How to win at divorce

Recently, over on Twitter, someone asked for some advice on divorce. They were going through a breakup and the subsequent legal wranglings and, like most of us who go through that awful experience, felt a little lost. Divorce is hard, as is breaking up with anyone you love and have built a life with. At the start of it everything in your life brings sadness as you are reminded of what you lost and that the future you had been dreaming of that will now not happen with someone you loved. They can easily become bitter and ensure that nobody comes out of it with anything but hate and remorse in their hearts.

There is no right or wrong way of acting during a breakup and divorce that will work for everyone; after all, every person and every situation is different. How someone reacts after finding their spouse in a hotel with another person will differ fundamentally from someone else who has a series of deep discussions with their partner and agrees a mutually beneficial ending of things.

While you need to do what is right for you and those involved, here are a few simple things to keep in mind to make the road ahead as painless as it is possible to make it.

It’s not a competition

It can be very easy indeed to feel you are in direct competition with your ex, where it’s not enough merely to win but that you also need to do all you can to ensure the other part loses. This road leads to long, drawn out, expensive processes which not only take months or years and cost tens of thousands of pounds but which also become all consuming and draining for you and those you love.

The only person you need to make sure wins is yourself, and winning doesn’t come from punishing someone. They’ve already lost, as they’ve lost you and the future you would have been part of, and you’ve already won by cutting out of your life someone who wasn’t going to be right for you long-term. As tempting as it might feel to use this as an opportunity for revenge, the very best revenge is going on to lead a happy life and showing them all that they have missed out on.

Leave the kids out of it

I cannot stress this enough – never, ever, EVER use your children during divorce or breakups. I speak not only as a parent who has gone through divorce but also as a child of a bitter divorce, so have seen first hand both of those angles and the impact it has.

Using children takes a variety of forms, the most obvious of which is denying access to your ex unless they act in a certain way or meet certain demands. But it also comes in the form of undermining the other parent through making comments about them, emotionally turning children away from their other parent and building a barrier between them that may take decades to break down if it ever is able to be destroyed at all.

Your children are innocent in all this. They are not pawns or negotiation pieces. With the exception of parents who are abusive to their children in some way, no parent should be denied access to their children. What they may have done to contribute to the divorce happening is between the two of you, not between them and their children. You may think that what happened they did knowing it would affect the kids, that they did it to hurt them and did it to you as a family.

That them-vs-us mindset may help you cope, but the damage it does to your children is massive and impossible to either measure or repair entirely. They will grow up with trust issues and relationship issues which may dog them for the rest of their lives. That’s not fair. That’s selfish.

Do not poison them with lies or half-truths, do not make snide comments about your ex around them, do not make them feel guilt for still loving both of you, do not make them feel like they need to choose one of you over the other, do not ever make them feel less loved because your relationship broke down. That feeling never goes away, and will harm them for the rest of their lives and in every relationship that follows.

Be as quick as you can, but not quicker

Dragging out divorce helps nobody other than the lawyers involved. The sooner you get through the divorce stage of things, the sooner you can move through the shock and grief phases and onto reflection and healing. A bit of paper or a final agreement may not be an end to the journey, but not having it will definitely slow it down or stop it altogether.

Reflect on what is truly important to you. If it is possessions or money then by all means fight tooth and nail for every pot, pan and penny. If, however, it’s happiness, peace and time spent in a good place with those you love then step back and let some things go. You can always make more money, you can always replace possessions, but you can never make more time.

In this rush to be happy, though, don’t let yourself be taken for a ride. Focus on what is fair in terms of restarting your life, not on making it difficult for the other person to live. No amount of punishment like that will make you feel better in the long-term, even if it feels like one of the few ways you can feel any sort of justice. True justice comes from them understanding what they did and being remorseful. You making their life more difficult gives them the excuse to paint you as the villain and become the victim.

Remember why you broke up

There are almost as many reasons for why people break up as there are reasons to get together in the first place, but in dark times it can be easy to forget them. When you’re feeling alone and abandoned, sitting on your sofa with junk food packets strewn around you as you tuck into your second bottle of wine it is easy to think back at all you have lost and pine for the other person. Perhaps they weren’t that bad after all, perhaps they could change, perhaps there’s things you could do differently that would make things work next time.

No. Stop that. You’re wrong.

You broke up for a reason, and that reason was a good reason. In the clear light of day you will understand that, and that ultimately it will result in a better life for you. Trust that person, trust those instincts and stay strong.

Trust future-you

Future-you is a badass. Future-you is incredible. There is not a single situation in your entire life that a future version of you didn’t sort out. Even those times which were hardest, where you had no idea how you’d recover or how you’d get through it, a future version of yourself sorted everything out and made sure you not only got through it but came out the other side stronger than before.

You may have no idea how you’ll cope after divorce, how you’ll feel, what you’ll do or how you’ll recover. That’s fine. Current-you doesn’t need to know. It’s okay for current-you to feel lost and adrift without much of a plan in place. All that current-you needs to do is trust the process and trust that future-you will find a way to navigate these tricky waters that even current-you won’t be able to spot until they are all safely behind you.

You’ve got this.

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