Considering that the rate of divorce is at about 50% in most developed countries, the possibility of dissolving the marriage is a fear shared by most couples. Although divorce is first and foremost a formal legal event that can be completed in a matter of days, it is the leadup to divorce and the emotional charge of the event that make it so difficult to deal with – especially when children are involved. Going through a divorce diplomatically and ending the marriage amicably may seem impossible, even for the most patient and understanding of spouses, which is why the intervention of a mediator is so crucial. Through their understanding of the family system and their conflict resolution and mediation skills, they are able to guide the spouses through the process in such a way as to avoid dysfunctions and collisions.
According to Ahrons and Rodgers, what makes the divorce such a sensitive event is that although the marriage ends legally, the family continues to exist post-divorce, in separate households, with two nuclei instead of one. But the pre-divorce stages are just as important and can be challenging for both spouses:
Stage 1 – the emotional divorce
In the first stage, one of the spouses starts to experience feelings of alienation, disillusionment, anxiety or dissatisfaction and considers the possibility of ending the marriage. These feelings may appear because of something that the other partner has said or done, or because attraction is gone. But, no matter the cause, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that the decision to ask for a divorce is usually non-mutual and it can take years before one of the spouses expresses their need to end the marriage. During this stage, marriage counsellors recommend couples to be as honest as possible and discuss family issues when it’s still possible to go back. Oftentimes, the spouse who is considering divorce may be afraid to voice their concerns and decides to hide their feelings, but, according to psychologists, this only leads to more conflicts. Instead, the conflict can be addressed in a more diplomatic manner:
- The spouse who is starting to consider divorce should attempt to talk about the reasons why they are no longer satisfied, without mentioning divorce.
- If arguments still exist, the couple can try to solve their problems through marriage counselling. Sometimes, spouses are more willing to collaborate in a formal environment, mediated by a professional.
Stage 2 – the deliberation stage
If all attempts at restoring the marriage fail, the spouse who has been contemplating divorce decides to announce the separation – this is the most chaotic and emotionally charged part of the process and the hardest to deal with in a diplomatic manner. The conflict stems from the fact that one of the spouses has already come to terms with the idea of divorce and wants the process to start as soon as possible, whereas the other one is in shock and denial. The cases where the other spouse agrees with the decision immediately are almost inexistent. More often than not, they experience a series of feelings similar to grieving, that manifest in stages:
- Denial – they will tell their partner that they’re not being serious, that it’s just a phase and they don’t really want a divorce.
- Pain and guilt – they will feel guilty because their spouse wants a divorce and blame themselves for their actions.
- Anger and bargaining – at this stage, one spouse can threaten the other to leave with the kids, or attempt to manipulate the other emotionally in order to avoid divorce.
For the spouse who wants to get a divorce, witnessing this behavior from someone with whom they no longer want to live can be a test of patience and diplomacy. Things can escalate quickly and mediators warn that this is the most chaotic stage, where both spouses can take a lot of rash decisions, which is why it’s important for both parties to seek therapy and work with a mediator.
Stage 3 – legal divorce
This stage usually occurs during the separation process, when the two spouses no longer live together, but legal proceedings need to be initiated in order to legally dissolve their union. Depending on the duration of the marriage, the spouses’ emotional involvement and assets they share together, the litigation stage can trigger a complex people search for professional attorneys, accountants, evaluators and even therapists. In the worst cases, this stage can take years to complete, preventing spouses from moving on and aggravating the conflict. Combined with economic concerns and custodial talks, litigation can bring out the worst in both spouses, even if they seemed to get along great prior to the divorce. During this stage, mediators recommended these practices:
- Avoid meeting with the other partner personally and rely on mediators and attorneys to facilitate the exchange of documents
- One of the partners should relocate in order to avoid direct conflict that could impact children
- Seek out help and advice from friends and family. Going through a divorce alone can be an emotionally exhausting experience, even if you are the one initiating it.
- If you must meet your partner personally, it’s best to do it accompanied by a mediator, by your attorney or by a friend or family member, especially if you fear that your meeting could trigger an argument or other impulsive actions.
Stage 4 – post-divorce
Once the papers are signed and the two partners are legally separated, they will both need some time to readjust to their new life. How much time exactly, that depends from case to case. While some people reach acceptance and are ready to start dating again within months, other remain emotionally stuck, unable to form new relationships and get over the previous marriage. Eventually, both sides are able to live separate lives, but when children are involved and the two have to meet from time to time, old arguments can re-ignite. Contrary to common belief, getting a divorce doesn’t always mean cutting all ties with the former spouse. In fact, if the two have children, they will still need to work together and contribute to the children’s education, leaving old conflicts aside.
Author Bio: Cynthia Madison is a young blogger and psychology graduate. As a contributor to many niche publications, she likes tackling subjects such as interpersonal skills, family dynamics, parenting and personal growth.