Divorce is one of those life events that no-one wishes for: it’s not on any bucket lists. And its very nature: the end of a marriage, the legal process, living separately, is going to feel hard. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to improve the whole experience. Here are five ways to make your divorce kinder.
1. Be future focussed
Last year ‘no fault’ divorce came into force, doing away with the need to blame a party for the end of the marriage (or separate and wait at least two years). This, and other process changes which you can read about here, is great news. It means you don’t enter the divorce process by picking over ‘what went wrong’. Instead you can look to the future, a much kinder approach.
It’s so important to have a compelling vision for your future. I’m not saying you have to have every detail planned out. But having a sense of what good things await you, during and after your divorce will keep you going through the harder times. So spend some time thinking about what you’d like your future to hold, once you’re free from your marriage. What excites you? What motivates you? Write it all down and keep it handy. This vision is what will get you through the hard days, in a much kinder way than deadlines or badgering from a solicitor will.
2. Watch your communication
It’s incredible how much we can influence those around us, simply by how we communicate. As a NLP (neuro linguistic programming) practitioner I’ve witnessed the impact of language on our own behaviours and those of others hundreds of times.
Effective communication in divorce is calm, clear and future focussed. However much you might be carrying hurt from your soon-to-be-ex’s behaviour in the past, this is not the time to address it with them. There is simply no point going over old ground. Look to the future. Don’t let them get into your head – you have more compelling, exciting things ahead of you.
It’s likely both you and your soon-to-be-ex will feel angry and express this to each other at some point. But, your soon-to-be-ex and their feelings are no longer your business. They may want to engage in power games. They may be rude and demanding. Aim to rise above it. Respond coolly, after taking a break and ranting to a trusted friend, me or the women in The Absolute Academy.
If communication from your ex-spouse is heated, employ the BIFF response from high conflict expert Billy Eddy. Keep your communication:
- Brief: don’t say or write more than necessary
- Informative: stick to the facts, rather than blame or emotional commentary
- Friendly: you don’t have to be overly friendly, but a little relaxed civility rather than antagonism will go a long way
- Firm: be clear on your stance on the matter – more on this next.
3. Set boundaries
Maybe, like me, you were brought up to be a ‘good girl’. To do what other people wanted. But, as you probably know by now, this is exhausting, and can actually get you into situations that aren’t kind for you or others. You can treat yourself and others with kindness, without having to do what everyone else wants all the time.
Boundaries are simply you stating what is acceptable to you. And then acting in accordance with that. You can set boundaries around your time and your communication with all aspects of your divorce. For example, you can decide that you will not discuss divorce issues by text, or at the weekend. The key thing about your boundary, though, is how you follow through on it. Whether you’re setting a boundary with your soon-to-be-ex, your family or your workplace, you can’t control what they do. We’ll take a look at that situation next.
4. Remember what you can control
There’s so much in life we can’t control: the weather, the legal system, other people’s actions (although wise communication strategies often has a helpful influence).
When it comes down to it, the only things we can control are our responses. The magic of boundaries isn’t only in setting them: it’s in enforcing them. You can’t control what your soon-to-be-ex, your manager, or your sister-in-law does. But you can decide to respond in a way that’s consistent with the boundary you’ve set.
So what happens if your ex-spouse demands an email response on a Sunday, and you’ve already laid down a boundary? You can’t control that they’ve ignored your boundary. But you can control what you do about it. Don’t respond on the Sunday. And on the Monday, reiterate to them, and their legal team, that you will not be available on Sundays.
Sometimes boundary crossing can be more serious, especially if you have a high conflict ex. Always seek help if you are concerned for your safety. If you want to talk specifics around boundary setting and your situation, this is always a hot topic of conversation in The Absolute Academy, and you are very welcome to join us.
Remembering what you can control, and what you can’t, can be a huge liberation. You are not responsible for everyone else. Just yourself. Focus on that.
5. Give yourself space
One of the kindest things you can do during divorce is give yourself space to simply ‘be’. Wise communication and effective boundary enforcement is hard work. It involves emotional maturity, at a time when you probably just want to channel your inner toddler and rage away. You can’t keep it up 24/7. So allow yourself space to collapse, to be unreasonable, to rant, to be looked after.
The Absolute Academy is here for all of that. Yes, it’s a place for your wise, logical self: a hub where you can get your divorce plan sorted and work out communication strategies with people who know what they’re talking about.
But it’s also a place where you can flop. Where you can vent, you can wish things were different, and know that you’ll be heard with kindness and understanding.
Divorce can feel lonely, confusing and exhausting. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be kind. It can introduce you to people who genuinely have your back. Seek those people out.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com