Many of us have heard of conscious uncoupling. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin made the phrase famous when they split up. The idea is to lay out a plan to separate in a civilized way instead of the anger-riddled ugly pulling apart that so many people experience. It reminded me of a similar concept I like to call “The Good Divorce,” which might help people move more gently into that next phase of their lives.
If you are moving toward divorce, you are heading toward a murky gray area, one that is not mapped out for you and one that you probably hoped you would never have to navigate. It is easy to fall into a situation full of blame and resentment, where it is all about you versus your soon-to-be-ex. But if you are open to keeping a few important things in mind, you might be able to move through that territory without tearing each other apart more than you already have and without making things harder for the people around you, whether that is your children or your good friends.
The most important thing you can do is to manage your expectations. Try to put the measuring of who gets what and who is getting more aside and focus on what you have to do to dissolve your marriage and get through to the other side. Begin by being very clear about your joint responsibilities, which might include taking care of your children, dealing with finances, and sorting out yearly traditions such as holidays and birthday parties. Take the time to divvy it all up and decide who will do what and who will go to which event throughout the year. Once that is decided, don’t even consider changing it, unless someone is sick or there’s an emergency. In this situation, spontaneity and playing it by ear don’t work. It must all be clearly spelled out and upheld. Make sure to keep those decisions and limits in place.
In order to make The Good Divorce work, contact and communication has to be specific, limited, and purposeful. Along the same lines, the idea that you are there to help each other out in a pinch, such as when you get a flat tire or you’ve locked yourself out of the house, has to shift to learning to rely on other people for assistance. Try to put new support systems in place separate from your ex so they are no longer the first person you think of when you need something. It is an old habit, and breaking it will suit your purposes better than holding on to it, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.
Working together in this way can unite you in your common goal of separating. Then you can create a living environment that will give you the room to pursue an independent life from each other. By accepting and taking responsibility for what you will do, and knowing and being able to count on what your former partner will do, you can focus on your main task: creating a new life for each of you. If you are willing to let go of the blame and criticism and stop fighting, you can make an unworkable marriage a workable divorce.
These are not easy things to do. It means concentrating on what you both stand to gain rather than what each of you is going to lose in the process. If you accept that fact that you are going to feel incredibly sad at times, and you don’t let that surprise you and cause you to lash out, it might make the road smoother as you deal with the some of the harder issues like custody of the children and dividing property. The tasks of separating your bank accounts and putting your house up for sale are often most difficult because they are symbolic of what you no longer have together and can conjure up strong emotions. Knowing this can help you handle your anger and try to be proactive by anticipating what is to come and how you might feel, instead of reactive.
Working through these tasks gently and respectfully, while managing your aggravation and disappointment, can make a huge difference in getting through the divorce, and it is an option that everyone can work toward.