Peaceful Divorce: How to Live Happily Ever After Even when Your Marriage Fails

It’s often taken for granted many times that divorce is a time of turmoil, anger, regret, hostility, and stress. Does that have to be the case? Recently, a “peaceful divorce movement” has developed to try to limit some of the emotional harm that divorce does to families. The goal is to enable couples, particularly couples with kids, to “un-couple” without ripping apart the legacy of their lives together. Family gatherings or childrens’ functions become a great deal more enjoyable when you don’t have to dread the presence of your former spouse.

Many divorcing partners feel that there are still things they like about their spouse, but they simply don’t feel the same love they once did. Some may even still love their spouses, but just feel as though their lives are too disconnected to continue the marriage. In either case, there’s a lot to be gained by striving for a peaceful divorce. You can maintain a civil or even friendly relationship with your ex, but have the life you want without him or her.

So how does one divorce in peace? First, you need to decide for yourself that a peaceful divorce is truly what you want, make it your first priority—and keep your “eyes on the prize” at all times. A corollary to this is that you must make peace with the failure of your marriage — because if you’re still angry, blaming, or feeling frustrated about what you or your spouse did/did not do “right,” you will be unable to reach your goal.

Second, take steps to ensure success. When you approach your spouse about divorcing, it’s often helpful to state up front that your goal is to end your marriage peacefully, with the goal of creating a different, better relationship. Casting your divorce in the light of beginning a new phase of life (rather than ending one) sets a positive tone for both of you and sets the stage for a lower level of conflict. Opting for divorce mediation is often the most direct route to reaching these goals. Make sure your divorce lawyer is also aware that you are striving towards a peaceful divorce so that he or she won’t take an adversarial posture during negotiations. And if you have children, the key rule in peaceful divorce is: leave them out of it. Your divorce is between you and your spouse; involving kids in any way only, especially when it comes to child custody arrangements, only increases the chance of discord.

Third, understand that some conflict is likely to occur, and make a commitment to consciously disengage when this happens. Even your best efforts to be peaceful may be met with negativity from an angry, hurt spouse. Keep in mind that you can control only your own behavior, not your spouse’s—and that even if your spouse is hostile, you don’t have to respond the same way. Conflict requires two: if you refuse to participate when your spouse picks fights, there can be no fight. This sort of disengagement required mindful effort and awareness of the tactics your spouse may use to provoke you, so it can be helpful to work with a therapist to learn how to recognize and avoid “knee-jerk” responses.