You’ve made the decision to end your marriage, your spouse has decided to end your relationship, or you’ve both jointly come to the conclusion to divorce. What now?
You’ll both find the next steps hard and messy. You’ll need to make a lot of decisions, most of them difficult ones. Divorce is often painful, even traumatic. However, you can make good choices even in a difficult situation and create an opportunity for growth.
Divorce doesn’t have to get ugly
Divorce is sad but it doesn’t mean that it has to get ugly. If you’re angry or persecutory, both the emotional and the legal process will drag on for a long time. As long as you are stuck in anger and blame, the only ones benefiting are divorce lawyers. Your divorce will become expensive and neither you, your spouse or your children will benefit.
Bring out all the dignity and grace that you can muster to the legal process. If you try to hurt your spouse or treat them unfairly, it’s likely they will retaliate. They’ll treat you in exactly the same way that you are treating them.
If your spouse is treating you badly, don’t give in to unreasonable demands but do your utmost best to remain reasonable and fair. It’s hard but you don’t want to be regretting your petty behavior later on. You’ll have enough on your plate after you have separated your lives.
Also, if you have children together, you’ll want a good ending to your marriage. You don’t want to make co-parenting in the future difficult because of your desire to retaliate or to win.
Divorce is not failure
The stigma of divorce is still strong. When divorce is seen as a failure, it comes with a sense of shame, humiliation, guilt or feeling less than. However, if we see the end of a relationship as the relationship having run its course, having come to completion, we don’t have to feel so defeated.
Divorce isn’t about good or bad. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s not about success or failure, either. Remember, that many marriages are miserable. Just limping on year after year doesn’t make a relationship good, right or successful.
When you choose to end your marriage, you acknowledge that something is irreparable or that something has been lost. Holding on to it for the sake of holding on to it isn’t a healthy solution. You must let go of it.
You can acknowledge that you can’t help each other get what either of you want from life. By staying in this relationship you can’t get what you dream of.
You can acknowledge your mistakes and express remorse. You can recognize that there once was genuine affection between the two of you. It’s also possible that neither of you got what you wanted in life while being in this relationship.
Let go of the ties between you
The first step of ending a relationship is letting go of the ties that bind you together. You end your financial ties, end the legal relationship and let go of the energy you have attached to the marriage. This allows you to end the marriage intentionally and mindfully.
If you have children or shared pets, you need to end the old way of co-parenting and find a new way of being parents to your human or animal children. You’re no longer connected in the way you used to be. When you let go, something else will come in the place of the relationship you once had.
Forgiveness is tricky
If you have in some way betrayed your spouse in the marriage, you may want to be forgiven in order to be able to let go. You may feel guilty and bad about yourself. Your spouse may or may not want to or be able to forgive. You risk getting stuck. You may not get the redemption you want.
If your spouse is unable to forgive, don’t let that stop you from recognizing the mistakes you made and decide to to repeat them in the future. You can be a better person with or without forgiveness. You deserve to grow. Forgive yourself. Don’t let penance become a way of life. Find your own way to redemption.
Similarly, you may be asked for forgiveness by your spouse. Your pain and dignity may make it hard to forgive them. You risk getting stuck as well. You may want revenge.
If you are unable to forgive, don’t become fixated on your hurt. Accept that you’ve been treated badly, and choose to use that pain to help you grow into a better person. Don’t be bullied into forgiving, if you are not able to do so. Your spouse may be looking for ways to ease their guilt. You don’t have to be responsible for their actions nor their guilt. However, don’t use forgiveness as a way to gain power over your spouse. You’ll stunt your own growth in the process.
Grief is part of letting go
When a divorce goes well both parties will grieve for a while, with time they will heal, and then they’ll be ok. The end of a marriage and a divorce doesn’t have to be a life-long trauma.
When you grieve, you’ll not only grieve the loss of your marriage. You’ll grieve for the future you’ll not have together. You’ll grieve what could have been and what, perhaps also, should have been.
When you slowly let go of the energy attached to the marriage, you create space for healing and growth. You create space for something new. When you are able to release the energy attached to the marriage, you’ll be able to move forward into a new future.
Create a new vision
When you let go, you are able to create a new vision for yourself but also what you wish for your spouse. What would bring you well-being and what would bring them well-being? What do you see for yourself as a newly single person, co-parent and your future?
End as well as you can to create a good ending to your marriage. A marriage doesn’t have to end badly and traumatically.
You’ll grieve, you’ll feel guilty, you need to create a vision for your future and you’ll need support during the process.
You don’t want to perpetually repeat the old patterns in your relationship.
You can’t imagine the future one that you did not imagine while you were still committed to the marriage.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.