While listening to the radio today, I heard someone suggest that the best way to deal with divorce was to never have one! I suppose there is some truth to that; however, it's a bit unrealistic. In America, close to 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, and most people have had at least some direct experience with it -- parents who are divorced, friends or family members or colleagues.
When I titled this strategy "The Dance of Divorce," I did so with no intent to minimize the seriousness of the end of a marriage. I consider divorce to be one of the most difficult events a person can endure. I've known many, many people who have been through the ordeal, and although some felt it was the best, if not the only possible, solution, not one of them thought it was very much fun.
I use the word dance because dealing with divorce is a flowing, alive process. It's a matter of finding a delicate balance among conflicting emotions and interests. People going through, or having been through, divorce have reported to me feelings of love, hate, jealousy, bitterness, hopelessness, fear, anger, and the need for revenge, all at once! No wonder it's a confusing time.
At the same time, the "dance" often involves children. So many questions need to be addressed and answered. Most important: "What's in the best interest of the kids?" But there are others. How will we share the time, responsibility, and financial needs of the children? Where will they live? How do we deal with broken hearts, blended and extended families, and new relationships? The list goes on and on.
Then there is the issue of "stuff." How do we divide the money, assets, and the things? Who gets what? That's not fair, and so forth. You're constantly in the position of walking the tightrope between being fair and reasonable on the one hand, and making sure you protect your interests on the other. If all of this combined isn't considered a form of a "dance," then I'm not sure what would be!
If ever there was a time when it's important to keep your heart open, it's during and after a divorce. Yet, this is one of the times when a person is most tempted to slam it shut. Stubbornness arises in the heart and mind, and one easily retreats into negativity. How can we prevent this from happening?
I once spoke to a group predominantly composed of divorced people. Many of them had gone to great lengths to heal from the painful breakup of their marriage. They had read books, seen counselors, gone to seminars, support groups, and so forth.
I asked the audience three questions. First, "Have the healing processes you have engaged in since your divorce been helpful?" Overwhelmingly, the audience said that their efforts had, indeed, assisted them in healing. It seemed that there were many different methods and sources that were generally, and in some cases very, effective. The second and third questions required a slightly more thoughtful response. I asked, "How many of you believe that when you are at 'your best,' and in a loving space, that you are (and were) able to effectively implement the good advice you received, regardless of its source?"
One by one, every person in the room raised his or her hand. My final question addressed the other side of the coin. "How many of you feel that when you are 'at your worst,' in other words, when you are insecure and reactive, that you are or were able to follow any advice, regardless of how sound it might be?" Predictably, no one raised his or her hand.
My conclusion, and what I shared with the group, was identical to the conclusion I have come to about many different aspects of life. It is that, ultimately, the single most important ingredient in helping someone heal from divorce is that person's ability to develop his or her sense of well-being. You'll get no disagreement from me that other factors are very important -- our friends, support systems, legal counsel, cooperation of our ex-spouse, good books, even a therapist, to name just a few. But when you think about it, nothing is ultimately very helpful if someone doesn't have a healthy state of mind. And conversely, when we have one, we can get through just about anything.
This article is excerpted from:
What About the Big Stuff?: Finding Strength and Moving Forward When the Stakes Are High
by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.
About the Author
RICHARD CARLSON is the bestselling author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work; Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens; and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Men, among many other titles. Richard passed away unexpectedly on December 13, 2006. Visit the Don't Sweat website at www.dontsweat.com.