Divorce: Independence or Enslavement?

07/04/2011 11:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 03, 2011
  • Mark Schwartz Co-founder and entertainment lawyer

July 4 prompted thoughts of whether divorce is a declaration of independence or a form of slavery.

Whether we wanted divorce or not, if we are getting divorced I submit the goal is independence, at least from our ex. I don't mean excommunication. In the best divorces communication and cooperation are possible or even necessary if you have kids. Even friendship is attainable if exes are willing to swap amity for antagonism. Easier said than done.

And it's easier said than done for divorce to be a move toward independence rather than an enslaver. As in most things human, the answer in how you slice it. Factors to consider if you have a will to move your experience of divorce toward independence and away from slavery:

• Are you the 'dumper' or dumpee? If the former you may indeed be declaring independence and feel liberated. If the latter you may be enslaved by anger and unrequited love. Or legion injustices may have taken place within the marriage which led to the altar of divorce. There's no easy fix for these imbalances any more than there is an easy fix for relationships where one partner loves more than the other. This is where one of my divorce mantras comes in: therapy! If you're a thinking feeling human, divorce sucks whether you're the instigator or an unwitting victim, whether wrongs were done to you or you were the inflictor of them. If you have any money left, get therapy. Once it's over (see Huffington Post's It's Over: Readers Share The Moment They Knew to help identify the end, amazing and scary!) what you need is independence from the marriage and the tangle of emotions surrounding its end. If there ain't no cure for love, there is a partial cure to love's end--therapy. That may well include anti-depressant or mood elevating drugs dispensed by a therapist if needed or useful. Fall back on your friends of course. And meaningless sex if available and tolerable. Formulate a goal to be free of the emotional slavery to the end of the marriage, and treat the path to that freedom like you would a task at work or as you would evaluate a long ago war in a history book. Independence is a right and privilege you will have to work hard for, start with therapy.
• Are you financially able to deal with the obligations and/or lifestyle hit divorce may impose? The closer to yes, the more independent and less enslaved you are. I emphasize ability to deal rather than the best deal. The more you focus on ability to deal instead of ideal, the less enslaved you are. Like it or not, the best result in this damage control situation is moving on with the least pain if not a gain. Treating every concession you make as an indignity enslaves you, and if you have kids possibly hurts them, at least as much as it hurts your ex however richly (s)he might deserve the push back.
• If you are in a pitched divorce battle- ask yourself whether you or your ex and are ready to give up the connection that preceded the downfall of the marriage. Faced with its demise, you or (s)he may unconsciously be serving the need for that connection by being locked in battle. Counter-intuitive I know but I've witnessed it multiple times! It's like the myth of the ancient Irish warrior Cuchulain fighting the ocean tide. A losing battle. If you're fighting, ask yourself early and often, why are you fighting? If it's because of raw anger rather than some necessary goal, try and declare independence from vengeful motives, which are themselves counter-productive and may subconsciously serve a bondage to the relationship that was. If you question and explore your motives, you may avoid being locked in--i.e. enslaved by--the need to bleed or draw blood caused by the void a dead marriage may leave in its wake.. And you could save a ton on legal fees too!

This Independence Day, see if you can focus on the fireworks that light up the sky rather than the kind that flare up in courtrooms. Independence may then take on a positive double-meaning in your divorce!