Courtesy Can Prevent Divorce Disaster
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Divorce is never a pleasure, but it doesn't have to be a catastrophe. There are some common sense suggestions that anyone contemplating a divorce, or anyone who knows someone contemplating a divorce, should follow.
For one thing, the way a couple separates is very important. If the separation is abrupt or cruelly done, chances are the divorce will cause permanent emotional and financial damage, maybe even ruin.
To prevent a disaster, divorcing partners need to be kind in the way they break the news that a divorce is necessary. Secretly hiring a moving van and arranging for the other spouse to return to an empty house, or having an extramarital affair and arranging for the other to discover it are two common ways of how not to separate.
To have a reasonable divorce, both spouses need to be involved in the decision to divorce as early as possible. Couples-counseling can be a gentle way to separate, a place to talk through the hurt and disappointment. In any event, when one partner is ready to divorce but the other is not, the one who is ready should be patient and allow the other to catch-up. The initiator should never push for a quick resolution to "get it over." Time actually often does help heal wounds.
Another good suggestion for divorcing couples is to avoid making changes as much as possible. Change is stressful. A change to family structure causes enormous stress, so additional modifications should be delayed. For example, the economic status quo should be continued as much as possible. No one should buy a new car or change jobs. The children shouldn't change schools. Consistency will conserve family members' energy, leaving them better able to work on adjusting and recovering.
Another principle that friends, relatives, lawyers and therapists of divorcing men and women should recognize is that taking sides in divorce will make things worse for the divorcing family.
Divorcing spouses are inclined to redefine each other in entirely negative terms, forgetting all that was positive about the marriage. Outsiders who hear only one spouse's point of view, and then in the mistaken belief that they are offering support, join in the disparagement of the other spouse, help trap the divorcing couple in a time warp where the other spouse is forever fixed as the evil-other.
If the divorcing couple has children, getting into such a quagmire
will harm the children as well as the grownups. Instead, supporters of each spouse should listen to their friend or client's complaints, but gently promote a more respectful view of the other spouse. It may not be what each spouse wants to hear at the time, but it will help the divorcing family, especially the children, over the long term.
Kindness, patience and long-term thinking are often difficult to practice in an emotional crisis, and divorce is always emotionally stressful. For those couples who can maintain empathetic self-control, however, divorce can be an experience of growth.
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