Divorce has been highlighted as one of the most stressful life traumas – it’s right up on the list with death of a spouse and emigration. The early days and months post divorce can be a time of high emotion, and this can often lead to clouded judgement and acting out of emotion.
In South Africa, we have a no-fault divorce system. Simply put, this means that the circumstances surrounding a divorce are often irrelevant and a divorce will be granted if one party simply does not wish to be married any longer. This is not to say that our legal system is tolerant of abuse, but abuse is dealt with separately via a Protection or Harassment Order, or if really severe, there are criminal consequences.
I have worked with many divorcees over the years and have noticed a common theme amongst those that feel aggrieved in terms of circumstamces surrounding the divorce. When one feels powerless, it is often tempting to do things in order to feel powerful again. Many people are confused with regard to the role that their attorney should play. Here are some things that your attorney is not: A psychologist ; a vehicle through which you can exact revenge or punish your ex; a punching bag. Your attorney is there to assist you to get divorced. Your attorney is there is ensure that your and your children’s rights are being protected. Using an attorney to assist you in feeling more powerful in a seemingly powerless situation can prove to be very expensive and not in the best interest of achieving a fair and peaceful resolution.
At the outset, I need to clarify that if you are abused or if there is violence or your children are in danger, it would be wise to involve an attorney.
Keep your eye on the ball
What do I mean by this? Always keep the ultimate goal in mind…What do I want from this? What is the ultimate outcome of my divorce that I aspire to achieve? If you are wanting to achieve a fair settlement and an efficient divorce, it’s worth sifting through what is important and what is merely “noise”.
Was your ex a multiple philanderer? Perhaps yes. Does this have any bearing on the ultimate settlement and maintenance amount? Perhaps yes, if you are a Hollywood wife. Does your soon to be ex talk to you badly? Perhaps yes. Does this impact on the ultimate divorce agreement? Probably not. Is your ex often ten minutes late? Possibly. Is it annoying and inconsiderate? Absolutely. Does this warrant a lawyer’s letter? Yes, if you don’t have better things to spend your money on. Does your ex often insult your parenting abilities on Whatsapp and make unnecessary snide remarks? Perhaps often. Is it worth taking this to heart? No. He/she lost the right to have an opinion of you when the decision was made to get divorced.
Hollywood has ruined divorce for the average Joe. Sure, adultery may be one of the ten commandments, but it’s hardly a crime punishable by law in the Western World. My point? However difficult it may be, especially in the early post divorce or separation period…..one needs to separate matters legal and emotional. The ultimate goal after a divorce (and even if it is a divorce that you did not want or choose) is to find a way to move smoothly into your new life. What matters most is getting a fair divorce settlement and making sure your children are safe and cared for (both emotionally and financially).
It’s easy to make a generalised statement and I acknowledge that there are some situations that are more acrimonious, ugly and unfair than others. But….the point is keep your eye on the ball. Constantly remind yourself of the ultimate goal and check in with yourself if your actions are in line with that wish.
Conserve your energy
Sure, it feels unfair and hurtful to be insulted by someone you used to (or even still do) love. Is it worth taking their insults and ugliness to heart? No. Is it worth agonising over how to respond? Absolutely not. The truth is that there is only a “tug-of-war” if you are holding onto the rope. There is only a boxing match if you step into the ring. Even though you may feel a need to respond…..the best response is no response. Divorce is difficult enough without the added emotional battle, without the power struggle.
When it comes to matters affecting the children, it is best to have a business like and unemotional approach when communicating with an ex. Limit conversation (be it in person, telephonic or electronic) to logistics and facts regarding the children. If the divorce is acrominious, your ex wont listen to what you have to say about their personality, parenting abilities or behaviour anyway.
It is what it is
Whether you chose to get divorced or not, the reality is still that you are getting divorced. The reality of the situation is that the cause of the divorce does not affect the reality that you are getting divorced.
I acknowledge that it is easy for me, a divorcee of over 9 years, to advise from a distance. But…I have been there and I have walked this path with many, many divorcees. I acknowledge that when you are in the post-divorce stage that I call Hiroshima (Divorce 101: Survive and Thrive), one strives to find a place of strength in a fog of powerlessness…and that one feels a momentary sense of power by messaging your ex telling them how awful they are or by “setting them straight” with a lawyer’s letter.
Yes….momentary power. But the ultimate goal is to keep your eye on the ball and conserve your energy by focusing it on what is important and necessary.
Stacey Lewis is a divorce coach, mediator and author of Divorce 101: Survive and Thrive. She is also the founder of www.thedivorcesource.co.za.