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Divorce Happens

6 Smart Ways Families Can Come Out on Top

I love my ex, and not in a pining, unrequited love kind of way. I really do. My friends think I’m nuts.

In a way, I love him more now than I did when we were married, because now we don’t have to live together. In fact, we still celebrate major holidays and special events as a mixed family. I enjoy the time we spend together. I hope someday I can dance at his wedding. Yes, our separation and divorce were also this amicable. I wouldn’t want it any other way, as I firmly believe that our ability to collaborate during and after this normally painful process is essential for our children to weather this new phase of our lives with equanimity, grace, and wisdom.

No one plans for divorce or separation after that magical wedding day. But if you find yourself in that unenviable position where you and your spouse have decided to part ways, it is important to remember that, if you have children or pet-dependents, you will still be co-parenting after the divorce is final. Even if you don’t, you have much to gain by dealing with this transition with forgiveness, compassion, and perspective.

1. Put your children in front of your ego, pride, and need to blame.

The way you deal with this transition could make all the difference as to whether your children will bear the scars of your emotional baggage or whether you teach By example the way adults can maturely deal with relationship problems. This is the most difficult part. But stop and ask yourself: What are my real goals? If you do some soul searching, you may discover that making your ex suffer will not be your most important objective (for some, just an added perk). My goal was to turn this divorce into as positive of an experience as possible, for all of us.

2. Maintain respect and empathy.

Since conflict is a part of every relationship, even successful ones, how you manage conflict during your marriage will influence how you handle it during a divorce. Therefore, maintaining respect and empathy throughout the marriage and divorce will teach your children that reasonable people can differ without warfare. Remember, your ex will likely reciprocate how you treat him or her, so do treat your ex as well as you’d like to be treated.

3. Your stuff is just stuff.

It’s not worth going to war over stuff that you’re probably just going to give to Goodwill when you downsize in a few years anyway. Select the small number of Things that really matter to you and emotionally let go of the rest. Stuff does not bring happiness. Kindness and compassion do.

4. Remember, you once loved and promised to always be there for each other.

Okay, so this didn’t work out like you planned and you’re not going to stay together forever. At least have the decency to remember the “honor and cherish” part of your vows. Continue to focus on the qualities you fell in love with, not the shortcomings that are causing the split. There is nothing but pain to be gained from focusing on the negatives and everything to gain by focusing on the positives.

5. Give your ex the benefit of the doubt.

If yours was even a half-way decent marriage, both partners tried their best and did not plan to cause a divorce. Even if it’s hard for you to see, your ex tried his or her best, as did you. Try to forgive this person you married for being less than perfect. More importantly, forgive yourself for just being human. Labeling your ex the villain and yourself the victim is a self-serving and destructive fantasy, so don’t go there. Communicating that idea to your children in any way is also unfair, damaging, and just plain wrong.

6. Find the opportunities in this change.

Not all change has to result in negative consequences. Personal growth and development is always a choice, especially during a potentially painful transition. You and your children can find the silver lining in this new phase of your lives. It is up to you to discover and nurture those opportunities. In doing so, you will also teach your children how to be resilient. I relished the opportunity to invest my newfound time and energy in forsaken hobbies and interests, and to connect with my children in a new way. Perhaps the most important opportunity hidden in a failed relationship is to take responsibility for identifying and addressing your contributing emotional issues so they don’t doom your next relationship.

I’m enormously thankful to my ex for trying his best and giving one hundred percent for twenty years, and for acknowledging that I also did my best during our long marriage. Even if your spouse may not be willing to nurture the partnership after the divorce does not mean you should try to out-do your ex in terms of despicable behavior. Take the high road, and maintain your peace of mind and self-respect. Your conscience, and your kids, will thank you for it.

Over the past twenty-five years in higher education as a teacher, coach, and a faculty and student development professional, Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert has taught and counseled hundreds of students and faculty members on interpersonal relationships and personal development. She is the founder of Foundation for Family and Community and Healing.
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