The Right Way to Divorce: Four Principles for a Harmonious Uncoupling

All too often divorcing couples create a lot of drama and discourse. Emotions run high and it’s easy to get carried away when your heart is broken and you feel you’ve been wronged. But fighting fire with fire only tends to cause more harm. As the Buddha put it: “When you pick up a hot coal to throw at your enemy, you may not hit your target, but you will always get burned.”

Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of marriage at Focus on the Family, suggests another way to approach uncoupling. Although Smalley recommends only divorce after all other options have been exhausted, he believes divorcing couples can part ways without acrimony. In a recent article for FoxNews, Smalley outlined these four main principles for an amical divorce:

1. Honor Yourself – and the Other Person

“Regardless of the animosity that might exist between divorcing spouses, it’s critical to remember that the other person is valuable and worthy of dignity and respect,” Smalley says. “It’s not uncommon for angry and hurt spouses to gather up support against the soon-to-be ex-spouse. Piling on may feel good at first, but it diminishes the other person. Resist the urge to do so.”

Take the high ground rather playing in the mud. Focus on rebuilding your own life, rather than tearing down your ex. Even when talking with your closest friends, try to limit the negative talk. If necessary, write down frustrations and then delete, shred or burn your rant to release your anger in an appropriate way.

2. Grieve Well

The end of any significant relationship, whether due to death or estrangement, should be acknowledged so you can move forward. It is natural to go through the stages of grief when divorcing. Give yourself time and space to feel the loss. “It’s critical to find emotional and professional support in the form of a qualified and credentialed counselor,” Smalley says. “Friends also play a vital role but find ones who will be candid with you and hold you accountable.”

3. Model Handling Difficulty for Your Children

“Children are the innocent victims of divorce, but it’s important for them to see how you navigate tragedy and trial,” says Smalley. “They’re watching and learning. Whenever possible, be gracious.”

Divorce presents an opportunity for you to show your children how to deal with life’s changes –especially when the change was not your idea. Studies have shown that how parents respond to divorce is far more important than the terms of the split itself. But don’t gloss over the loss. Allow your children to feel sad, angry or confused and model for them the appropriate ways to express their feelings. This will be a lesson they will remember all their lives.

4. Deal with your own issues

“It’s easy to place all the blame for the dissolution of a marriage on the other person,” Smalley says. “But marriage is the union of two imperfect people, so there are always areas you need to own. What did you do to bring about the problems? Don’t sweep it under the rug and pin all fault on your spouse. Confront your own shortcomings and learn from your mistakes, lest you repeat the same ones down the road.” You may need an objective point of view to truly explore your side of the issues. Engage the services of a skilled therapist or spiritual advisor, or join a divorce support group or Al Anon Family Group to help you discern the areas of your life and personality that may have contributed to the demise of your marriage.