It may seem absurd to consider whether a separation or divorce can be “good”. It is rarely a good thing. It is often a period filled with sadness, uncertainty and a myriad of other emotions. However, you might consider that a “bad” divorce is one where former spouses are unable to communicate effectively or constructively on almost any level about almost anything. In a “bad” divorce, the former spouses relinquish control over the division of their assets and decisions about where their children will live, to a judge, spending several years and close to $100,000, if not more, each, for those decisions.
You might then consider a good divorce is one where former spouses are able to negotiate an outcome and communicate in a respectful, effective and constructive way.
A good divorce doesn’t necessarily mean you are friends, that you like each other, or that you even trust each other all that much. It does mean that you have chosen to finalise your relationship away from courts and in a manner that is respectful, with some level of pragmatism and objectivity and in a way that is dignified.
The way you choose to communicate with your former spouse during this period, and into the future, will have a direct impact on your life, and that of your family moving forward.
That impact can be positive.
Remember, words create worlds.
The words you choose to use when communicating with your former spouse or the words your family lawyer chooses to use in correspondence, have the power to create a world where your separation is respectful, dignified and amicable. Or the words you choose have the power to create a world that completely shreds the already fragile relationship.
I say, the period following separation is one of those times in life where you really need to take control of your emotions and be mindful of the words you choose to use. Consider the effect of those words – not only on your former spouse, but the ripple effect on other relationships.
If you have children – remember that your relationship will continue as co-parents. While it will likely be necessary to reinvent what that relationship looks like, most likely, you want it to be one where you can both attend significant events in your children’s lives in the future.
Remember, words create worlds.
You want to maintain a respectful co-parenting relationship, therefore, unless you are naturally calm and objective (and honestly, a relationship breakdown is enough to test even the calmest of people!) I suggest it may be necessary to take your time writing or responding to messages from your former spouse; particularly if you read one that upsets, frustrates or angers you.
It can be so easy to fall into a pattern of regret and anger and to quickly send a flippant, terse or angry reply – the long-term effect of that “quick” reply makes it worthwhile hitting the pause button.
You have control over the words you choose to use in text messages, emails and notes.
You also have control over the words your lawyer uses in correspondence. You can ask to approve all letters before they are sent and if the language is too aggressive, you can ask your lawyer to tone it down.
Here are my tips for effective communication to help you maintain a respectful, amicable and dignified separation:
- Move beyond blame and accept that your relationship as a couple has ended. Accept the role your former spouse has in your life will be redefined and new boundaries will be established. It is entirely expected that acceptance will take some time and that you may need some professional help as this “new” relationship is redefined. Give yourself permission to take responsibility for your life and focus on your future.
- Create an environment that is supportive for you. Find a support network and use it. Talk with your GP and a psychologist to help you adjust and accept the changes to your relationship, help you identify possibilities and approaches to negotiating with your former spouse, and establish new boundaries in that relationship; your accountant will help you to understand the current financial position of your relationship; a financial planner will be useful in planning your financial future; a family lawyer to help you identify, negotiate and formalise an outcome that is appropriate; and your friends and family will be your cheer squad, sounding boards and support.
- It may be necessary to establish ground rules with your former spouse for communication. Create a business like mode of communication where the “business” is your family. Decide whether you are comfortable speaking in person, by phone or communicating by email. Agree with your former spouse that you will both maintain respectful and appropriate communication with each other.
- When communicating, don’t feel a need to rush your reply. Apply the 24 or 48 hour rule to any messages or emails, particularly if your response may be written in anger or frustration. In a world where instant messaging has become so normal and expected, it is not necessary. There is no harm in pausing before replying; and
- Accept that sometimes communication will occur in a way where you, or your former spouse, are not the best version of yourselves. On those occasions, practice patience and compassion. If there is a history of respectful communication, forgive yourself or your former spouse and get back to the business of being separated in a respectful way.
- Choose a process that supports your goals. Choose professionals who support your goals. If you want your separation to remain non-adversarial, choose to work with professionals who support you with that goal.
Separation is one of the toughest events you will experience in your life. The grieving process is similar to when someone close to you dies and it takes time to recover.
The process in redefining your relationship with your former spouse is an important one that requires time, patience and support.
By carefully choosing the way you communicate, you have the ability to choose a positive future for your family and have a good divorce.
Remember, words create worlds.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Based in Crafers in the Adelaide Hills and also with consulting rooms just outside Adelaide CBD, Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for the past 10 years and is committed to assisting her clients find respectful outcomes to their separation, away from the Court process and with a focus on having a healthy future.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 20 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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