How to Have a Civilized Divorce

A calm, even affectionate, divorce is possible. Marriage breakdowns often degenerate into bitterness quite unnecessarily. If you believe a civilized divorce is both desirable and possible, try the following:

1) Recognise that the end of a marriage doesn’t have to be someone’s fault. Many people feel that unless anger, bitterness, and even hatred are involved, they are doing something wrong. You aren’t. Don’t whip up anger and hate where none existed. Marriages can simply run their course. Perhaps the chemistry was never quite right and things came to a natural end, with neither partner able to maintain the lie any longer. Never forget that most people find marriage hard. Sharing a small living space, and especially a toilet, bathroom, and bed, with the same person year in year out is never easy.

2) Remember that divorce is a positive thing. The comedian Louis CK once joked that divorce is the good bit because no happy marriage ever ends, adding that he needed his friend’s sympathies while he was married, not now that he was divorced. Happy marriages do not end. Two individuals are making one another miserable and decide to separate. That is a positive step. Divorce, like most things in life, is a matter of perspective. You can choose to see this as the end of your life or the beginning of an exciting new chapter.

3) Be wary of divorce attorneys. If you are paying someone to represent you during your divorce, it is in their interest to stir up as much hatred and anger as possible. The more messy, bitter and drawn out a divorce becomes, the more money the attorney will make. Why not do it yourself? People often look back and say “I needed my attorney because things had grown too bitter. My partner and I could never have sat down and discussed things”, failing to see that it was only when the attorneys got involved that things became bitter! In the UK, around 40% of couples now avoid attorneys altogether.

4) Do not allow fear to mutate into anger. Divorce often generates a huge amount of fear. People look to the future and panic about everything from money to loneliness. Any therapist will tell you that frightened people become angry people. You have evolved to equate fear with danger, and danger with the need to attack or defend. Try to rationalise your fears. If possible, seek counselling. Divorce is very common and something most counsellors are trained to deal with. They will help you work through the fear and thus avoid the anger.

5) Do not allow your family or friends to create bitterness and hatred where none existed. When couples announce their intention to divorce, family and friends are inevitably drawn in. Parents and siblings often take divorce as a personal insult. For example, they may reassure their son that “she was never good enough for you” when what they really mean is “how dare she divorce you! She was never good enough for my family/us/me!”. Other family members may now feel free to release years of pent up irritation and dislike. Worst of all are those neighbors and friends who take secret delight in the drama. Never allow anyone to turn your divorce into a soap opera.

Of course, few things are easier than giving advice. But a peaceful, civilized divorce is often easier than many people realize. It is certainly better than the alternative.