Just like when you announce any other life event like marriage or having a baby if you announce you’re getting a divorce, opinions will abound. Your loved ones just want to help, but some of their advice will just be bad, plain, and simple. How do you know what will help you through this difficult process, and what’s well-intentioned nonsense? Today, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist is going to help you wade through the worst advice given to couples considering divorce, and steer you in the right direction.
“Stay Together For The Kids”
Let me begin by saying that no one is disputing the benefits of a healthy, two-parent household. And of course, that’s what goes through the minds of those who give this classic piece of misguided advice. Unfortunately, if the marriage is unhealthy enough to warrant a divorce, it’s highly likely the effects of that are already seeping into the children’s awareness.
Children are so much more intuitive than they’re given credit for. They know when you’re unhappy and can sense a shift in their home environment when you’re fighting. They are also extremely caring, pure creatures who will try to protect you in what small ways they can. While there’s nothing better than some extra love from your kiddos, their job is to be kids, and that does not involve comforting you, or otherwise monitoring their behavior for your sake. In short, don’t assume that they’re blind to these adult issues, and therefore don’t leave them in a position where they feel that pull to become little adults before their time.
“Divorce” is synonymous with “failed marriage”
A lot of people will casually refer to a divorce as a “failed marriage.” While this isn’t advice per se, it falls into the category of people making assumptions about your life that end up hurting you. The connotation is that you have failed because you want a divorce, and that evokes shame. But where is the failure in having created children who you love with all your heart? Where is the failure in this personal growth and self-respect that it takes to make this difficult decision? Where is the failure in putting your heart and soul into something, even if it doesn’t work in the end? The only failure in the world is a failure to try, my friends, and if you’ve done that, the term “failed marriage” does not apply.
Do you know what parents tend to do when they feel the shame associated with their divorce, by the way? They give in to them. Let them stay up later, or buy them things they don’t need. In other words, they accidentally destroy that structure that is vital to a child’s wellbeing because they feel bad about their situation. Imagine if we referred to divorce as a “family restructuring” rather than a “failed marriage”. That shame would be eradicated. We would feel so much more confident in our positions as parents, and free to seek resources which help us ultimately have a smoother transition.
“Don’t Be Angry With Your Ex”
This piece of advice is in the ranks with “hey, don’t be sad!” Or “there’s so much to smile about!”
Yes, there is. But you are also perfectly within your right to be blindingly angry. Or gut-wrenchingly sad. Empty. Or excited. Those who offer this advice love you so much that they don’t want to see you in pain. But that’s about them, not you! You deserve to feel whatever you’re feeling, regardless of how it makes others feel.
That being said, your emotions to not give you the right to act out. Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning there’s always a more vulnerable emotion hiding underneath it such as fear or sadness. While you have every right to feel your anger, make sure you’re aware of what lies under the surface and have an arsenal of healthy coping skills for the emotions you deal with most.
“Cut Off All Ties To Your Ex ASAP”
Those who offer this advice are often those who have deeply contentious relationships with their ex-partners, but unless there is abuse, that doesn’t have to be the case with you. Some people will even go so far as to suggest that you should file a restraining order against your partner so you don’t have to communicate with them, and so you’re more likely to get what you want in court. I hope it goes without saying that this does a great deal more harm than good. For one thing, it’s difficult enough for real victims of abuse to gain rightful retribution because there are people who would abuse the system like this. It’s also a poor execution of dealing with your anger from point #3!
Another reason not to cut off all ties when you’re thinking of divorce is the negative effects this behavior has on your children. Demonizing your spouse is demonizing half of your child. Of course, you don’t mean it that way, but they do not know that. They may begin to think that you hate half of who they are. Or, even if they know you love them wholeheartedly, eventually they may begin to fear they’ll end up just like the person you hate most. This behavior is not a recipe for good self-esteem.
“Don’t allow access to the kids without receiving child support”, or its buddy, “don’t give child support unless you’re seeing the kids”
I hope the title alone reveals the conundrum this behavior will leave you with. Of course, people offering this advice only want to protect you or your children, but at what cost? If you make spending time with the kids transactional, you’re making your love for them look conditional. Of course, as adults, we know it’s not, but kids don’t have the capacity for that depth of understanding.
In the case of withholding the children until you receive the money, the message being sent to the kids is that you need to protect them from their other parent until a certain amount of money has been reached. At that point, they are left either confused about their level of safety with that parent or thinking that they are only worth a certain amount of money. In the case of withholding child support unless you have access to the children, the message is that you have conditions to be met before you care about your children’s well-being. After all, that is what the money is for.
“Push the divorce along as quickly as possible,” or the reverse, “drag it out”
The well-intentioned people who suggest you push a divorce along quickly are thinking of your wallet. There is no denying that divorce is expensive. However, if you prioritize your budget, you are doing so at the cost of your familial relationships. Again, you are “re-structuring” your relationship with your family, not cutting off all ties with them. Creating a workable plan to make that happen is going to take time, attention, and yes, money. The alternative is not fighting enough for what you need, or not fighting enough for your children. The repercussions of the latter are twofold— your children may not see how much you care for them, and you will miss your kids.
Someone who tells you to drag out a divorce, on the other hand, is of the mindset that you should do so to spite your ex. If this is the direction you’re headed, I urge you again to consider your priorities and find healthy ways to cope with your emotions from point #3. You are fully within your right to be in unimaginable pain at a time when you’re considering divorce. However, that does not give you the right to act spitefully. In fact, this will come back to bite you in lawyer fees and strained relationships.
“Protect Yourself in the Divorce First”
This piece of bad divorce advice comes from people who want to protect you, so they caution you to put yourself first. But assuming you are co-parenting with your ex, you do not have that luxury.
When I am counseling a couple or family, I always begin our first session by explaining that no individual person in the room is my client— the relationship itself is my client. We are working toward that family’s shared goal, so we have to act in the best interest of that goal, not in that of any one person. It works the same way for you and your potential divorce. The two of you have shared goals to arrange a new family structure that works for all of you.
The effects of your actions in this divorce won’t just ripple back and forth between the two of you. They will wash over your children, your spouse, any future romantic relationships you may try to begin, and anyone else in your support systems such as your parents and close friends. While you have every right to stand up for your needs, it’s also important to be respectful and considerate.
“Happy Endings Don’t Exist With Divorce”
This piece of bad divorce advice comes from those who are embittered by their own struggles. They may even have a scary statistic to back it up— that over 60% of second marriages end in divorce. However, their situation is not yours, and you can absolutely have a happy ending— for your re-structured family, and in your own romantic life.
The reason for that high rate of divorce is that people tend not to work on themselves between marriages. When they meet someone who makes them feel great after a long stretch of dealing with this horrible pain, it’s easy to say that things will be fine now that they’ve met the right person. But we all bring our own plates to the table, and sometimes they’re packed with things that don’t necessarily serve us, but we bring them anyway.
Therapy is a fantastic way to help you find your happy ending, either romantically or in a new relationship post-divorce. A good therapist, particularly someone trained as a marriage and family therapist, is well-equipped to help you balance your own self-growth with those shared goals. They can help you process your feelings during any step of this process. And best of all, they know that YOU are the expert on your own life, so no chance of bad advice!
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