7 Steps To A “Good Divorce” When You Have Children

low-conflict co-parenting

When children are in the mix, a “good divorce” happens when two people make mindful choices to end their marriage and co-parent with as little conflict as possible. Want to give it a try? Here are 7 tips to help you disentangle yourself from your ex gracefully, setting the stage for a cooperative co-parenting relationship.

Practice peaceful communication strategies. Communicating appropriately is the #1 way to make low-conflict co-parenting a success. Leave emotion, opinion, sarcasm, and parenting advice out of your correspondence. If your ex sends you a hostile email, cool off before you write back. Draft a response and look it over when you’ve calmed down. Delete anything subjective. Stick to facts and logistics: Ben’s science project is due on Monday, or, my mother is coming into town this Friday, would it be possible to swap weekends? If your ex persists in trying to provoke you via electronic communication, try not to get hooked. Being diligent about using conscious communication will give your ex less ammunition.

Recognize that the nature of your relationship has changed. You no longer have a romantic relationship; you have a business partnership. When you have kids, you and your ex are now co-CEOs of a company called Our Children. If you’re vengeful and blaming, you will run your “company” into the ground. Think of your co-parent as a colleague. You don’t have to like him or her, but you do need to behave in a respectful, straightforward manner to work towards your goal of raising well-adjusted children. [For more tips, see 5 Steps to Successful Co-Parenting.]

Manage your emotional reactivity. It’s natural to feel angry, sad, resentful, and scared when you divorce. But that doesn’t mean you have to act on those emotions. Remember that feelings aren’t facts, and as uncomfortable as they are right now, they won’t last forever. Get in the habit of pausing when you feel upset. Use your coping skills to tolerate the discomfort so you can make mindful choices instead of kneejerk reactions.

Make dignity your goal. If you’re serious about low-conflict co-parenting, revenge cannot be your goal. Trying to “win” will keep you locked in battle. When you set your intention to behave in ways that keep your dignity in tact, you will feel more peaceful and invite a more positive response from your ex. Behaving with dignity doesn’t mean you’re a doormat; it just means that you assert yourself appropriately, manage your emotions, and support your ex’s relationship with your children.

Realize that life isn’t fair. Maybe you didn’t get the amount of spousal support you think you deserve. Maybe you have to pay more child support than you think you should. Maybe your cousin in California got a “better” divorce. Obsessing about the unfairness of it all is pointless because, guess what? Life isn’t fair! And a whole lot of people in the world have it much worse than you. So accept this basic truth and focus on what’s going right.

Turn your divorce into an opportunity for personal growth. Wallowing in fear and anger will keep you stuck in shame and blame. This personal crisis is an opportunity to reboot your hard drive. What patterns and behaviors do you need to change in yourself? What are your values? If you don’t know, figure them out. Having all the “stuff” they want won’t keep you happy; living in accordance to your values will.

Sweep your own side of the street. Keeping a running tally of your ex’s wrongs is a colossal waste of time and energy. Marinating in resentment won’t change him or her. It will, however, make you miserable, bitter, and likely to lash out. The next time you find yourself obsessing about your former spouse’s shortcomings, shift your focus to your own behavior. What was your part in the demise of the marriage? What do you need to change in yourself? Low-conflict co-parenting means taking accountability to help you make conscious choices during, and after, your divorce.

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How Does Collaborative Divorce Differ From Traditional Divorce?

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