Yes, I am a divorce lawyer and yes, I am encouraging you to be ‘friends’ with your ex! Now before you start with those usual ‘lawyer’ comments I want to just note that in my job I have seen it all. I deal with couples who are falling out of love every day. I have been there to help pick up the pieces when often the most horrendous things have occurred, but I still believe that we should do our best to remain on good terms with our exes and I describe this for simplicity as being ‘friends’.
To be clear, I don’t mean that you need to be the sort of ‘friends’ that hang out each week and have deep and meaningful conversations (of course you can if you wish, but this is not what I have in mind anyway). When I say ‘friends’ I mean the sort of relationship you might have with someone who you have not seen for a few years, where, if you bumped into each other in the street, you could smile, say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and there not be a terrible awkwardness.
Now I also appreciate that I make it sound so easy to be friends, and I know that it is not. But the thing is, the end of a significant relationship, particularly when children are involved, is very rarely the absolute end of that relationship. More often, it is a reshaping of a relationship- you might move from being parents who are a couple to parents who were once a couple. Either way you will still be ‘parents’, even when your children are now parents themselves. And sometimes, even where there may not be children, family and friends will still have a big part to play. Where a couple have enjoyed an extensive relationship, lasting many decades, the end of that marriage does not mean the end of the extended family relationships and common friendships and with that can come some real challenges.
Only last week I met with a man whose wife of 42 years had decided that their marriage was at an end. They have children and grandchildren and now of course those relationships are becoming fractured as the whole family comes to deal with the grief caused by the end of their parents’ marriage. Divorce not only affects the couple, it of course can change things for everyone.
But the thing is, life will of course go on- even when sometimes we might wish it would just slow down for a while. There will be birthdays, Christmas’, Weddings and funerals. And just because a marriage has ended does not mean that the need to come together as a family all of a sudden stops.
Falling out of love does not come with a rule book (if only it did everything would be so much easier!) And when we fall out of love we experience immense grief. But the one thing I have learned in my time as a divorce lawyer is that there are many good reasons why you would want to get to a place with your former partner where you can be ‘friendly’. You want to do this for your family and perhaps more importantly for you.
And so how do you do it? How can you remain ‘friends’ with a person who has perhaps caused unbearable pain?
First, you start by focusing on ‘letting go’. Now here it might help a little if you join the kids in reruns of ‘Frozen’ as you chant the words to Idina Menzel’s hit- ‘Let it go!’ The end of a relationship signals many failed expectations. You may have been let down or betrayed and sometimes, over and over again. Holding onto bitterness or regret will only keep you in the past. To survive divorce you will need to push forward to find your future. That future might be different and perhaps even scary to begin with, but it could also be exciting and beautiful with a whole new set of memories just around the corner.
Secondly, you work hard to find the capacity to forgive (and sometimes forget). Forgiveness is a beautiful human trait and one that can be set to challenge us during divorce. There is little point in reliving the past – this often leads to apportioning blame for your failed relationship. Accept your role in things, recognise that you and your spouse may never see eye to eye on many things and start to plan your life into the future. We can’t change our past but we can change our future so leave the past where it is and focus on moving into your new future.
I know many of you reading this will disagree with me about the ‘friends’ thing and that’s ok. I guess for me it comes down to this- I remind myself that as parents we are constantly setting examples for our children- they are learning from us every minute (the good minutes and particularly the bad!) So I ask you to consider this- just think about the message we as parents send our children when we show them that even when are hearts are broken, when things are not at all how we hoped and when life keeps throwing us lemons that we can still pull ourselves together, hold our heads high and treat others (even those who have hurt us terribly) with kindness and respect. Just imagine the message you are sending your children and how that might help them when they face their own challenges not only in love but in life.
A divorce will mean change to many facets of your life and with this change can come a sense of loss, sometimes even the loss of your own identity. But as someone far wiser than me has said ‘the bigger the challenge, the greater the opportunity’. And the beautiful thing about the challenge of divorce is that it is a beautiful opportunity for you to change some things for the better. Letting go of the past is never easy and takes a lot of time but being able to smile warmly at your children as you attend important events in their life, hopefully sitting alongside their other parent is both a challenge to be faced but an opportunity to teach your children a very powerful life lesson that they are unlikely to forget and will probably thank you for when they to start to face the challenges that love throws our way.
If you are experiencing divorce or separation and don’t know where to start, Clarissa’s book, ‘Splitsville- How to separate, stay out of Court and stay friends’ will keep you on the right path. Available in bookstores now or Order your copy here.
If you are looking to better understand the legal process during separation and divorce, come and join my next Family Law Information Session here in Brisbane. They are held monthly, but if you can’t attend in person, don’t worry you can listen to my online session. Learn more here.