Read an Excerpt
Excerpt fromChapter 1: The Healthy Way
Real Life Stories
The marriage had no heartbeat. We were quietly suffocating. I moved out. We agreed we would work things out with the kids and the money. Three months later the only people still speaking were our attorneys. I don't know how it happened. I was depressed and felt lost without the kids. I was tired of being the deep pocket, tired of trying to take care of everything. There she was, sitting pretty in the big house, with the good car, and, most importantly, the kids. I wanted her to go back to work. I wanted to be with the kids more. I tried, I really tried to talk to her. She said I was pushing. I couldn't make her understand money was tight, that I was close to the edge. She said she was owed. She was tired of reigning herself in, tired of putting everyone else first. We got into horrible fights every time we tried to discuss it. The fights got worse. We couldn't talk anymore. I started to panic. She was being unreasonable. I was afraid I was going to lose everything if I didn't do something. I really tried to work with her. She just wouldn't listen. I had to call my attorney. I feel very bad about how things went.
- Bill, divorced father
I wanted to stay on friendly terms for the kids' sake. They needed both of us. He was angry that it was taking me so long to find a job. The truth of the matter was that I was terrified. I hadn't worked for ten years. I wanted to ease back into it, go to school, build up my confidence. He couldn't understand. I tried to explain that I needed time. He said that if I wanted to be on my own I had to learn how to take care of myself. I couldn't have it both ways. Then he'd start to yell about all he had done for me and make these ridiculous demands. We couldn't talk about it anymore. He wasn't being fair. I helped him through school. My friends said I deserved spousal support. I felt my survival was at stake. I had no choice. I didn't think it would turn out like this. There's terrible tension between us now. It is not good for the children. Maybe in a few years we will get over it.
- Sue, divorced mother
More and more couples today are striving to have a civilized, healthier divorce. They want to protect their children, reach a fair settlement, and still be able to talk to each other afterward. But manylike Bill and Sueget caught in an inexorable web of failed communication, threats and accusations, and escalating legal positions. They get off the track and can't get back on. They simply don't have the skills to successfully navigate the treacherous legal and emotional terrain of a dissolving marriage.
The idea of divorcing with decency is a relatively recent phenomenon that provides us with few road maps to follow. We may know what to avoid but not how to avoid it. We know what is destructive but not how to be more constructive. For forty years our legal system has cast divorcing spouses as opponents rather than as joint decision makers. Everything was routinely handed over to lawyers. The individual may have won, but the family usually lost. This legacy has left us few, if any, role models for collaboratively resolving the issues of divorce.
We are taught to take responsibility for the course of a marriage but not for the course of divorce. When we marry, we understand the importance of commitment, compromise, and communication. A successful marriage doesn't always follow, but we do try hard. The consequences are understood; no one wants the marriage to fail. The consequences of a bad divorce are also understoodcontinuing hostilities and conflict, exorbitant legal fees, and children caught in the middle. But there are no more commitments between separated individuals. There are no more rules of conduct. In most divorces, it is each spouse for him or herself. Many couples think that their responsibility for working anything out ends the day one of them walks out the door.
The fact of the matter is that a healthy divorce, like a healthy marriage, requires effort. Most of us are totally unprepared for the hard work and commitment involved in keeping a divorce respectful. Those couples who have remained on reasonable terms with each other worked very hard at it. This doesn't mean that the ex-spouses weren't angry at each other or that their marriage lacked passion. They simply wanted to keep their divorce from becoming a war zone. You don't have to let the acrimony and anguish that comes from severing emotional bonds destroy your family or poison your future. You do have a choice.
This book will show you how to deal with your spouse without making a lifelong enemy of him or her. It will show you how to work through your pain without turning it into paralyzing rage. It will teach you how to get beyond placing blame and find solutions. It will show you how to manage and negotiate the conflicts you face instead of escalating them; how to be joint problem solvers instead of legal adversaries; and, how to bridge the raging river of divorce instead of establishing armed camps on either side. You will see that it is possible to create a respectful divorce process that will allow you to build a healthy foundation for the post-divorce family.
New Divorce Rituals
The way we divorce in our culture dishonors the institution of marriage. Marriage is one of the most important relationships we form in life. Its beginning is endowed with ceremony, sanctity, and hope. Its ending is marked by professionally orchestrated ritualized combat, which, more often than not, leaves in its wake a trail of bitterness and hostility that ruptures families forever. Look at the rituals to which we have become accustomedfinding the best attorney in town first, jockeying for legal advantage, closing bank accounts, staking claim of the family residence, and grabbing whatever you can get your hands on before your spouse does. The vindictiveness runs so deep that some spouses want to destroy each other, using the legal system as their weapon. Others act in underhanded ways out of fear of what their partner will do. In my twenty-five years of practice, most people I have met whose divorce was bitter and acrimonious wished it hadn't been that way.
In divorce we don't have the benefit of ceremony or ritual as we do with other life transitions. Rituals surrounding mating and death are well establishedpeople band together in the celebration of a marriage; you are surrounded in your sorrow when a loved one dies. In divorce, you are alone. Where do you turn when divorce comes into your life? You pay a lawyer a $2,000 retainer because you don't know what else to do. You start the clock on countdown for the marital spoils. This is rarely helpful in the long run. As one man said, "There ought to be a better way to let go of twenty years of your life than court."