A divorce narrative is exactly what it sounds like: your story about your divorce. Of course, narratives aren’t limited to divorce, we have narratives about many aspects of our lives. All of our narratives play an important role in shaping our behaviors and relationships moving forward.
As you move into, through and past your divorce, you will develop a narrative about how your marriage ended. It’s important to note that your divorce narrative may be different than that of our spouse. You will each have your own perspective that will drive how you view what happened.
As you begin to form your divorce narrative, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Relationships are co-created: Challenge yourself to take honest stock of why your marriage failed and your contribution to that failure. What could you have done differently? Do you avoid conflict? Are you critical when you feel defensive? Did you share your needs/wants? Did you listen to your partner? The list could go on and on. It can be painful to think about what you could have done better. However, without this work, you are likely to do the same things in your next relationship.
- People re-create what is familiar: Maybe your parents didn’t handle conflict well, so you avoided it. If you don’t know how to handle conflict differently, you will likely end up doing the same thing over again. For the sake of future relationships, an honest assessment is critical.
- Find the gray: Some people have a tendency during a divorce to look back and only think about how awful their partner was during the marriage. Usually, it is much more complicated than that. There were likely some good times that drove why you came together in the first place. Remembering those good qualities and mourning the loss of the marriage is important because it is a much more integrated story than “he was always terrible” and “I never should have married her”.
Your children will also create a narrative about the divorce. This is a story they will tell themselves, friends, and future partners, because it will explain how they think about romantic relationships. You have a lot of control in your ability to shape your portion of the narrative.
- How do I want them to talk about it?: This question can help you step back and think about how you want this divorce to look like to your kids. You might set a goal such as; I want my children to feel like children, not children of divorce. Your kids might talk about their parents’ divorce as a time they felt sad, but they might also say things about how their parents could be at an event and be kind to each other or how they always helped them pick out a gift for holidays for the other parent. That is a very different narrative than I grew up afraid to have fun with one parent because I knew the other would be too sad.
- The divorce process: You will make choices before, during and after the divorce that will impact your child’s experience of the divorce. Choosing an alternative dispute resolution method (mediation or Collaborative Divorce) sets the table for the process to be more constructive and lower in conflict. High conflict is the best predictor of poor outcomes for children in divorce, so it is something to be mindful of throughout the process.
- Explore their feelings: Your child’s experience of the divorce will be different at 5 and 15. Allow them to express their feelings about the divorce. It can be painful for parents to hear that their kids are angry or sad, but pretending those feelings don’t exist is invalidating. Instead of trying to make it all fine (“now you get to have two houses!”), just listen and try to understand when they talk about their concerns (“It’s really hard to go back and forth every week”). Giving kids the space to talk about their experiences creates a more integrated narrative.
For both you and your children, the divorce will always be part of your story. That doesn’t mean that it has to be the whole story. Lengthy, drawn-out battles in court take up a lot of space in childhood that could be filled with other things. You cannot control your spouse’s divorce narrative, but you can get the support you need (personally and professionally) to go through the process in the healthiest way possible, and that is a good thing to model for your kids.