Whether you are thinking about the possibility of divorce or are already in the middle of one, it’s helpful to understand that you are actually facing two parallel experiences: your legal divorce and your real divorce.
The legal divorce has very limited concerns. They include getting a judgment of divorce, which involves agreements and arrangements related to your property, your children, and support (if any). If you have a high degree of conflict, it is also about keeping the peace and protecting you, your children and your property. That’s it; that’s all the legal divorce is about.
The law is used to impose a decision in your case only when there is a disagreement that has been brought into court. If you can reach a fair written agreement with your spouse, you can get almost any terms you like without much reference to laws. Where children are concerned, the court will expect that your agreement with your spouse ensures that they are reasonably well supported and protected.
All you get from your legal divorce is a piece of paper — a Judgment — with findings of fact and court orders on the above subjects. That’s all. This is what all the fuss is about; this is what people go to attorneys for and spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get — a piece of paper with orders about peace, property, custody, and support. (Divorce mediation is a great way to deal with your legal divorce with less expense, heartache and stress.)
You might think that a legal divorce will solve your problems, but it probably won’t. It is critically important that you understand this so that you don’t set yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
Your real divorce is about ending one life and beginning another, then making it work — spiritually, emotionally and practically. The real divorce is about breaking old patterns, making a new life and seeking a new center of balance. It’s about doing your best with the hand you’ve been dealt.
Understanding some basic things about how the real divorce works will help you enormously in dealing with yourself, your spouse and your list of practical problems.
How you feel is probably the most real thing in your life right now. Nothing else in your life is as real as your pain, your fear, your anger, hurt, guilt, tension, nervousness, illness, 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.
In your real divorce, you face these challenges:
- Emotional: This is about breaking (or failing to break) the bonds, patterns, dependencies, and habits that attach you to your ex-spouse. It’s about learning to let go of anger, fear, hurt, guilt, blame, and resentment. 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 (hopefully) openness to new intimate relationships.
- Physical: Our minds and bodies are not separate and life does not come in these neat boxes. Emotions, especially strong ones, which are ignored, denied or repressed, are frequently expressed physically. During divorce, people tend to experience a lot of tension and nervousness. They get ill frequently and have accidents. This is a time when you must take extra good care of your health, pay close attention to your body, and be extra careful when driving.
- Practical: This is about taking care of business on the physical plane — including the legal divorce. It’s the nuts and bolts of what to do, where to go, and 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 life-style that produces what you need and needs no more than you can produce.
Going through major life changes and re-creating your life is demanding, hard work, but it may be the most important thing you ever do. And, unless you decide to get counseling or go into therapy, the real divorce won’t cost a dime!This material is adapted from Ed Sherman’s award-winning book, “Make any Divorce Better.”