Clearly, relief from becoming divorced is not enough because so many people fall into the trap of continuing the habit of ugliness. It’s as if all the broken dreams, false expectations and harbored resentments have Miracle-Gro added to the mix.
Danny DeVito plays a lawyer in the movie The War of the Roses. He recommends either going back to the beginnings of love to start over or if the beginnings of love to start over or if that’s impossible to be as generous as possible to each other in divorce. Generosity is so rare because fear takes over. Often it’s taken one person a long time to reach this conclusion and the other person is miserable. The disparity in the one who choses to leave and the one who feels dumped is often huge. “How dare you leave me?” vs. “Why are you insisting on hanging on?” are often extreme polarities with lots of opportunity for punishment and payback.
The number one reason to not be ugly in divorce is the kids. Kids need to feel good about both of you. As a partner you will often use anger as a fuel to leave the relationship. You focus on the dark side in order to extinguish hope. While this is understandable, it is unacceptable to share these feelings with your children. The truth is you can ditch your partner and still be grown up enough to know that as hopeless as you may feel about your partner, they still have important talents, abilities and strengths. You have diminished the good things with a fire extinguisher in order to leave. That doesn’t mean the good things aren’t there. Your feelings are erasing good things, you need your thinking to remember that as a parent they still are crucial. Whether or not you even like the other person is irrelevant.
Judith Wallerstein wrote a book called “What About the Kids? A Parents Guide Before, During and After Divorce.” She has done more than 20 years of research. The book is not going to make you feel good about divorce. The book is going to help you understand what to do well for the benefit of your children. Ask your partner to read it also. So educate yourself in order to not indulge the resentful feelings. Get your thinking going to back up the entitled feelings.
Go to therapy and write a 32 page letter, an unedited dump that catalogues every sin for x number of years. Read it out loud to a friend or therapist who will be a witness to the pain. Then consider writing a goodbye letter that has more balance. Catalogue the good and the bad. Take responsibility for your part in the problems. Address your experience of hurt/betrayal. Write a grown up letter that addresses the complicatedness of your problems and the tragedy of a relationship dying. Sit on the letter a week and then decide whether or not to give it to your partner. If you give a letter, you must be prepared to receive one. The truth of the death of love lies in between the two of you. Neither of you can escape responsibility, it is always shared. This exercise will help you gain more perspective and interrupt that easy path of blame.
Never trash or blame the other parent to the kids. Don’t make your kid your buddy because you now sleep alone and feel lonely. Make yourself remember what is good about your ex. Don’t create an environment where a kids feels, “I have to pick Mom’s (or Dad’s) team.” Encourage your kids to be honest about what they find difficult in divorce. Don’t pretend it’s wonderful to have 2 bedrooms in 2 homes. Let them be authentic instead of pretending it’s okay because you need them to protect you. Listen to them with respect instead of interrupting them with platitudes. Life is hard and learning to adapt to difficult things is part of the deal. They don’t like divorce and that is completely understandable. Make sure they are not an audience for your long history of misery.