, the answers you will likely hear will be far more affirming and positive. Some people will always remain negative, but a surprisingly large percentage of people who previously divorced will now respond positively – yes, their divorce was “good”.
Why is that so? The passage of time has a lot to do with the increase in positive responses. Divorce proceedings typically arise when one or both members of a couple have become so deeply unhappy within their marriage that the expected disruptions of divorce on balance are expected to be more tolerable than continuing in a relationship with a partner who is making that person miserable.
Spouses in this situation are able to better foresee than their partners that the divorce process – notwithstanding the major disruptions that certainly will arise – is likely to lead them into more stable, happy and authentic lives. In short, they expect betterment.
Other spouses, in contrast, cannot envision any future in which happiness, joy or fulfillment equal to what they enjoyed in their current relationship will ever arise again – even if unhappiness was also present in that relationship.
But as time passes after a divorce occurring, recollections of previous disruptions tend to diminish in intensity. Sometimes much to their surprise, spouses who initially fought against divorce start seeing that they are adapting successfully and happily into patterns of authentic and purposeful living. In time, most former spouses will eventually come to see their earlier divorce was something that at least brought about some “good” outcomes.
If you want to increase the odds that ten years from now your divorce will be one of the “good” ones, my advice is simple. Do nothing now you will regret ten years later. Take the high road whenever possible. Don’t make things more costly, challenging or difficult for your family. Be reasonable. Be truthful. Try to compromise. Collaborate whenever possible. But most of all – be kind. Be kind to your partner. Be kind to your children. Be kind to yourself.
I can’t guarantee following this advice will cause your divorce to become a “good” one, but I can guarantee your personal experience will be better than if you heed none of the foregoing suggestions at all. That’s truth.
Best of luck going forward. There is a good place at the end of this challenging path, and I hope you and your family all work hard and find it.