What to do

If you’re thinking about divorce

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…
Unless you fail to make the turn.”
– Helen Keller

Steps to consider:

Think things through beforehand.

The decision to divorce should be a sincere and highly self-aware one. Ensure that it isn’t driven by emotion or ego. Or fueled by anger or depression. This is a big decision and deserves to be made with a cool head. Genuinely confront your intent in wanting the divorce. Are you pursuing any agenda (other than ending the relationship) such as trying to change your partner’s behavior or attitude?

Be kind to yourself.

There is nothing shameful about wanting to be happy. Nobody enters a marriage expecting it to end. Sometimes things change and it does no good to condemn ourselves because of it.

Expect mixed feelings

It is likely that you will have conflicting feelings about your decision. You may simultaneously feel guilt and certainty, or betrayed and hopeful. Anticipate and accept the duality of your emotions.

Consider the process carefully.

No matter how you handle your divorce, the destination is pretty much the same. How you choose to get there is entirely up to you. Take the time to make the choice that best reflects your own goals and desires for the divorce process and the life you wish to create.

Don’t wing it.

Consider how you will deliver the news to those who matter most and will be most impacted by the decision. Plan and practice telling your spouse, family, friends and children. People may have very strong reactions which can range from wild optimism to feelings of anger and betrayal. Understand that people will process the news differently and that even well-intentioned concern can take many forms.
It’s important to prepare yourself for their reactions. Visualizing (and even practicing in front of a mirror) how you will handle their varying responses can help you remain calm.

Do your homework, but expect inconsistent advice.

Contact mediators or lawyers to get their perspective. Consider that the type of process each lawyer practices will inform the advice they give. So you will hear different suggestions about how to proceed from a collaborative lawyer than you will from a litigator. Expect the advice to match their discipline. I am reminded of the saying “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Before you act though, consider what proposed actions feel consistent with your own values.

Talk to people who have gone through divorce if you think that will help. Learn from their experiences and differing perspectives. But expect a broad range of opinions. Everyone has their own experiences and has heard their own horror stories. 

Making sense of the conflicting information will be challenging and will require a certain degree of detached and critical thought. Beware of information overload and trust that you know best what makes sense for your unique situation. Ultimately, the right answer for you won’t be found “out there” but “in here.”

Build your support network.

You will need the love and support of others. Act in ways that allow them to help. Try not to badmouth your spouse (as much as you might want to)—you will need to gain the trust and support of (often mutual) friends and relatives. It’s important to place the lives you and your spouse have built together in context, and understand that to move forward positively, you must respect each other today and tomorrow. This will help you establish a network of people who will support you through the process (and its aftermath).

Seek professional advice.

Talk to a licensed therapist. Explore the idea of marriage counseling. And if you’ve decided to separate or divorce, talk to your partner about how you want to handle it. It’s easier to talk at this early phase than after a contentious litigation turns you into adversaries.

Take stock and prepare for the future.

Assess your situation honestly. Consider your finances, your temperament and personality and that of your spouse. Think about employment possibilities. Expect change.
Mother and daughter having fun time in bed room

If you have children, try to avoid exposing them to parental conflict

Although we may assume that divorce is inherently harmful to children, studies have shown that the real danger lies in the exposure to parental conflict. According to a January 2021 study published in the journal Child Development, children who have to listen to their parents bicker or worse, are drawn into their parents conflict as confidants, messengers or reporters, are far more likely to experience fear of abandonment and related emotional distress than children of divorce who were shielded from parental conflict . The important lesson is that how you choose to handle your divorce may matter far more to your children’s happiness and well-being than the divorce itself.

How do you know when it's time?

The question of whether to divorce or not can feel paralyzing in its enormity. But not deciding is a decision in itself. 

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