When a couple is getting along (or if they’re ignoring problems) it’s easy to set aside important aspects of the marital partnership. Divorce proceedings illuminate a host of practical issues that — while the couple was married — may have been left unattended. Too often, by the time couples end up in their divorce attorney’s office, it’s too late to save the relationship. And yet, there’s a lot of wisdom to be gleaned when going through the process of divorce.
Divorce forces you to consider financial matters and exactly how you intend to raise your children, as well as to make conscious decisions for how you’ll take care of yourself after the divorce. So why wait until your marriage has crumbled? Here are four helpful practices even the happiest couples can take away from the process of divorce:
Talk About Money
For many couples, the first time they’ve really looked at their household budget, savings and assets in a purely objective manner happens when their attorneys request an accounting from both parties. Wills, power of attorney documents, beneficiary assignments, and other important documents may have been put off “until later.” Why? For some couples, talking about money is awkward.
Enlisting the counsel of a professional financial advisor is a great way to open these important discussions and get on the same page where spending and saving are concerned. A financial planner can also guide you when it comes to making long-term decisions and setting up the financial documents that will safeguard your family today and down the road. You might not need that will for decades, but having it (and keeping it updated) may provide you with greater piece of mind. (Tip: Many banks now provide free financial counseling services. Inquire at your local branch.)
Couples may not really consider how much time one parent spends caring for the children until the family unit is falling apart. When a divorce agreement is drawn up, parenting responsibilities are often divvied up too. For example, the father may have the final say on education and spiritual matters, while the mother may be in charge of medical and recreational decisions. Likewise, custody arrangements are designed to keep things equitable by providing specific guidelines for parental involvement and financial responsibility. But you don’t have to separate to apply the same principles in your family. Clearly defining your responsibilities may help ward of resentment down the road.
Make the Most of “Me Time”
Whether you want it or not, divorce leaves you with … yourself. Often newly single parents who have shared custody arrangements find themselves with free time they didn’t have when the family was intact. At first, being alone may seem unpleasant, but often that “off time” becomes vital to that person’s healing and growth.
If you’re happily married, time for self is a healthy practice, but it’s not always a priority in busy families. Establishing “Mom’s day off,” “Dad’s down time,” or girls/guys nights provides healthy space for individuals to cultivate and sustain your individual friendships, hobbies and interests. Setting aside “me time” allows each spouse to take care of him- or herself. This may also come in the form of counseling or therapy if there are unresolved personal issues.
Seek Another Point of View
Few couples consider going to a therapist when their marriage is going well. But, too often, when things become contentious, it’s difficult to sort out the problems. Why not go to couples’ counseling before there’s a problem?!
Making time to meet with a licensed therapist, marriage counselor or spiritual advisor establishes that maintaining a healthy relationship is a priority for you both. It also gives you a built-in mechanism to air grievances and tackle challenges with the help of an unbiased, trained professional — before they become insurmountable.