When fighting through a divorce, it’s normal to feel like we are getting dragged through the mud for months—even years—wondering if it will ever end. Couples fight over almost everything—who’s responsible for paying off the credit cards, who gets the children during Christmas—the list is infinite.
So, it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do and how we want to approach the situation when the acrimony grows. In essence, we must learn how to pick our battles mindfully. Determining what and what not to fight about can be as tricky as navigating a minefield. But the following suggestions will help you to do so with less drama and stress.
1. Accept that it’s going to be confusing and weird for a while.
Do not beat yourself up when you feel frustrated during the split. Divorce is a messy business transaction that collides with emotions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. If you feel confused and panicked, it’s because you’re human.
But in spite of the chaos, it’s important to remember that you will get through this, and you don’t have to let arguing define you.
2. Understand that nobody really “wins” their divorce.
Culturally, we are conditioned to review divorce as an an “us versus them” transaction, where the two opposing sides must fight to get their way. Many high conflict divorce lawyers–knows as “gladiators,” will encourage their clients to fight for total control of the marriage’s assets, custody, etc. It’s easy to fall into this trap, but is it what you really want?
When you are forced to make business decisions during such an emotional time, you may act out of spite and try to “get back” at your spouse, extracting revenge. However, you must keep in mind that this will cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, inflict additional stress on you and your children, and possibly prolong your divorce. You may get the upper hand from a litigation standpoint–but at what cost to you, your emotional health, and your chance to move on with your life?
3. Ask yourself: Am I fighting over something I absolutely can’t live without?
Answering this question truthfully gives you a better understanding of what you feel is non-negotiable when choosing which battles to fight. Everyone’s situation is different, and each person must figure out for him or herself what is truly worth the time and emotional energy to battle over. These factors may include alimony, savings, child support, fair division of debt, temporary spousal support, and protection orders if there is any type of endangerment.
But remember, not everything during a divorce is something you need to survive.
4. What do my dependents and I need to ensure our security and well-being?
Think of this question as the bottom section of Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs. The foundation of the pyramid represents survival–the same things that we need to advocate for during the split. But remember, you must be completely honest with yourself. While you and your children may need temporary spousal support to make ends meet, that doesn’t necessarily include the gas grill that you really liked.
Remember–advocate for the things you and your dependents really need, not the things you think you are owed.
5. How can I prioritize the wants?
Divorces drag sometimes due to division of assets that have nothing to do with money. Legal battles have gone on as couples fight for possession of the things that hold sentimental value to both of them (family photographs, heirlooms). Although it wouldn’t leave you destitute to lose these things, you would feel deeply wounded, since they remind you of happier times. We may also make special demands as a way of exercising control.
This behavior is natural–because we are human and have emotions and and desires. But the key is to understand why we truly want these things, so we can prioritize and determine where to best spend our time and energy.
6. Why can’t I give this up?
The things you think you deserve are often based on emotion—many times, they are matters of the heart.
Two competent parents may fight over custody for months, because they both feel more entitled to the children than the other partner. One spouse may drag their feet, insisting they always get the children for Christmas, not necessarily because the other parent is incompetent, but because they are resentful of the divorce and somehow feel that they “deserve” this due to “what the spouse has put them through.”
If you find yourself trying to justify what you’re asking for because you think it is owed to you, pause and try to think objectively.
7. Am I fighting just because I’m angry and hurt?
Anger may cause you to project bitter feelings at our spouse in the only way you can—by “getting back” at them. You will find yourself in the lawyer’s office soliciting advice on how to “make the ex pay” for the hurt they have caused.
Although you cannot control how your spouse behaves during this process, you can work on acting rationally. Remember, the smoother the divorce goes, the faster the healing process can begin.
8. Am I fighting because I’m afraid of change?
One reason divorce is so tough is because it uproots what you thought was normal and does away with any sense of control you thought you had–over your life, your marriage, and your identity. When you’re trying to process those emotions and that sense of loss, you sometimes displace that lack of control and fight harder for things you still have a say over.
It’s normal to be afraid because you do not know the future. You fear venturing into the unknown. When you acknowledge that certain demands stem from fear, you can begin to face them head on.
9. How will this impact my future?
As we discussed in point two, it is important to remember that nobody “wins” during a divorce—a case can drag out for years with the only thing to show for it being a drained bank account, cashed-out 401ks, and stress inflicted on yourself and your children that may never be reconciled.
That is not to say you shouldn’t stick up for yourself. But before you begin a legal, emotional, and financial “Battle Royale”, you must consider how you will feel about this one, ten, and even twenty years form now.
If you are drained and broke after fighting, how can you start the new chapter in your life? You must balance advocating for yourself while fighting the urge to maintain an illusion of control that no longer exists.
Your lawyer may want you to fight for everything. Your friends and family may say the same. Your spouse may be acting unreasonably. Outside forces make it very hard to figure out what we should be asking and negotiating for during a divorce. But at the end of the day, it’s your decision what’s worth fighting for, and what’s worth letting go.
The key is to be honest with yourself, kind to yourself, and mindful of the new chapter in your life that you can look forward to once this difficult journey ends. Let those points guide you in spending your time, money, and emotional energy.
Featured photo credit: 1-800-Divorce/Stan Wiechers via flickr.com