If you're married, chances are you'll get divorced. Fifty-three percent to be exact.
The tunnel of love will turn to hate, where passages of romance and relative calm morph into disdain and anxiety, a dark ride that becomes darker.
I've heard the term amicable divorce many times but I've never heard of one that actually was. So, chances are yours won't be. (I have no statistics to support this, only experience and observation.)
The legal system doesn't care about you. It doesn't even want to know you. It wants to be done with you. Your family and friends can help you stay afloat to some extent. Beyond that, navigating the deep, angry sea of divorce and its aftermath is a lonesome and emotionally depleting journey.
Therapy, medication, working out, sleep, meditation, yoga, massage -- these are useful in helping you deal with stress but their benefits are ephemeral and do not propel your situation forward. The fact is, most people getting divorced want the same thing: to get it over with.
My focus here is to offer several overlooked means to that end, techniques that drive results, not temporarily enhance your state of mind. My view is, if you approach the process in ways that move it forward, your overall well-being will be restored sooner rather than later. You can't get that from a stretch or a martini.
In the end, how you got into the dire straits of divorce has little to do with how you steer your way out. Below are five often overlooked ways that can help. These assume the words mediate, amicable, and straightforward don't apply to your situation. None of this is legal advice. I am not an attorney, just someone who's been through it.
#1 Get to the Eleventh Hour
Few things rival the anguish and despair that is divorce and the first few years that follow it. However bad it seems at the start, it will likely get worse; in many cases, much worse. And it can remain unavoidably tortuous for quite some time, with little hope of improvement.
Therefore, you must do everything you can to expedite the process. Once you identify what the two of you simply will not agree on, prepare for court and let the other side know that's where you're headed. You may have to waste time and money with mandatory settlement panels and arbitration before going to court, so you need to get past those in order to get to the 11th hour, otherwise known as the courthouse steps, where most disputes are finally resolved.
The process always hurts and only gets better when it's over. Put another way, the bullet isn't removed when you retain an attorney; it's removed when the court stamps your settlement agreement as final. So, the faster you get through it, the faster you can start to heal and improve your life. Be thorough but hurry up. Get it over with.
#2 Get Out of the House
Literally, get out of your house or apartment. Whether you're living alone or managing three small children, you need community, diversion, inspiration. You will otherwise cut yourself off and suffer deeply. Find ways to get out, even for 30 minutes if your schedule is tight. Instead of making coffee, go out for a cup and read, sit, socialize, whatever. If you're unemployed, like so many people these days, your social needs are even greater. Classes, friends, networking, dating, churches, and so on can be helpful. Very little will happen or improve if you stay inside and keep to yourself.
Figuratively, get out of the house means get out of your head. Do those things that bring you joy whether you're in your house or not; hobbies, interests, and the de-stressing activities I mentioned above are good examples. You must engage with people and you must feed your head and your heart. Get out.
#3 Get Over Your Spouse's Behavior
Denial, stubbornness, and retribution are not only useless, they're counter-productive. Babies cry, drunk people slur their words, and mentally deficient people do irrational things. None of these should surprise you. Similarly, questioning your spouse's meanness, stubbornness, irrationality, unfairness, over the top control issues, and so on, are worth noting but not holding onto.
At some point, shaking your head repeatedly and upsetting yourself more than you need to becomes counter-productive. Incessantly talking to yourself out loud is the sound of the other side winning.
The goal is to get over these things relatively quickly, once you've acknowledged and dealt with them as best you can. This one is perhaps the hardest of the five I'm suggesting here. I know. I've been there. But many of us have gotten past it, and we'd like you to join us.
#4 Get out of Your Comfort Zone and Embrace Change
Throughout the divorce process and subsequent to it, you have to accept many things. The most fundamental and overarching of these is the discomfort that comes from the person you married not being who you thought they were. This is one of life's most cruel examples of cognitive dissonance, when you hold two contradictory or conflicting beliefs: You married one person and are divorcing another. If you feel paralyzed with anxiety or the fear of change, consider the dissonance in your kids' heads. That should motivate you to act inside your comfort zone and out.
All five of these techniques are easier said than done. Accepting and embracing change is the toughest for some. Divorce touches nearly every aspect of your life -- schedule, money, friends, stability, dating, living situation, work, your relationship with your children, and so on -- but it will only ruin things if you let it. Tough as it may be, change is what's coming so you'd better get out front of it, create it, learn to like it or at least go with the flow of it.
#5 Get Past Fault and Fairness
You can waste a lot of time being right. You can win battles and lose wars. You can stare off into space wondering how you got there and how unfair life and the legal system are. Even if the all the blame lies with your spouse, remember: You picked him (her).
The overriding point here is that no matter how justified you are in feeling, believing, or acting however you do, frustration and anger are best channeled through your therapist and workout. Reframing and moving on are what you need to get to -- and lest you forget our theme here, as quickly as possible. It's not that you're wrong. It's not that you don't deserve more or better. It's that you're being transported from married world to divorce world, which doesn't rotate on an axis of fairness. I hate to be the one to break it to you but the legal system does not and cannot deliver justice equitably when it comes to matrimonial law. No one leaves the negotiating table or courtroom happy or without being seriously injured.
Are any of these five techniques easy to master? Nope. Do they come naturally? They do not.
But regardless of whether you did anything to create this mess in the first place, you have to get through the stages of divorce, as you do with loss and grief. The sooner you come to acceptance, the sooner you will be reborn, and the sooner your divorce date will become your new birthday.
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