20 TIPS FOR A LOW CONFLICT DIVORCE
The divorce process is tough on everyone involved and can hurt in ways you never expected.
You’re in a state of emotional overwhelm, yet need to make decisions both big and small, which will have a long term impact.
No one gets married expecting to end up divorced, but if you do find yourself navigating a relationship breakdown, it will be highly emotional but it doesn’t HAVE to be high conflict.
If you’re committed to easing the conflict and creating the best divorce possible, here are my top 20 tips.
1. PRIORITISE SELF-CARE
This is my No.1 tip and for a very good reason. Self-care during divorce and beyond is not a luxury. If you fall apart, so does everything else. Be kind to and nurture yourself in positive and healthy ways. Eat well. Don’t overdo the alcohol or other forms of self-medication. Exercise. Sleep. Rest. Play.
2. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
With your ex, keep it clear and emotion free, as if you are conducting a business transaction. Decide how you will communicate - in writing (email or text) or by telephone – and when. Don’t respond to that text at 10pm after a long and stressful day.
With kids, be honest but keep it age and stage appropriate. They don’t need to know all the details, but they do have a right and need to know what’s going on. Sit with them while they absorb it. Check in with them regularly. Listen to them without judgement; without overlaying your own thoughts, feelings and emotions. Allow them to express things in their own way. Help them find the words for their feelings.
3. ALLOW GRIEF
Divorce will almost always come with some degree of grief, even if you were the one to initiate it. You’re losing that “happy ever after” fairytale you thought you were signing up for. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve your relationship. Your kids will grieve too, so educate yourself on how best to support them. Remember, your journey through grief may not be linear.
4. CHOOSE YOUR DIVORCE SUPPORT TEAM
Your team is likely to include friends and family. But not EVERYONE needs to be involved or know all the details. Know who you can rely on and who will catch you when you fall. Your team may also include work colleagues, school teachers, sports coaches, as well as any paid support you need. Think counsellor or psychologist, GP, the house cleaner, a massage therapist, food delivery services, the garden maintenance person ... and a divorce coach.
5. KEEP IT IN THE VAULT
Some people will want to ask questions about your break up, speak badly of your ex, or offer their unsolicited opinion on your marriage and separation. Choose carefully who you share with. Not everyone will lock the privacy vault and keep what you share to themselves. It’s perfectly fine to say “...I’d rather not discuss my divorce / my ex / my lawyer... let’s talk about (insert something else here)”
Know who your “vault” people are – the ones who WILL keep what you share private – and share with them.
6. KIDS AND DIVORCE
If you have kids, keep them out of the conflict. Like Tip No. 1 this is VITAL to a low conflict and “successful” divorce. Keep their well-being and best interests as your No1 priority. Make decisions about what is best FOR YOUR KIDS. Don’t speak badly of your ex in front of them. EVER.
They need to be able to love you both, not make a choice between you. They aren’t divorcing their other parent, YOU are.
7. THE NUTS & BOLTS
This is all the boring but vitally important stuff. Take control and get it sorted ASAP. Copy and file all your important documents together – insurance (house, contents, car, life, travel, pet), wills, powers of attorney, copies of birth certificates and passports. For money, see also No8 but get clear ASAP on what you have (real estate, cash, superannuation, investments) and what you owe (credit card, mortgage, car or personal loans, business loans).
8. MONEY MATTERS
You know it does. Get it sorted. Budget. Know what you’ve got, what’s coming in and what’s going out. Consider a financial advisor early on and go together if you can. Change any joint bank accounts to requiring dual signature and consider having one account for mutually agreed expenses for the house / kids /dog until you work out the details of your financial agreement.
9. ASK AN EXPERT
You are not a divorce expert. For anything that’s outside your comfort zone, find an expert opinion. Money. Investments. Mortgage. Insurance. Psychology. Parenting. Whatever you need. Find your expert team and ASK for the help you need.
10. CREATE A DIVORCE FILE
Document and record everything, ensuring everyone is on the same page, has the same information and understanding. When emotions are high, it’s easy to misunderstand, mishear, and misconstrue. Take notes, screenshots, file all emails and document all your conversations. If you are aiming for a collaborative and amicable separation, share with your ex what you are doing and why.
11. CHOOSE TO FORGIVE
Forgiving is an active choice you can make to let go of blame and shame. Forgive yourself. Forgive your ex (see also No.20). It does not mean you have to forget the pain of your relationship breakdown, but it is a necessary step to enable you to move forward collaboratively. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not for your ex.
12. ACCEPT & RELEASE
Accept that your ex won’t miraculously change just because you’re getting divorced. Behaviours and responses can be deeply entrenched, so don’t be surprised if the dance between you continues in a similar pattern even after you’ve separated. Find a way to release yourself from your ex - a meditation or ritual, journalling, counselling, go on a retreat or throw a divorce party – and free yourself from the dance. Choose to respond differently, so things can change.
13. HEAL YOUR HEARTBREAK
Give yourself the time and space to work through your feelings and heal your heart. Don’t rush it. Don’t allow anyone else to tell you how you “should” be feeling or what you “should” be doing. Holding onto heartbreak keeps you stuck in the past.
14. REDISCOVER YOURSELF
In any relationship, we tend to compromise or give up parts of ourselves. Reconnect to and reclaim those parts of yourself and the things you used to enjoy before you started your relationship with your ex. Try something different. Stretch the boundaries you previously placed around yourself and your life. Choose something new.
15. CELEBRATE SOLO
Dare to be alone, embrace solitude and the solo life. Get to know and love yourself again. Give yourself the space to choose just for YOU, without considering another. Divorce can be a beautiful gift of freedom.
16. RESPECT YOUR EX
Yep, you’re divorced for a reason but.... you loved each other once. Extend him/her courtesy and respect. It doesn’t mean you have to opt in to bullshit or take responsibility for stuff that’s not yours, but respect is powerful and can help you move forward. Don’t speak badly of your ex in front of your kids (see also No.6), mutual friends or extended family members. EVER. (see also No.5) Teach them about respectful relationships by your actions and words.
17. CHOOSE KINDNESS
There will likely be times when your ex drops into a negative space (see No.12) or old patterns. Don’t engage there and don’t respond in kind. If you have kids, they are watching and learning from you. Whenever you can, choose to be kind. Choose to be generous. Don’t allow your boundaries to be transgressed, but bear in mind that kindness will defuse a lot of conflict and save you drama and heartbreak.
18. CO-OPERATIVE CO-PARENTING
Remember, your kids aren’t divorcing their other parent, you are. They deserve and need TWO parents to support them through the separation and divorce with the least trauma possible, and to help them transition to a new way of being a family. You’re still a family, albeit one that is taking a different form.
Try writing your parenting plan directly to your kids. “Dear Tom & Ella...” focuses your attention where it should be – on the kids. Keep your ex informed and up to date and expect the same from him / her. Don’t think like a sole-parent or exclude the other parent from important (and not so important) events or activities. Make the big decisions together and let the kids see you doing that.
You’re still a parenting team. Be flexible where you can. Every time you choose the co-operative path, your child benefits.
19. SET BOUNDARIES
Set them early in the process and hold to them. If possible, discuss them together, especially any that involve kids. Boundaries may need to be set around space (when and where your ex can be around you or come to your home), time (how long he/she can spend around you and how much you are available to them), communication (when and what form this takes), and parenting (who does what and when). Overstepping of boundaries is often a component of relationship breakdown so this may be a new skill for both of you. Seek support from professionals if you need to.
20. FOCUS FORWARD
Decisions you make now will affect your (and your kids’) future. By letting go of the fairytale ending, you free yourself to create a new story and aim for a happy EVEN after. Remember it wasn’t all bad – you loved each other once and you shared a journey. Your divorce is one more part of that journey. And one I hope is as smooth as can possibly be.
For more information on how divorce coaching can support you and your family during this time, or for your complimentary consultation, contact me here:
NB: These tips apply to couples who wish to separate as amicably as possible and with minimal conflict. Not all may be appropriate if your relationship involved any type of abuse, domestic violence, or if you or your ex are experiencing significant mental health or substance abuse issues.