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Collaborative DivorceThe Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life
By Pauline Tesler
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Pauline Tesler
All right reserved.
The Old or The New Way of Divorce?
You Have a Choice
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.
-- M. Scott Peck
You don't need to be a lawyer or a psychologist to know that going through a divorce is one of life's roughest passages. It can cause a myriad of emotional responses that at times makes you feel overwhelmed and limits your ability to think clearly or make good choices. Unfortunately, this occurs at the very time you are called upon to make some of the most important decisions of your life.
For many people, the ending of a marriage is a time of temporary "diminished capacity." By diminished capacity, we mean a period during which the person you thought you were -- competent, thoughtful, considerate, reasonable, fair-minded, resilient -- disappears for days or weeks at a time. The person you generally knowyourself to be is temporarily replaced by an unfamiliar and frightening self who can hardly summon up enough energy to get out of bed; wallows in fear, confusion, or anger; or jumps to hasty conclusions in order to end the conflicting impulses about what to do and how to behave.
Recovering from the shock of a failed marriage involves moving through that initial period of diminished capacity, until gradually, more and more of the time, your predivorce "best self" is back at the helm. Most people can expect to feel something like their old, predivorce selves in eighteen to twenty-four months from the time of the divorce decree, though it happens more quickly for some and more slowly for many. During that recovery period, it is quite common for people to veer suddenly and dramatically from day to day, or even hour to hour, between optimism and darkest pessimism, between cooperative good humor and frightening rage.
You may be experiencing such intense emotions as you come to terms with the possible -- or actual -- ending of your marriage. Most people do, at least some of the time. Keeping the focus on best intentions and good decision making in light of that reality is what collaborative divorce is all about.
Thinking clearly about what kind of divorce you want and how you'll get there may be an unfamiliar concept to you. Most people are surprised to learn that the choices made right at the start of the divorce process have a great impact on what kind of a divorce experience they will have. Even when people do understand the high stakes of those early choices, thinking clearly and making intelligent choices at that time can be very challenging, because divorce is an emotional wild ride like no other. Even very reasonable and civilized people can find unexpected, hard-to-manage emotions popping up at the most inconvenient times, particularly during the early months of a separation and divorce -- exactly the time when you will be making decisions that determine what kind of divorce you are likely to get and how your divorce will affect the rest of your life.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Divorce
Divorce is an emotional task unlike any other in modern society, and different people experience it in different ways. While some individuals go through nearly all of the extreme emotional states that we describe here, others have an easier time getting through this period and will maneuver these choppy waters with more skill. The important thing to remember is that all the emotions we discuss are normal, but while some are readily acknowledged by the people experiencing them, others are so uncomfortable that it's difficult even to admit they exist. The wide array of emotional states that many people experience during the early stages of the divorce process can diminish their capacity to think clearly, impair their judgment, and make rational decision making difficult or impossible.
grief and sorrow
Being sad when a marriage ends is natural. Although it's painful, grief is a healthy emotional response to the loss of an important relationship. We are hardwired to feel it, and it wouldn't be reasonable to expect otherwise. While sorrow and grief can be very hard to handle, most people do understand and accept the inevitability of these feelings.
We know from research, theoretical writings, and personal experience with thousands of people going through divorces that though the emotional impact of a divorce is as severe as that of a death in the immediate family, the grief and recovery process does have a beginning, middle, and end. Though they may seem endless, the pain and confusion surrounding separation and divorce do gradually lighten and finally go away -- for most people over a period of eighteen months to three or four years following the marital separation, though recovery can be quicker or slower.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the hospice movement, first described the stages of grieving about and recovering from a major trauma such as death or divorce:
Denial: "This is not happening to me. It's all a misunderstanding. It's just a midlife crisis. We can work it out."
Anger and resentment: "How can he [she] do this to me? What did I ever do to deserve this? This is not fair!"
Bargaining: "If you'll stay, I'll change" or "If I agree to do it [money, childrearing, sex, whatever] your way, can we get back together?"
Depression: "This is really happening, I can't do anything about it, and I don't think I can bear it."
Acceptance: "Okay, this is how it is, and I'd rather accept it and move on than wallow in the past."
Understanding these stages can be very helpful when it comes to talking about divorce and decision making. It's important to know that when you are in the early stages of this . . .
Excerpted from Collaborative Divorce by Pauline Tesler Copyright © 2006 by Pauline Tesler. Excerpted by permission.
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