There is more to getting through a divorce than having your divorce papers finalized, because ending a marriage is more than just a legal issue. It involves separating your life and identity from another person, helping your children cope with their new reality, possibly moving from your home, and starting over your life over again. To help you understand some of the other aspects of divorce, read this excerpt from Ed Sherman's new book, "Make Any Divorce Better!"
Before digging into the legal divorce, let's look at your real divorce -- how you feel right now. This is about ending one life and starting another, getting a new center of balance and making it work -- spiritually, emotionally and practically.
The state of your emotions has great practical significance. In order to make sound decisions -- indeed, to solve any problems -- you need to be aware of your inner condition and, often, that of your spouse. You need to know how to deal with emotional issues and how not to get stuck in psychological traps. Understanding basic things about how the real divorce works will help you in dealing with yourself, your spouse, your legal divorce and your list of practical problems.
Possibly the most real thing in your life right now is the way you feel. Nothing else is as real as your pain, fear, anger, hurt, guilt, tension, nervousness, illness, or depression -- whatever it is you are feeling. The practical tasks you face are also very real -- how to get by financially, how to rearrange the parenting of your children, what to say to family and friends, what to do next, and so on. Your real divorce, then, presents these challenges:
This is about breaking (or failing to break) the bonds, patterns, dependencies, and habits that attach you to your ex-spouse -- learning to let go and get beyond anger, fear, hurt, guilt, blame, and resentment. Over time, you learn about past mistakes so you don't have to repeat them; you develop a balanced view of yourself, your ex-spouse, and your marriage; you create self-confidence and openness to new intimate relationships.
Our minds and bodies are not separate. Emotions -- especially strong ones that are ignored, denied or repressed -- are frequently expressed physically. During divorce, people tend to experience a lot of tension, nervousness, and insecurity. They get ill frequently and have accidents. This is a time when you must focus on relaxation and take extra good care of your health.
This is about taking care of business, including your legal divorce. It's the nuts and bolts of what to do, where to go, how to get there as you begin to build a new life for yourself. You need to create safety and security for yourself and your children; to make ends meet in a new lifestyle that produces what you need and needs no more than you can produce -- in other words, living within your new level of income.
In contrast to the real divorce, the legal divorce is specifically about property, custody, support and, in high-conflict cases, keeping the peace. Whatever you go through to get it, what you end up with is a bit of paper with court orders written on it. So, what does the legal divorce accomplish for your real divorce?
Surprisingly little, as you will see -- it is just a subcategory of the practical real divorce. But the legal divorce does have important symbolic value. When you file those papers, it makes an important statement to your spouse, to yourself, and to the world that a decision has been made, a new identity and a new direction have been chosen. In practical terms, it forces you to deal with some of your important practical issues (property, custody and support). That's about it for the legal divorce.
The real divorce is what your life is about and how you go about it -- this is your real work in life. And unless you decide to get counseling or go into therapy, the real divorce doesn't cost a dime. It is, however, very costly in terms of personal effort, but here, too, you can reduce the cost by learning to avoid common traps. Going through major life changes -- in other words, recreating your life -- is demanding, painful, hard work, but it may be the most important work you ever do.
Ed Sherman is an attorney, founder of Nolo Press, co-founder of Divorce Helpline, and author of How To Make Any Divorce Better . He has made it his life's work to help people keep their family problems out of the legal grinder -- our adversarial court system.
Getting through a divorce may not be easy, but if you take the time to take care of yourself during the process, it will be a lot less painful. To help you make the best of your situation, keep reading: