Ask a therapist to list the most common traumas in an average person's life and they will probably reply "divorce and bereavement". Unfortunately, as with any trauma, those concerned tend to make things even more painful and drawn out than they need to be. The more sensible, rational, and moderate you can be – the more civilized in other words – the less pain will follow.
In an ideal world, every divorced couple would remain friends: supporting one another through their new relationships, celebrating one another's successes, and sharing in the growth and development of their children. In reality, of course, this can be difficult. For a start, the breakdown of a marriage usually unleashes a tremendous amount of fear, anger and bitterness and often leaves people humiliated and ashamed.
Secondly, just because two people separate this does not mean they no longer have any feelings for one another. Though things have come to an end, person A may still love person B, while person B feels nothing and is eager to move on. Sometimes, both retain deep feelings but find it impossible to live together. Then of course there are marriages that end because of infidelity. Again, though it is a terrible, even fatal, blow it does not mean an end to the love between the couple. It is simply not true that those who cheat have no respect for their husband or wife – often they do. And when deep love, affection, and desire still exist, it can be acutely painful to see your ex with someone new.
Remember, emotions are still raw. Do not assume that your ex feels the same way you do. Just as not everyone grieves at the same pace, not everyone recovers from divorce at the same pace – or in the same way. Give it time. If you are going to become friends, this friendship will have to evolve naturally and take on its own shape – do not try and force it.
Finally, bear in mind that an ex may consider your wish to be friends a hurtful insult, at least initially. It may even make them doubt that you ever really loved them. When emotions are high, reason disappears. Indeed, you may find that your ex is more angered by your friendliness than by your hostility. After all, hostility at least suggests some feeling; friendliness suggests indifference!
Few individuals are more likely to cause friction and resentment than the lawyer. Whatever they may say, they do not have your best interests at heart. And, cynical as it may sound, they are not your friend. It is in the lawyers' interest to cause friction between you and your ex. The more arguments and tension, the longer your divorce will drag on and the more money they will make.
Of course, it would be unfair to dismiss all lawyers as greedy and heartless. No doubt many are sensible and professional. But you must be on your guard. Keep a realistic view of your partner. Do not allow your lawyer to convince you that your wife was a bad mother when you know that she was not, or that your ex-husband could pay more in child support than you believe he can afford. Put simply, do not allow your lawyer to start an unnecessary war.
Why not try a professional mediator first? Such people are often trained counsellors who understand the pain and emotion and how to deal with it. Whereas some lawyers will do nothing but inflame emotions, it is the mediator's job to try and soothe them.
Try to make the actual process as quick, professional, and rational as possible. Really think things through. And above all, keep in mind that circumstances change. For example, let's say you are a stay-at-home mother and your (now ex) husband owns his own business. He is struggling at the moment, and is very stressed and worried. You do not want to harass him for child-support payments he cannot afford, so you fix it at a very low rate. Six months later his business picks up, and two years later he is very wealthy.
Ask someone who has been through a divorce and they will almost certainly tell you to get things down in writing. Your partner may meet someone new and possibly even have more children. What if this new partner takes a dislike to you or resents the time your ex spends with his kids? When it comes to money and parenting, do not trust in verbal agreements. And when you compose these written agreements, do so on the understanding that things change and that what is true today may not be true in five years.
Also, be conscious of your tone and attitude. Try to see things from your partner's viewpoint. And never be imperious or dictatorial. Don't forget, you are seeking compromise and agreement – something that works for both of you.
Once the papers have been signed and you have left your marriage behind, try to leave old patterns of thought and behavior behind as well. Human relationships come in many forms, and the relationship of a divorced couple is, and should be, different to the relationship they had when married.
Unfortunately, many are unable to leave the past behind and, as soon as they meet, slip back into the same little provocations and arguments. You are divorced now. This means you are no longer responsible for their career frustrations, or their dysfunctional family, or any other problem they may have. And as for those personal faults that used to so infuriate you – do they really matter? Maybe he is selfish and insensitive, but let his new partner deal with that. Maybe she is still more interested in her career than in her family, but is that really your problem now?
Also, try to be conscious of how your ex makes you feel. Maybe they used to belittle and humiliate you. Or maybe they had a way of manipulating you or provoking you into arguments. You must put a stop to this if you can.
Of course, no matter how scrupulous you try to be, you cannot predict the future. So agree on how the two of you will settle future disagreements. Again, get this in writing if possible. The flashpoints, as always, tend to be children and money.
Finally, accept that you are divorced. That means you no longer have any say in the other person's life. If she is now seeing the man who used to live next door, or if he is now dating a close mutual friend, it is none of your business. It is only your concern when their actions affect your children. However, do not use your children as a weapon. Many people pretend to be concerned about the way their ex's new life is affecting the children when in fact they merely resent how happy they now seem.
Divorce needn't be bitter and painful. As someone once remarked, the divorce is the good bit – it's the miserable relationship that hurts!