When we split, we still cared deeply for each other. This is part of why it took us two years to begin the legal process. We didn’t need it in the beginning, and so we didn’t pursue it. Looking back, I wish we would have.
So there we were, skipping along all hunky-dory for a few years, handling separated life like a couple of champions. We were great — the exception to the rule. And then we weren’t. We crashed and burned in failed attempts to clarify the end of our spousal support term.
So she lawyered up and I freaked out.
We went into the legal battle as though it were a… well, battle. If we would have approached this inevitable series of events arm in arm the same way we peaceably split ways a few years ago, we could have likely hired an attorney together. This neutral party could have walked us through the process and answered the legal questions as they arose. Had we done this, we would have probably made it out the other side unscathed and with far less resentment than the way things played out in reality.
Fast forward almost an entire year and we’ve finally submitted final documents just a few days shy of our trial date. And for those who are unclear on court terminology, having a trial means that we were so incapable of coming to an agreement through the normal arbitration/mediation measures that we had to be referred to a Decider, Judge Judy style.
But we avoided our trial (and a lot of legal fees), sliding in with an agreement just under the wire. How?
We fired our lawyers.
Not actually, but sorta.
There came a time shortly after the holidays where we were both freaking exhausted. The resentment and tension between us had reached a boiling point and it felt like we were both dragging ass trying to keep up.
Parenting through the emotional turmoil of divorce is like running a marathon with your pants around your ankles. You’re vulnerable, tired, and you keep tripping over your pride.
We had a court date set, but I didn’t want to go to court, and neither did she.
So in a last Hail Mary attempt to salvage our sanity, we decided to book a session with a counselor/family mediator. This would be on our own process, separate from the court, and decidedly not a normal attorney-centric mediation experience.
In normal mediation, each party sits in a room with their attorney and the mediator goes back and forth in an extremely expensive game of playground-esque he said/she said.
But in this scenario, we were going to sit together, without our attorneys, and talk face to face. The process resembled a couple’s therapy session more than legal arbitration.
I was nervous. I was scared that we were incapable. I was worried I wouldn’t be willing or able to advocate for myself the way I needed to. But I took a deep breath, drank a glass of water, and walked into that room with my head held high and my heart as open as I could manage.
Our mediator was wonderful. And flowy. If you’ve ever met that woman at a music festival who is dancing with arms above her head, hair in curls down to her waist, completely absorbed in the ‘energy of the moment’ then you know a flowy woman.
I mean no disrespect. These women are often incredibly wise. But for discussing the intricacies of legal divorce, I was not all too reassured that we’d be able to find common ground.
To my surprise, the session went incredibly well, and unlike the first round of normal mediation, we came away with a complete agreement.
Not only had we figured out the meat and potatoes of our split, we had also talked about the emotional aspects of how this would impact us and our children, and had developed a much deeper respect and empathy for the other person’s position.
I walked away from that session seeing my ex-wife as a battle-weary human, rather than a selfish monster. I was relieved.
We think it feels good to demonize our foes, but it’s actually exhausting. I never realized this until I experienced the shift myself.
In empathy and compassion, there is so much power, because the outcome of the situation once again returns to our control. We control how we react. We control how we perceive the other. And we decide whether we remain open to this person to whom we’re shackled for the rest of our lives, or if we shut them out.
But that’s not even the best part.
Yes, it feels great to have signed documents submitted. It feels good to have this behind us. And of course it feels good to have avoided the legal, emotional and financial devastation of a trial.
But the best part is the way it has impacted our relationship.
In that session, there was so much raw emotion exchanged, and that openness laid an excellent foundation for moving forward as partners. Now we are more like business partners than lovers, but partners nonetheless.
In the conflicts that have arisen since that day — and there have been more conflicts — we’ve been able to handle with infinitely more grace and respect than we had before. It’s been easier for us to put our children in the center, with our own individual needs ancillary to the needs of the greater family unit. Our resentment has dissipated, and our admiration for the virtues of the other has grown.
It’s been good, to say the least.
My point is that having experienced all this, I’ve come to recognize that our system for handling legal divorce is unnecessarily adversarial. There are better ways to do it. And I believe those better ways involve authentic communication, a willingness to become vulnerable.
I recognize how scary vulnerability is in a situation where your life’s savings and children’s futures are at stake.
I was extremely wary of my ex-wife’s ability to genuinely care about my wellbeing, financially or otherwise. These were scars born of a million tiny fears and insecurities and fortified through a few hard years at the end of our marriage.
I’m sure she held similar fears and reservations about me. Yet somehow we were both able to drop our projections about each other and the process.
When we decided to show up unarmed as partners and co-parents rather than members of rival clans, we finally broke through the noise of an increasingly adversarial world. It was then we could listen to the truth within ourselves, acknowledge the truth in the other, and find a solution.
No remedy in the world will ever prevent the heart-wrenching emotional impact of divorce. But the process of defining your new life doesn’t have to be some bloody conquest. Instead, it can be a blessed journey towards independent wholeness, founded upon solid, lasting foundations.
You just have to be willing to listen to your inner-guide and act from a space of immense strength, compassion and wisdom.
And when the going gets rough, instead of pulling away from your former partner, using your attorneys as messengers… send the lawyers to recess and try a phone call or cup of coffee with the former love of your life instead. You might be surprised by the results.
. . .
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this article is not meant to constitute legal advice. Every divorce is different. As with any relationship between two individual humans, and especially when kids are involved, the actual events and circumstances surrounding every divorce will be as varied and intricate as our fingerprints. In any legal scenario, you should document every detail and seek legal counsel. You may not need it, but it’s always better to be prepared, at least until Elon Musk figures out time travel.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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