The Seven Deadly Sins of Divorce
Experts weigh in on how to make splitting up less painful
June 10, 2010
By: Natasha Burton
Whether you are happily married now, or hoping to be one day, there’s one topic you’d probably rather not think about: divorce. Yet, most of us know at least one wedded couple who has split up. And then there’s that ominous 50 percent statistic, which often scares us into believing that a marriage’s survival is as subject to chance as whether a coin will flip heads or tails.
In fact, this 50/50 buzz-phrase may not even be accurate, Time magazine reports, noting how difficult it is to even track divorce stats. Time cites a University of Pennsylvania study’s conclusion that the age at which a person marries can be a better predictor of the relationship’s success. The study found that 81 percent of college graduates who wed during the ’80s, at age 26 or older, were still married 20 years later — the number decreased to 65 percent for college grads who married before age 26.
But, no matter the risk, it never hurts to be prepared if you do happen to find yourself in the midst of a legal split. And navigating the situation unbiasedly can be difficult, as your emotions affect the ability to make critical decisions.
In light of this, we enlisted licensed marriage and family therapist Shannon Fox and divorce attorney Celeste Liversidge, authors of the new book Last One Down the Aisle Wins, to share their expert opinion on what they consider to be the seven worst deeds a divorcing couple can commit.
1. Forcing Your Kids to Take Sides
The last thing a parent wants to do during a divorce is to cause more pain for the children. Unfortunately, more often than not, the way a parent acts during the divorce makes things much worse for the kids than necessary. Sure, it’s a painful time — you’re angry, you often times want to punish your ex — but using your kids as pawns in the process will cause irreparable damage to them. Don’t force them to take sides or to prove their love to you by defying their other parent. No matter how hard, the best thing you can do for your kids during a divorce is to remind them that both of their parents love them and will always have a relationship with them.
2. Using Your Attorney as a Therapist
Your attorney may be a whiz when it comes to the law, a compassionate human being, and a good listener … but he or she is not a trained mental health professional. And don’t forget, all that time you spend complaining to your lawyer about how controlling your ex was during the marriage or how you knew walking down the aisle that it was a bad idea — you’re on the clock. And that’s a pretty pricey sounding board.
3. Spending $10,000 to get $1,000
Time and time again, we’ve seen couples make the mistake of fighting to the bitter end about who gets the flat screen, the DVD collection or the frequent flier miles. But guess what? By the time you pay your lawyers to duke it out, who do you think ends up the winner? That’s right, the lawyers. Don’t be short-sighted: Chances are, you’re not really fighting about the “thing” anyway, you’re just trying to win. And making your lawyers rich off your refusal to back down is definitely a losing proposition.
4. Taking a Laissez Faire Approach to Your Case
While you don’t want to be that client who calls your attorney every day to inquire about the status of your case (annoying), we don’t recommend that you just lie low during your divorce. Too often, divorce cases seem to go on forever, which translates into prolonged emotional turmoil, as well as thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. While it’s true that the court system tends to move slowly, you can do yourself a huge favor by staying on top of your case and holding your lawyer accountable for his or her hourly billing and a timeline for finishing the case. Rather than lengthy check-in calls or costly visits to the law office, request a weekly email update from your attorney.
5. Refusing to Mediate
We understand that the thought of waving the white flag and sitting down at a conference table with your ex in an effort to hash things out civilly may make your skin crawl, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t at least give it a shot. You may not be able to settle all the issues in your case without hearing from the judge, but even knocking out a few issues through mediation can really save you time and money. Most people who go through mediation report greater satisfaction in the process than traditional divorce proceedings. And who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you and your soon-to-be-ex actually agree on some things.
6. Demonizing Your Ex
Not only is it in bad taste to share the gory details of your spouse’s extramarital sexual escapades with the children, it is harmful to them. When you trash a child’s mom or dad, you are trashing a part of them. This is their one and only dad/mom. Whereas you can divorce yourself from the relationship that you chose, the children can’t. This is their mom or dad for the rest of their lives. Trust us: If your ex is a bad person, your children will discover it on their own. But, remember, they did not marry him or her — their relationships should remain unencumbered by your relational baggage.
7. Jumping into a Rebound Relationship
Divorce is one of the most stressful and isolating experiences you could ever go through. It makes sense that you would desire the comfort, emotional connection and fun distraction that a new romantic relationship can offer. Refrain. Refrain because you are nowhere near ready to give another person what they deserve in a relationship. Refrain because your kids will be further traumatized by bringing a “new parent” into their lives, when they are reeling from the loss of their intact family. Refrain because you will never learn from the mistakes you made in your first marriage, if you don’t take time to figure out your responsibility in the failure of the relationship. Use this time to rebuild your sense of self and redefine yourself apart from your ex.