2022 Ultimate Guide to a Happy Divorce

Two Healthy Homes | Co-Parenting Classes
Two Healthy Homes | Co-Parenting Classes

by Dr. Erica Ellis

Founder of Two Healthy Homes. Licensed psychologist, best-selling author, and a leading global expert on co-parenting and child centered divorce.

A Happy Divorce Is Possible

Divorce is an agonizing process for everyone involved.

But it happened or is happening for a reason.

The marriage was not meeting one or both of your emotional needs and moving forward separately became preferable, for at least one of you, to staying together in an unhappy marriage. So, while painful and incredibly challenging, the divorce presents an opportunity to reconfigure your family in a way that has the potential for greater happiness for you, your children, and your ex.  This Ultimate Guide to a Happy Divorce will detail many of the steps that you can take to create a happier, healthier post-divorce future.

What is a Happy Divorce?

Even though you may have had an unhappy marriage, that does not mean you cannot have a healthy divorce. Happy divorces are typically marked by mutual respect, appropriately managed emotions, and a focus on the well-being of the children. Typically when one parent is trying to “win,” this makes a happy divorce almost impossible.

The Three Primary Relationships in a Happy Divorce

There are three primary relationships that you need to address to create a divorce process that limits stress, anger, and emotional and financial damage. They are your relationship with yourself, your relationship with your ex, and your relationship with your children, assuming you have any. Failing to attend to all three of them will significantly hinder your ability to find true happiness in this new chapter of your life.

Relationship #1: Your Relationship With Yourself

The period before, during, and after a divorce can be extremely stressful, regardless of whether you were the person who initiated it, or you were the reluctant or wounded partner. While it is important for all of us to have a variety of coping strategies available to us throughout the course of our lives, these strategies become even more essential during these difficult times to help yourself heal. The first step to creating a happy divorce is to get your relationship with yourself to a healthy place. Here is how to do it:

Essential Self-Care

You need to engage in effective self-care not only for yourself but so that you can also be there to best support your children as they try to cope with all the changes in their lives. It is very easy to push these things aside as other more pressing things seem to take priority. However, prioritizing self-care is imperative and will maximize your chances of getting through this stressful time as healthy, happy, and emotionally intact as possible.

It is important to develop and utilize your support systems since you need people to talk to about what you are going through. Work to accept that you are not being a burden since you would clearly do the same for them. Also, fight the perception that divorce is a shameful secret that you need to keep to yourself. It is a significant life event like any other and which you have every right and need to talk about with the significant people in your life. If you need more than your family and friends can provide, seek out the help of a therapist who can be an invaluable source of help and healing during this time.

Start keeping a journal as a means of expressing some of the challenging thoughts/feelings that this process elicits. This can be a very helpful way of getting things “out of your head” so that they are not just a source of endless rumination and distraction.

This is also the time to develop and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating well, getting an adequate amount of sleep, exercising regularly, and consistently utilizing stress management strategies such as yoga, meditation, and massage. Try not to think of these things as luxuries, but rather essential behaviors necessary to maintain your sanity and set you up for thriving going forward.

The Grieving Process

It is also essential to acknowledge that divorce is a significant loss, like that experienced following the death of a loved one. Pushing away the pain is never an effective strategy to deal with any kind of grief since it only serves to prolong and complicate it.  You must allow yourself to work your way through each of the predictable stages, regardless of the order in which they present themselves, in order to get to the final stage of acceptance and being able to move forward with your life..

The stages of grief include:

Denial: This initial stage helps you to cope with the shock of the loss by not being overly flooded by intense emotion. This coping mechanism helps you pace your feelings of grief by only letting in as much as you can handle at the time.

-Anger: This is a necessary part of the healing process, and it is important to let yourself feel your anger. However, it is crucial that you express this anger appropriately and that it does not come out physically or abusively toward the people close to you. There are typically many feelings underlying this anger, and you will go through the process of exploring those feelings as the grieving process continues.

-Bargaining: You may wish that life could return to what it was and that you could go back in time and fix your mistakes. You may find fault in yourself and focus on what you could have done differently. Accept this as a normal part of the grieving process rather than as confirmation that you are to blame for everything bad that is happening in your life currently.

-Depression: Your attention may now start to focus on the present and your grief and sadness may intensify. It may feel to you like this feeling will last forever but you need to frequently remind yourself that it will not. Rather, it is a normal part of the grieving process and one which you will need to navigate your way through to get to the point of acceptance.

-Acceptance: This is the point that you begin to acknowledge that your new marital status is your present reality. You learn to live with the fact that you are now divorced and that this is your new normal.

Forgiving Yourself and Your Ex

You need to work to let go of the sense of shame and failure that you might be feeling. Divorce is not a shameful event or one that suggests that you are a personal failure. Rather, it is an all-too-common life transition that typically both of you played a part in and for which you share joint responsibility. It is important to stop “beating yourself up” for your marriage ending and work to start the process of forgiving yourself for the mistakes that you might have made.

It is equally important to work toward forgiveness of your ex for the mistakes that they made throughout your marriage. They, like you, are a flawed human being and holding onto your anger and resentment for their mistakes will be toxic for you. That forgiveness will be a gift to yourself and will allow you to move forward in your life in a much happier way.

Go Slow With New Relationships

This is not the time to jump into a new relationship as a means of healing your pain. Rebound relationships rarely last, and another loss (for you and your kids) will only serve to further complicate your grief. Give yourself time to deal with your loss, attend to your and your children’s needs, and start independently rebuilding your self-esteem without depending upon someone else to do that for you. Working your way through this process, on your own, will allow you to enter a new relationship when the time is right as a healthier, happier, and more confident person.

Take the Personal OATH

Part of your future happiness is going to rest on your ability to let go of the unrealistic desire to change your ex and to focus on the steps you can take to make your future better. This is not an easy task but can be aided by building in a daily affirmation of what you can and cannot control. Starting every day with this OATH will serve to help you make this happen: Own what is in your control, Accept what is not in your control, Take charge of your future, and Heal yourself and your children.

All these stress management strategies are readily available to you and offer you powerful tools to help you cope with your heightened level of stress. Now is the time to put taking care of yourself at the top of your list and to work it into your life on a regular basis. You will be better for it, as will your children, and it will build the foundation for your future happiness.

Relationship #2: Your Relationship With Your Ex

Figuring out how to create a peaceful, collaborative co-parenting relationship with your ex is the second major key to a happy divorce and post-divorce future. There is a direct connection between the amount of conflict between you and your ex, and your children’s future happiness. There are numerous steps you can take before, during, and after the divorce to maximize the chances of reducing this conflict and setting your family up for a lifetime of happiness and thriving.

Protective Steps to Take Before the Divorce

The single most powerful step you can take to protect your co-parenting relationship prior to even initiating a divorce is to not end your marriage through infidelity. Doing so will guarantee an explosion of painful feelings from your spouse that will have the potential to forever damage your ability to work together as a cooperative team on behalf of your children. If you are unhappy in your marriage, deal with that reality directly with your partner and do not bring a third party into the process. The emotional toll that this will take on every member of your family for years to come is just too great to justify your short-term gratification.

Protective Steps to take During the Divorce

Your ability to have a happy divorce is mainly determined by the divorce process you choose. If you decide to go to court and litigate, make sure you are not doing so primarily to “destroy your spouse in court” or “take them for everything they are worth” or “create the kind of pain that they caused you”. The emotional and financial toll of a lengthy, ugly court battle on everyone involved is simply not worth the satisfaction that you are hoping to get by this approach.

The one valid and appropriate reason to litigate your divorce is because you need the help of the court to protect yourself or your children from emotional or physical harm. If those high-conflict conditions do not exist, you are much better off pursuing one of the two non-litigated divorce options, mediation or collaborative divorce. While different in their process, they share the goal of resolving your divorce out of court with the help of professional(s) who facilitate respectful communication and guide you toward negotiation and compromise.

While these divorce options will potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars, they will also preserve your ability to have a working co-parenting relationship with your ex in the future. The role that will play in your long-term happiness is truly Invaluable, particularly since it will establish a precedent for resolving future disputes out of court as well.

The two of you will have many financial decisions to make as you work your way through the divorce process.  The way you choose to approach these decisions will also play a large part in determining the future of your co-parenting relationship, and ultimately your happiness. If you focus on “how to screw them out of every penny they have”, it will only serve to further destroy any chance of working together cooperatively in the future. However, if you stay focused on creating a financial plan that allows both of you to support your families from the marital pot of resources that you have jointly created, you will maximize your chances for future happiness.

Protective Steps to take After the Divorce

A peaceful, respectful, and cooperative post-divorce relationship with your ex is going to be one of the greatest predictors of whether or not you have a happy divorce. In some high-conflict situations this is not possible, and a parallel parenting relationship with minimal interaction will be most appropriate.  However, most divorced couples can be effective co-parents if they can both commit to rising above their divorce-related emotions for the sake of their children.

While you do not need to be best friends, you do need to view your relationship with your ex as a business partnership in the joint venture of raising your children. Several things need to happen to achieve that goal, which I refer to as the KFCs:

  1. Keep your emotions in check when interacting with each other
  2. Focus on your shared goal of raising your children and do not get distracted by emotional issues
  3. Communicate professionally and respectfully and refrain from inappropriate language or behavior

If you commit to treating each other with the level of respect and courtesy that you would a co-worker that you do not particularly like, you will create a co-parenting environment that supports your happiness rather than works to destroy it. It is a commitment worth making and one that will pay off in a lifetime of happiness for you and your kids.

Relationship #3: Your Relationship With Your Kids

As every parent knows, it is hard to be happy when your children are struggling. Therefore, your post-divorce happiness also rests on how well your children cope with the divorce and its aftermath. There are so many things that you can do to protect them from divorce-related emotional damage and to create a happy, newly configured family for all of you. Here are few of the most important:

  1. Minimize the amount of parental conflict that your kids are exposed to, which is the single greatest predictor of how they will cope with the divorce
  2. Do not put them in the middle of your issues/conflicts or ask them to take sides
  3. Do not use them as messengers or secret keepers
  4. Give them permission to have a relationship with both of you
  5. Respect their privacy and boundaries
  6. Create peaceful transitions between homes
  7. Minimize differences between their two homes
  8. Stick to schedules as consistently as possible
  9. Only introduce them to new significant others when the relationship is long term and committed

In addition to these guidelines, be sure to create plenty of opportunities for them to talk with you about their feelings and don’t under-estimate the power of just listening. That is often more helpful than you trying to come up with solutions, especially since many of their feelings are going to be totally normal and to be expected during this stressful time. Educate yourself about the difference between these normal coping responses and more problematic ones so that you don’t overlook serious symptoms that require the help of a professional.

It is possible to create a happy divorce and a happier post-divorce life than the one you had in a marriage that wasn’t working for both of you. Committing to the principles and utilizing the strategies detailed here will provide you with the greatest opportunity to create a new life for you and your kids that is both peaceful and joyful. You have the power to make that happen!


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