Creating a Working Divorce
by Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.
Divorced parents need to "remarry" around their shared commitment to the children’s welfare by creating a workable relationship for those children’s sake. Just because ex-spouses no longer have a loving relationship does not mean they cannot now create an amicable one. They can, and many do.
The challenge for divorced partners with children is to create a working divorce, forging a partnership to support the healthy care and growth of their children in whatever ways they can.
What does a working divorce look like? Here are five components to consider, or five objectives to work for, if you so choose.
1) Adequate communication. Keep each other sufficiently informed about what is going on with the children when they are in your care, and deal with any disagreements in a non-evaluative and cooperative way. "In this instance, I disagree with what you want for the children, this is why, and this is what I think might work better instead. I would like for us to talk and work something out that we can both support."
2) Emotional reconciliation. Let go any unrequited feelings of love or hard feelings from past hurts so that both partners are emotionally free to move on joined only by the common caring they share for the children.
3) Social cooperation. Keep parenting agreements so you both feel you can count on each other’s commitments to share responsibility for the children’s welfare and care, and still be flexible to make changes when unexpected parental or child need arises.
4) Mutual support. Create consistency of arrangements between households (like following a medication schedule or supervising homework for a child’s good) and back the other parent up with children around a disciplinary demand with which you agree, where the other parent can benefit from your support.
5) Personal respect. Do not expect or demand that the ex-spouse’s household be run in a similar fashion, with similar values, routines, and rules to your own. Unless child safety is at issue, accept the diversity between the two households as reflecting honorable (and usually increasing) lifestyle differences between the two parents.
Why work toward these objectives? For the sake of your children. Just consider what it is like for children who live between parents who have a non-working divorce, as some parents unhappily do.
When it comes to communication, they either won’t speak at all, won’t speak in a civil manner when they do communicate, or charge the conversation with old accusations from past grievances to feed fresh arguments between them.
When it comes to emotional reconciliation, they hold on to past hurts and hard feelings that they will neither forgive nor let go, even acting to get back at each other for past injuries received.
When it comes to cooperation, rather than that take each other into consideration when making arrangements, they make things more difficult by not honoring commitments and insisting on inconvenient arrangements, perhaps not sharing important information about the children, and not sending belongings that should accompany children on visitation.
When it comes to support, they continually fault and undercut each other’s parental stands and regimens with the children, and one parent may even delay child support payments to string the other parent out.
When it comes to respect, they criticize each other’s lifestyles, parenting, and personal characteristics to demean each other in the children’s eyes.
Parents who truly love their children do not want to add additional suffering from a non-working divorce to the existing pain from marital breakup that children are already suffering.
Many couples who end up marrying very badly learn to divorce very well. Separation can do wonders for some relationships. "When we were married, we were too abrasive and emotional for our own good. But now that we’re divorced and have some distance from each other, and don’t have to live together every day, we can be more relaxed and reasonable in how we parent the kids."
There are four major variables under adult control that significantly effect how well children adjust to parental divorce. First is how well parents individually recover from divorce. Second is how amicably the divorced couple reconciles their differences after divorce. Third is how actively they both choose to remain in the children’s lives. And fourth is how smoothly two-household family living is made to work for the children.
So just because your marriage worked out badly doesn’t mean you can’t make your divorce work out well.
© Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. 2004. All rights reserved.