It’s the end of the year, and the holiday season is winding down; you might be surprised to know that the divorce season is ramping up.
Divorce season, what on earth is that? I’ve not seen it in the Hallmark aisle, and retailers have already jumped straight from menorah and mistletoe to Valentine’s day. Did they miss an opportunity to merchandise?
Here’s what it looks like (especially after the last couple of years of layering on the additional stress of Covid, homeschooling, sheltering in place, you know, “all the things” in many relationships). Someone is thinking about leaving their marriage, but they don’t want to upset family during the holidays, ruin traditions, or be alone. So they smile and put on their holiday happy face and pretend like everything is okay while counting the days before they can say out loud that they want to leave their marriage and move on to what’s next.
And then, it’s time. It’s a new year, and it’s going to be different; life will be different. And the first step in that is to tell your spouse you want a divorce (see some thoughts on how to do that before you blurt it out over New Year’s Day leftovers).
Here are three things to think about
1) Take your time.
Divorce can be a long and involved process; different laws apply in other states. Often people are so exhausted by the emotional strain of the holidays and their marriage they’ll jump right into “I want a divorce, I’m moving out” without educating themselves about their alternatives and the long-term effects of choices they’re making now.
Take a breath. Learn about your options. Seek out professionals who share similar sensibilities, not from neighbors, cousins, acquaintances. Their marriage was not your marriage, and their divorce shouldn’t be the model for yours (unless it was the most loving, splendid, and kind parting of the ways you’ve ever seen – then, by all means, model your divorce on that!
2) Begin the process intentionally.
Consider starting with the least invasive and aggressive choices. There is a tendency to go all out in an offensive stance from the start. Keep in mind that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. When you start with an aggressive litigation-oriented attorney because you were told: “they’re the best,” the likelihood of working towards a peaceful and efficient resolution will go way down. Even if you and your spouse may be relatively amicable in your decision not to be married anymore, kicking that off with a contentious process won’t support cooperative conversations down the line when you’re making hard decisions.
3) Be okay not being okay.
Even if you are the person in your marriage initiating the divorce, you’ll be making many difficult decisions. This tumult especially holds if you have a long-standing marriage, children, and a more complex financial situation. We’ve fostered an “I’m fine” culture. Our world might be crashing down over our heads and, when asked, we blithely and unconsciously affirm, “I’m fine.” Looking back, that’s one of the biggest mistakes I made in my divorce. I was a whole lot of not okay for most of the process and a long time after it was final, but I put on my mask and told the world I was okay when I was crumbling inside. Thinking you can plow through and checklist the living daylights out of the divorce process is a fantasy and fallacy that postpones the real work of processing the monumental changes in your world.
I’m not saying spill your soul to every person you come into contact with; I suggest you take it slow and be ruthlessly honest and tender with yourself about getting the structure and support you need when your world is being rearranged constantly and in real-time.
And if you are not the person who’s getting divorced but you are their friend or family or coworker,
be there for them. Be sensitive and rationale and aware. Listen and discern if their “I’m fine” is authentic or acting.
You don’t have to have answers. Often just being, sitting with someone in their confusion and upset is enough. Be well.
Content provided by Women Belong member Brenda Bridges