Whether you are the one who has been contemplating divorce or you are the one who hearing about your spouse’s decision, the whole idea of divorce so easily brings up so many fears about what the future holds. Where will I live? Will I have enough money to live on? What will happen to our children? And on and on and on. I call those “catastrophysing thoughts” – thinking that divorce is about to happen seems to trigger a cascade of fears about the unknown future. What will happen to me? Will my spouse take me all our money, take me to court, take the children away from me, and on and on? I am familiar with this scenario because it happened to me.
After agonizing for months about it, I finally worked up the nerve to initiate the painful conversation with my husband about separating and eventually divorcing. During that very difficult first conversation we made two agreements with one another that turned out to be crucial to our family. One agreement was that we would not surprise one another – that neither of us would change the way we handled household finances or file anything with the court or do anything else unusual until we had personally told the other of that plan. Our second agreement was that we would not fight through, over, or about our children (who were 11 and 14 years old). The immediate impact on each of us of making these two agreements was to calm our respective fears about what the other person might do. Although we concluded that first conversation without either of us knowing what our next steps would be, we were each reassured that we did not need to be afraid of the other person.
A few weeks following our first painful conversation about separating and eventually getting divorced, my husband found two co-mediators, an attorney-mediator and a psychologist-mediator, to work with us. At our first meeting with our co-mediators we made a third agreement, which was that we would make all of our decisions based upon what we jointly believed to be in the best interests of our children. With the very wise and compassionate guidance of our co-mediators (we now call this an integrative mediation process) we were able to come to agreements about all the issues we needed to address and to continue to co-parent our children in two households. I believe that these first agreements we made at the very outset of our separation and ultimate divorce significantly impacted how each member experienced our family’s transition.
So, if you can make agreements with your spouse early in your separation and divorcing process, I recommend that you include these three agreements:
- No surprises. Neither spouse will change finances or parenting patterns or file anything with the court without first advising the other spouse.
- We will not fight through, over, or about our children.
- We will make agreements based upon what we jointly believe to be in the best interests of our children.