- Around 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce.
- Getting divorced is emotional but also lots of work.
- We talked to Susan Pease Gadoua, licensed therapist, about what to do to make your divorce less painful.
Most couples don’t walk down the aisle with the expectation of ending up in a divorce attorney’s office. However, between 40 and 50% of married partners in the United States do end up divorcing. Though there’s no easy way to end a marriage, there are some things that can help make splitting up less terrible.
To figure out what makes for a successful divorce, INSIDER spoke to licensed therapist Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW, co-author of “The New I Do“; and psychotherapist Linda Esposito, LCSW, creator of the online course “Co-Parenting Without Chaos: Lose the Drama, Drop Your Toxic Ex, Keep Your Kids Safe”.
Whether you’re considering parting ways with a spouse or are already embroiled in a challenging breakup, here are a few things that experts say may help to make your divorce as painless as possible.
When giving the news to family members, make it short and sweet.
One of the first hurdles many divorcing couples face is the prospect of breaking the news to those they care about. When you need to tell friends or family about your impending divorce, Gadoua recommended being direct.
“The best way to tell family members that you and your spouse are getting a divorce is to simply be honest, upfront and unapologetic about your situation,” Gadoua said. “Generally speaking, people respond best to hard news when it is delivered this way.”
If you are very nervous about getting a big reaction when you tell someone, you may want to prepare them ahead of time in writing by letting them know you have some difficult news to share.
Don’t feel obligated to give detailed explanations for your divorce.
According to Esposito, honest, authentic, and brief responses are all that’s required when talking to people about your divorce.
“Making space and time to deal with the emotional turmoil in your life means limiting unnecessary or lengthy explanations. Bottom line: your life, your divorce, your future.”
Though you may feel obligated to explain exactly why your marriage is ending, especially to loved ones, you don’t actually owe anyone the details of your personal life.
“If a family member has an inappropriate reaction or starts offering unsolicited advice, you can thank them for caring and let them know that you are not in a position to hear what they have to say. Then politely excuse yourself,” Gadoua told INSIDER.
Be honest, but don’t feel you need to justify your decision or invite feedback. Ultimately, the divorce is between you and your partner.
Be prepared for the possibility that your ex-partner may change radically during the divorce process.
Obviously, once a couple has reached the point of divorce, there is likely to be some degree of disagreement and unhappiness in the relationship. But as Gadoua related to INSIDER, it’s not unheard for one partner to become uncharacteristically hostile during a divorce.
“I have seen situations where one person seems to almost flip a switch and go from being partner and co-parent to opponent. They see divorce as a competition to be won and they begin to objectify the person they married. They then they act in aggressive ways that are unrecognizable to the other spouse,” she said.
This kind of radical shift in behaviour can be devastating to the partner on the receiving end of the antagonism, especially if they still see their soon-to-be-ex as the person they once loved or their co-parent.
“Having the person who vowed to be with them and love them forever now treat them with such indifference can be nothing short of devastating,” Gadoua warned.
It’s important to make sure you’re emotionally prepared for the possibility that your former partner may act differently towards you during a divorce and to have a solid plan for coping.
Sometimes, equal custody of children isn’t ideal for anyone.
Many parents want to share custody of children equally, but this isn’t always feasible. Divorcing parents should keep geography, work schedules, and finances in mind when deciding how time with the children will be divided.
“The most important thing that couples can do is be honest about what is in the best interest of the children. For example, if a couple is fighting about how much custody each parent will have, they should think about the child’s temperament, needs and practicalities – not how much child support they will have to pay or how much child support they will receive if the time is split 70/30, for example,” said Gadoua.
If one parent is planning a move that will seriously disrupt a child’s schooling or ability to connect with friends and family, it might be better to consider a custodial arrangement that will lessen the impact of the divorce on the child.
Don’t pull the children into the emotional side of divorce.
The worst thing that divorcing couples can do is involve their kids in the emotional problems between partners, according to Esposito.
“Never involve the kids. Divorce is an adult issue which requires adult remediation,” she said.
If your divorce involves custody disputes or any other conflicts pertaining to shared children, it’s best to settle them without dragging those children into the fray. The changing status of your relationship with your former spouse should not undermine your relationship with your children.
It’s crucial to make sure you’re getting the emotional support that you need.
Divorce represents the dissolution of one of the most important relationships in your life. If you’re used to leaning on your former spouse for emotional support, it can be disorienting to suddenly lose that source of stability and understanding. That’s why it’s so important to tap into relationships with friends and family to help you through this difficult time.
“I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting sufficient emotional support. So often, I see men and women trying to get through divorce without asking for help for fear of leaning on anyone too heavily. This makes divorce much harder than it has to be,” said Gadoua.
Don’t be afraid of asking for a shoulder to cry on or help with the logistical side of divorce, like moving house or childcare. Chances are that those who love you are actually looking for a way to help.
Consider joining a divorce support group.
Sometimes, sharing your feelings with friends and family might not feel like enough. If you’re reluctant to open up about your emotional struggles with people close to you or you feel as if it’s difficult for your loved ones to act as neutral parties, it might help to seek out a divorce support community.
“If it is at all possible, I recommend joining a divorce support group. This way, you are with other people who understand what you’re going through. They will never judge you or get tired of hearing your story,” Gadoua recommended.
Connecting with people who are also dealing with divorce can help you shed any sense of isolation you may be experiencing as well as prevent you from feeling marginalized by friends and family.
Having a prenuptial agreement can make divorce much easier.
As Gadoua pointed out, newlywed couples actually get a default prenuptial agreement whether they realise it or not – it’s called state law. This means that when two people divorce and don’t have their own agreements in place, they need todefer=”defer”to the law to figure out how property will be disbursed.
But there’s another reason that formalising a pre-nup – or post-nup, if you’re already married – is a good idea. It usually leads to revealing conversations about how the other person envisions the partnership in the future.
“Prenups get couples talking about difficult issues such as money and role expectations, prior to making their relationship legal. You find out quite a lot about your partner when you have these kinds of discussions. Things that might make you not want to marry him or her,” Gadoua told INSIDER.
Mediation isn’t always the best option for every couple.
Divorce mediation is when a couple uses a neutral third party professional mediator to settle property, custody, tax, and financial support issues outside of the legal system. This differs from a litigated divorce case when the couple uses lawyers to reach agreement in court. Many couples opt for mediation because it is less expensive and more confidential than litigation.
However, mediation isn’t the best option for every couple. As Gadoua explained, mediation can actually be inefficient and damaging when used by the wrong kind of couple.
“Mediation is ideal for couples that have a balance of both emotional power and knowledge about finances. If one person in the couple has done all the bookkeeping for years, they have a distinct advantage over the other person in terms of knowing the numbers,” Gadoua said.
Where there is this kind of power imbalance, mediation is often not a good choice because the more powerful spouse might dominate the less powerful spouse in order to achieve their desired outcome.
Even if you do use mediation, you should probably involve a lawyer at some point.
If you’re on amicable terms with your soon-to-be ex, mediation might be a smart route to take for a relatively painless and inexpensive divorce. However, it’s usually worth enlisting the help of a lawyer at some point to make sure your agreements make good legal sense.
“When couples are able to do their own divorce around the kitchen table or use mediation, they will want to consult with an attorney and have them look over the final paperwork. Making sure that someone with a ‘legal eye’ looks at the fine print goes a long way to avoiding mistakes,” Gadoua suggested.
In cases where one person in the couple has a mental illness or personality disorder or will simply be a difficult person to divorce, Gadoua also recommended that litigation could be a better option than mediation from the start.
You may need to accept that assets might not be divided equally.
On the surface, spitting shared assets down the middle makes sense. But it’s rare for most divorces to play out that easily.
“Many people are looking for settlements to feel fair. Attorneys I know say that there is no such thing as fair when it comes to divorce. I think when people can let go of that expectation up front, it can make the process easier,” Gadoua advised.
Instead of being determined to split every last dollar equally, it might be more helpful to focus on trying to resolve the divorce as efficiently and peaceably as possible.
“Divorce … does not usually bring out the best in anyone. Knowing this can help each person rise to the occasion and give more than they are comfortable giving or take less than they are comfortable taking,” said Gadoua.
If you’re divorcing an abusive partner, don’t do it alone.
Removing yourself from a physically or emotionally damaging domestic situation is a courageous and positive step, but you shouldn’t try to handle the process alone.
“Divorcing an abusive or potentially abusive partner is never easy. In fact, this is the trickiest of all situations. I recommend getting as much professional support as you can afford … I think if you are going to err, err in the direction of getting too much support rather than not enough,” said Gadoua.
If you don’t have much financial flexibility, you might want to inquire at your local courthouse about whether there are low-fee services available. Don’t be afraid to use community resources to get you safely through the divorce process.
It’s important to go through this process as carefully and safely as possible. For more information and resources, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Embracing the pain of divorce might actually make it easier to handle.
Trying to avoid the feelings of loss and pain that come with divorce is natural. However, shoving your emotions aside for too long can backfire.
“I have seen people try very hard to avoid the pain that comes with divorce only to prolong the process because they’re not willing to feel important feelings that are unavoidable. Those feelings simply lay in wait until the person trying to avoid them is somehow vulnerable. Then, the pain hits them like a tsunami,” said Gadoua.
Instead, Gadoua advised that individuals try to deal with their feelings in a consistent, steady and direct way in order to make difficult emotions more manageable and help them dissipate faster.
“Pain is inherent with divorce – even under the best of circumstances. Ironically, I think that when people allow pain to be present, it can actually pass quicker,” she said.
Above all else, try to be kind to each other.
As in all relationships, a little kindness goes a long way. Esposito suggested that the number one thing people should do to make their divorce as painless as possible is simply be nice.
“Being kind to one another goes a long way toward mitigating the end of the marriage. Learn from your mistakes, thank your ex partner for the lessons, and move on.”
Though every divorce is different and the circumstances of your separation might be bitter, being as decent and kind as possible to your former partner might help you both heal a little quicker and avoid disputes down the road.
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