There are three interwoven strands of separation in the divorce process: the emotional, the legal, and the practical.
This article is very much top-level, key pointers. There are plenty of resources out there (websites, articles, books, people, Facebook groups, good hashtags to follow on Instagram, local divorce support groups…) to help you.
I seriously recommend plugging yourself into support for all three strands of your divorce process: someone to help with the legals, someone (or someones) to support you through the practical changes, and people to support you through the emotionals too: supportive family, friends, professionals and people you can hang out with that take your mind off it for a while are all incredible to have around you.
Of the three keys strands in the divorce process, the legal, the practical, and the emotional: the emotional comes first.
Emotional separation – if you had emotional connection (secure attachment) in the first place – triggers the legal and practical divorce process.
Whether it’s unhappiness, loneliness, dead bedroom, infidelity (if you agreed on fidelity), feeling like housemates, colleagues, or unaffiliated co-parents, or abuse and/or neglect, or simply that one of you emotionally checked out of your relationship a while ago, you separate emotionally – before, during and after divorce.
It’s more complex than that, of course.
You don’t just separate from your soon-to-be-ex (STBX) partner.
You separate from the dreams you had.
From the day to day life with them.
From the home (and family) you created with them.
There’s a lot of grief. What was, what wasn’t. What is, what isn’t. What will be, what won’t be.
Then… it gets complex.
There’s the stuff around the separation: how it affects you, them, kids, your social circle, wider family circles…
There’s how you handle the divorce itself. The legals. The practicals. How your STBX partner does that, too.
They say you really know someone from how they respond to a late-running train, getting caught in the rain, and something else I’ve forgotten, but I’d add divorce to that.
Then the emotional freight train of change: change of routine, change of location, changes of all sorts. It’s a lot.
But… there’s increased levity, too.
The energy freed up from no longer being tied to another person in relational structures that’re making you (both) unhappy.
The relief of release from bonds you never knew were tying you down – how badly they cut you, bent you out of shape, inhibited you.
The growing happiness and confidence in your choices, in carving your own path going forward, in freedom.
It’s not an easy path.
I think about the curves. The trends and the integral of happiness over time.
The choice between continuing the trend of increasing unhappiness over a long time. Or very stressed AND increasingly freer and happier for a short time during the divorce process (my practical divorce was 1 month, the legal divorce was 6, the emotional divorce takes much longer), with increased happiness for the potentially 40ish years ahead of me.
The legal strand of the divorce process depends a whole heap on your country’s laws. The country where you married. The country where you unmarry.
Nuchter – a Dutch word meaning sober, clear-headed, emotionally neutral and steady – is a good touchstone for dealing with this part.
In my experience, it boils down to:
- Assets before the marriage.
- Assets during the marriage.
- Income during and after the marriage.
- Parental responsibility
Plus pre-nups and other relevant agreements, and your country’s laws.
There’s a big stock take and putting all of the above onto paper.
It’s a lot to do, but it’s do-able.
I might be oversimplifying, but if you’re reading this thinking about your own potential divorce, it’s like a long-distance cross-continental journey. You need the general direction and main pointers, then fill in the details at the right time for you.
Next, find the Venn diagram overlap that satisfies what you want, what your ex wants, and what the law allows or demands that you do.
I’m assuming here that if you have kids, what your kids need will already be included in what you want and and what your ex wants.
Mediation, negotiation, or lawyers and courts, battles… whatever works.
Set it all out on paper, prepare to get it legally signed and sealed.
The emotional stress load here is *high*. Even if everything proceeds smoothly and amicably, you’re making big decisions, big changes, and big shifts in how you run your life. Emotional support for the impact of going through the legal process is invaluable!
One day, though, you get through. It’s done.
You sigh with relief, celebrate, grieve, and move on.
Logistics. Finances (as per the legals). New home(s). Parenting schedules…
There’s a whole heap of change and sorting out to do here.
Moving house for one or both of you.
The increased household-running tasks. Possibly increased childcare responsibilities (more or less doubled, for me). Keeping all the plates spinning enough so that only the unimportant ones end up on the floor.
In a way, it’s so situation-dependent that I’m not sure what to write that would be helpful.
What I’ve found useful, has been to go for the first-order approximation of ok.
Draw the lines.
Clear the space in between.
Cut your losses.
In my mind, there’s what I call divorce tax – the cost of buying new furniture, the time taken to do X, Y or Z, the practical impacts of various changes.
The price of increased happiness – you might buy a new car, a new kitchen, have a big night out each week.
For me, it’s the divorce tax to buy me and my kid a better life.
It’s easy to get caught up in sentimental stuff, emotional attachment to certain items. That’s totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
Our feelings always try to find a way out – and if you’re not expressing them with words or another mode, they’ll sneak out into how you’re handling your legal divorce process, your practical divorce process, or they’ll get hooked up on ‘that’ picture or ‘this’ tiny item.
There are a lot of dickheads out there who cause untold and unnecessary damage to their ex-partners. Take whatever measures you need to protect yourself from the worst of that.
And don’t be a dickhead yourself, m’kay?
But if/when it happens – it’s bound to – turn to a friend or someone who can gently help you find your way back to the broad-brush agreements and principles.
If you’re considering, heading into, divorcing, or you’re already out the other side and mopping up afterwards, check out the emotional and energy support options I offer.