With the U.S. divorce rate hovering at around 50% (higher for subsequent marriages), millions of people will experience this life stressor, comparable to dealing with death. So, it’s good to be prepared with some basic knowledge of the legal and psychological aspects of how to divorce with dignity.
Getting divorced is both a process and an experience. Understanding how to balance both your thoughts and your emotions will set you up for a calmer and more mature proceeding.
The good news is that the actual process doesn’t have to be some mysterious or esoteric exercise. On the contrary, an amicable divorce follows a straightforward legal process.Where things get complicated is when emotions hijack our minds and the blaming games start.
Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to influence the dynamics to be as amicable as possible.
A smooth process for ending a relationship with dignity
For the most part, there are three main factors to consider when divorcing with dignity: the children, dividing the assets and debts as well as spousal support.
While there can certainly be hiccups along the way, as long as you do your research and find an experienced family lawyer, you’ll be on the right track. How to divorce with dignity then relies heavily on not just following the process. You also need both parties to stay cordial.
Staying cordial throughout the process is the toughest part and we’ll go into more details shortly. In the meantime, working through a well-managed process can help ground you. Moreover, a good lawyer can iron out minor disagreements.
When it comes to choosing your lawyer, find someone you can speak to easily. Essentially, you need someone who’s willing to include you in all key strategic decisions throughout your case. Clearly, you also want someone certified and who’s transparent about costs and fees.
Most importantly don’t get drawn in by big offices, fancy desks or a string of names on the letterhead. Remember that you are the one who will be paying for all of that!
As part of your due diligence, ask for references and do some thorough groundwork. Go on a couple of consultations and pay for them to get your questions answered.
You likely put a lot of time and money into getting married. So, make sure you don’t get caught on the wrong foot when it comes to getting a divorce with dignity. It will take time and effort.
Divorcing with dignity
Going through a divorce with dignity means separating the emotions from the process. Let your lawyer guide you through the process but don’t vent at them. Of course, they should be compassionate but they’re not your therapist.
A clear and detailed process can help you keep things together. Essentially, the process distracts your mind from any emotional pain. You still need to make sure you get time out to sit with your emotions but not when you’re with your lawyer.
How to divorce with dignity means looking deep inside. It’s too easy to fall into the blame game. Instead, consider how you contributed to the dynamics.
Of course in some cases, yes, the departing spouse has mental issues. Try not to use that knowledge to justify yourself though. The wiser approach is to meet those issues with compassion. At the very least, you don’t add fuel to the fire.
At the core of compassion is mindfulness. Consider thedefinition of mindfulness as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” according to scientist and teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D.
With mindfulness, you stay curious about what’s happening around you. You don’t judge and you don’t blame. That’s the foundation for a divorce with dignity.
Put your bitter experiences aside and make decisions mindfully for a divorce with dignity. You must make sure to not drain your wealth or your mental health.
That doesn’t mean you let your lawyer off the hook. It’s tempting to just pay the retainer and hide under a rock… or the duvet. You still need to stay on top of what is going on in your case and move your lawyer in the right direction if you don’t see any progress.
It is perfectly fine to nudge your lawyer here and there for an update and to see how your money is being spent. Simply do it with assertive compassion. This is the hallmark of a divorce with dignity.
Divorce with wisdom and compassion
We all hear horror stories of divorces that drive the parties into bankruptcy or spend all of the kids’ college funds on lawyer fees. Don’t be that couple. Choose divorce with dignity.
For example, don’t fight a costly battle over an issue just to punish your soon-to-be-ex if the “win” will not be worth the cost of the fight.
It isn’t easy putting aside grievances but it starts with self-compassion. As this article onself-compassion to ease divorce states, you can significantly lower your divorce-related stress.
Listen to your inner critic or inner anger and try to counterbalance their statements. Is it really all your fault or theirs? Does it matter?
It might feel like someone is to blame but the world is more complicated than that. We all play our part in whatever dynamics occur but we are also all human. We suffer and try our best, even your ex.
As part of compassion, we also tap into our common humanity. All of us suffer. All our experiences are slightly different but we all feel the same emotions at some point.
Remember that you are not alone in experiencing these emotions and there is always an endpoint. Everything changes, even emotions.
10 ways to let go of anger & embrace harmony during divorce
We’re not saying that any of this is easy but how to have an amicable divorce starts with the willingness to try. From there, things can only improve. You might also want to get a good therapist to guide you and then perhaps, that amicable divorce is possible.
With all this personal work, you might be able to tap into an alternative approach to your divorce. Litigation isn’t the only answer.Mediation, arbitration, and collaboration are wonderful alternative dispute resolution vehicles and are often more affordable for couples.
To try to get that divorce with dignity, work through this list to help you manage your emotions and to adopt a wiser mindset.
1. Name your emotions to avoid flooding
Handling divorce with dignity means working with your emotions. We tend to fight our emotions and do our best to push them away. Instead, get to know them and name them. That simple step lessens their power over us.
With practice and patience, you can reduce your suffering. The first step is to understand that your brain creates emotions and you add fuel to the fire by creating a story.
So, can you change your story? How can you see the story from an outsider’s point of view or even your ex’s?
Again, this takes time but watch psychology professor and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett explain how emotions work and why you don’t need to be at their mercy in her TED talk.
2. Design your new identity
One of the deeper reasons that getting divorced is so painful is that you’re going through a change in identity. Your whole world has been knocked off its axis and you now have to redefine what it means to be you. That is truly terrifying.
It also involves grieving for your old identity of being a spouse. That’s why you go through the grief cycle and why divorce is as painful as dealing with death. Your past identity is essentially dying.
Shifting into a new lifestyle will take time. See if you can find the positives in this new identity. This will help you transition more smoothly.
3. Let go
Keeping your dignity during a divorce means stepping away from you. The problem with conflict is that our egos step up and become even bigger than usual. They’re trying to protect us but sometimes they go too far.
Instead, try to pause on your personal story and try to imagine what your ex is feeling. What’s their pain? If all you see is anger, what is that anger hiding?
As mentioned, how to go through a divorce with dignity means appreciating that you’re in it together and that you’re both suffering. So, be curious about your ex’s point of view. How can you meet it with compassion?
Of course, in some cases, we face mental issues and even abuse. Those individuals still deserve our compassion but you also need to protect yourself. The best approach is to limit all contact and simply talk through your lawyer or mediator.
5. Connect with your heart and body
The underlying force behind getting a divorce with dignity is the desire to be kind rather than right. Does it really matter who’s right and who’s wrong? Isn’t it just a question of perspective?
It helps if you connect to the here and now as this will calm your mind and stop it from traveling into all its parallel universes. You do this by connecting to the body’s sensations and really feeling the strength of the earth pushing your feet and supporting you.
It is perfectly okay to forgive at times. Forgiving does you more good than it does to the recipient. Handling divorce with dignity then becomes easier because you’re not caught up in the blaming game.
This isn’t to say that we forget any harm or abuse that’s been done or let people off the hook. It just means that we can move on. You don’t have to reconcile the relationship but you do release yourself from anger.
It might sound strange to talk about gratitude when we’re referring to divorce. Nevertheless, to divorce with dignity means finding things to be grateful for.
Just as negative emotions are our most powerful teachers, so challenging experiences can make or break us. You grow much more from challenge and discomfort and in the process, become better able to meet future challenges.
8. Be assertive, compassionately
How to go through a divorce with dignity means being confident in what you want and knowing how to say no calmly. There’s a fine line between being aggressive and assertive. With assertiveness though, you come from a place of mutual respect.
With aggression, someone seeks to be right no matter what. Focus on the big-picture outcome to help you. For instance, consider how getting an amicable divorce can benefit your kids, family and friends, as well as yourself, in the long run.
Let’s not forget that we are dealing with high levels of stress and grief over our past life. We all need help at some point and a therapist can be one of those valuable guides for you.
Don’t let emotions rule the outcome of your divorce. Instead, choose to have dignity during divorce by practicing compassion, mindfulness and a big-picture mindset.
Find your way to divorce with dignity
You can keep your divorce from spinning out of control by having a lawyer who will include you in key decisions in the case and who does not spend your money fighting unnecessary battles.
While divorce is a top life stressor, it is not the end of the world. It does mean that you have to redefine who you are and what life you want to live. You can work through this process with a therapist but you can also help yourself.
Define your approach to keeping your dignity during a divorce by getting to know your emotions. This means that you prioritize self-care, let go of “everything being about me” and get curious about your ex’s situation.
The more you can do this with compassion, both for yourself and your ex, the more likely you’ll stay calm and focused. Finally, not only can you divorce with dignity but you’ll also grow and learn. That’s more valuable than all the money in the world.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Bonnie Jerbasi, Esq., had practiced law in New Jersey since 1986. She is a litigator, family law mediator and collaborative attorney with an office in Montclair. She is the author of You Don’t Have to Sell the Farm to Get Rid of the Jackass (Woodpecker Press 2014). Throughout the years, she has been affiliated with organizations that are devoted to the development of mind, body and spiritual awareness, along with groups supporting those going through divorce or dealing with other family law matters. She is writing her next book on the new paradigm of marriage. Born and raised in Montclair, Bonnie is a Jersey girl, lawyer, author and mother of two fabulous children. Personal energy management and life balance are cornerstones to success in both her work and personal life. Spiritual growth and helping others, as well as travel and time spent with family, are her joy.