Divorce is usually the end result of a typical progression of circumstances.
It usually goes like this:
- You get married
- You begin navigating your married life with your partner
- You and your partner start experiencing challenging life circumstances
- You and your partner begin to realize you approach life’s challenges differently
- You attempt to negotiate with your partner on how to proceed with your marriage
- Your attempts to get along with your partner fail. (This step can take considerable time and energy)
- You, your partner or both of you decide the next step is a divorce (and by this point, you are both likely emotionally exhausted).
Now comes the hard part. Not to minimize steps 1 through 7, but people often get stuck at step 7. They decide they are done with the marriage but have no idea how to proceed to getting a divorce. It seems so daunting that some people decide to stay in the marriage. Others let the lawyers take over and others try mediation or collaboration. Some others just go their separate ways and stay legally married but live apart.
At step 7, my ex and I tried a little bit of everything. We talked to lawyers, we talked to mediators and then we picked the collaborative approach to divorce because we thought the next step after step 7 was: get a separation agreement. Because you need a separation agreement to get a divorce right? So step 8 must clearly be… get a separation agreement. We picked the collaborative approach to divorce because we wanted to stay out of the court system and the collaborative approach seemed like the best choice.
As noted, both partners are likely emotionally exhausted by the time it gets to the discussion on how to proceed with obtaining a separation agreement and both partners probably do not even feel like discussing it with their respective partner. I don’t think I would be underestimating things if I said that if you are this point, you probably really dislike your partner and do not want to have to work with them at all on anything again. After all, you couldn’t reach agreement in marriage – why should you be able to reach agreement when drafting a separation agreement?
That said, a separation agreement was fixed in my brain and my ex’s as the next step. We started working really hard at getting that agreement. We worked for nine months with our collaborative team to get that agreement. I wanted a separation agreement at all costs because now that I knew we were done, I wanted our divorce all sewed up and sorted. I know my ex did as well. We wanted to know what the rules outlining our lives were going to be so we could start living according to those new sets of rules that would be defined in our separation agreement.
We got our separation agreement. We were done right?
Every time we tried to discuss anything in our agreement, I got angry and upset and I know my ex did as well. We often reached deadlock and our conflict levels did not decrease. In fact, we ended up in court because we could not agree over one section of our agreement. What happened? We were supposed to be done once we had our agreement, but here we were in court!
It turns out that just because we had that agreement, that did not mean we were done. We were far from done with each other.
I was not done with my anger and I still could not have a constructive discussion with my ex and judging from some of the emails I was getting from my ex, he was still very angry with me.
This led me to an additional step – step 9: heal myself and let go.
Step 9 took considerable time for me and it involved many different sub-steps.
I am done now with step 9 and the interesting thing about that is that our divorce is finally truly done and over.
Many people had tried to advise me to do step 9 first and I just wasn’t able to at that time but now I wonder if it might have been a better progression. If I had been in a better emotional space (and ditto for my ex) we would have been able to listen to each other and understand each other. Our separation agreement would have been a better representation of what we both understood it to be.
I’m not sure it’s possible for most people to heal themselves before entering the process of getting a separation agreement. I would like to think with hindsight I would choose a different way if I could do it again, but I know at that time, I wanted a separation agreement at all costs.
Where are you in the process and what steps are you deciding to take?