Sometimes the desire to divorce is mutual. More often one spouse is wanting the divorce and the other is against it or at best is only slowly getting used to the idea. In either case, both spouses typically have a swirl of feelings: resentment, anxiety, desperation, excitement, despondency, anger, sadness. The list goes on. Wherever you are at, your feelings are real, they are valid, and they are probably going to impact what comes up during the divorce proceedings.
Generally speaking, a divorce is going to go one of two ways, and you get to choose.
The most typical scenario goes something like this:
You and your spouse fight through the whole process. One or both of you don’t feel heard or understood. You might feel you got the short end of the stick, but at least it’s done and you’re starting your new life.
When you try to make arrangements to pick up or drop off kids, there is tension and sometimes fighting. The kids are aware of the tension and sometimes overhear you speaking disrespectfully to or about each other. The kids feel disrespected and also wonder if they are somewhat to blame. They take in the negativity and unconsciously (or consciously) decide that love is painful. They feel put in the middle, used, ashamed, or like they have to choose — even though neither parent means for that to happen.
When you start dating again, your spouse takes it badly and the friction between you increases. It’s not spoken of, but it causes rifts and difficulty in interactions.
For years to come, when attending birthday gatherings, weddings, funerals, or other social engagements, it’s awkward and upsetting to be in your ex-spouse’s presence. Your kids are put in the tricky position of not knowing who to invite to things, and can feel like they have to play more of a parental role and take care of the two you, so your feelings aren’t hurt and you’re not fighting with each other. It pains them when they feel like the only choice is that one of you will feel left out or everyone will feel the tension of you both being there at the same time.
When you look back on the time when you were splitting up, you wish you’d managed things very differently.
What’s missing in this scenario? The hallmark of a good outcome is a good process. What was missing for this couple was an awareness of “how” they were pursuing their divorce. Instead, these two were simply on autopilot, doing their divorce and the rest of their lives the same way they did their marriage: without much reflection on the “how.” They dragged the pain and dysfunction of their marriage into their future lives. They never got away from it.
Many people don’t know there is another way.
Here’s a version of a more conscious scenario:
You and your spouse take a few moments to step back and get aligned on how you are going to move through the difficult process of separation. You commit together to a collaborative process, and to the explicit rules of engagement of that process. You use an attorney-mediator who specializes in being a conscious guide, helping you calmly navigate the emotional and legal terrain of divorce. Because mediators are neutral to the outcome and to the two parties, each spouse can trust that he or she will not be mislead. At times with elegance, and other times with crunchiness, you reach a satisfactory resolution, through respect and honoring of each other.
By practicing good rules of engagement through the divorce process and seeing how they worked to move the process forward without too much collateral damage, you agree to operate this way in your new relationship as co-parents. Your kids notice how well the communication between you goes when you are arranging logistics. They feel the calmness and respect between the two of you and it makes their transition into two households easier to accept. They begin to internalize a way of interacting that honors the other, and it affects their friendships and romantic relationships for the rest of their lives.
Eventually these ways of being become second nature to you and all of the relationships in your life seem to benefit from them. Your friends and family are impressed at the way the two of you navigated through the big divorce transition and feel inspired that they might be able to do something similar if the time comes.
It is our hope that these stories, taken from real-life examples, inspire readers to think carefully about how to pursue divorce.
Choosing to divorce “consciously” means giving the process focused attention — choosing to rise above the content at times, and noticing the “how.” With proper support, divorcing couples can design and implement a way of being and interacting that is aligned with their highest values.
If you are contemplating divorce, consider how the process you choose honors yourself and your life’s journey, and models for your children and the wider community who will, in meaningful ways, be witnessing your process. Consider that a conscious process often leads to a better, more sound settlement for all involved. And consider that a conscious process can best help you move forward with a sense of both peace and empowerment.
Peter Fabish and John Hoelle are the co-founders of Conscious Family Law & Mediation LLC, offering collaborative divorce mediation, or legal representation with strength and integrity, in metro Denver/Boulder, Colorado.