Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend has advice for someone who has gone, or is going through a split.
Years ago when I was divorce mediator, I would spend time with the divorcing couples discussing what I called their “United Front.” The United front was the couple’s mutually agreed upon generic answers for the inevitable questions that would be presented by friends, family and especially their children. This conversation usually ended up being one of the most important moments in the mediation because it was the place that would set the tone for the entire future of the relationship. I usually had clients ask, “What am I supposed to say when others want to know specifics about the divorce? What If I didn’t even want the divorce? Am I just supposed to act like I do? What if there was some impropriety involved in the divorce? I can’t just throw that out there, or can I?” Here are a few rules I used with the couples then and maybe they’ll help you now.
1. Be Loyal to the Absent
Being loyal to the absent simply means that we are going to only discuss with other people that which your ex-partner and you have both agreed upon would be -discussed. Loyalty infers that you will honor the healthiest image of your ex-partner when discussing matters about the divorce with other people. This is especially important when you have children that you’re still going to need to raise together. You do not choose to show loyalty to your ex because they always deserve our respect — because maybe they did something that wasn’t respectable. You also don’t choose to be loyal to the absent because your still trying to show some naive devotion to your partner. Instead you’re choosing to be loyal to the absent and show such strong character and integrity because you want to be able to respect yourself and maintain confidence in your own character. By being loyal to the absent in your conversations, you ensure that you’re not becoming less of a person. It also ensures that you can always know that you have lived your highest values regardless of the difficult times.
2. Be Simply Honest and Honestly Simple
Most couples, when they divorce, end up becoming code talkers with those around them, trying to describe what led to the collapse of their marriage without giving too many details. This activity can be difficult at times as they have a need to balance the need to be honest while remembering that less really is more. I call this dance being simply honest and honestly simple. Here’s a few examples of things you might hear people say to make an honest statement that is simple to understand. See if you can read between the lines.
• “We just wanted different things.”
• “Kim’s struggling to find out what she really wants in life.”
• “The whole family thing really overwhelmed him!”
• “Steve is still dealing with a lot of things from his past that are stopping him from moving on in his future.”
• “We just couldn’t get along.”
• “We really could never find a rhythm together.”
Notice that each of these statements carries a simple balance between honesty and simplicity. We’re not saying more than needs to be said and we’re still be loyal to the absent. On key to finding this balance is to focus on the feelings, not the facts.
3. Focus on the Feelings, Not the Facts
When someone comes up and asks you how you’re doing since your divorce, they’re probably inquiring into your state of mind and being, not a run down of violations your ex has made this month. Instead of inundating the innocent bystander with a barrage of negative facts about your partner, focus on the feelings that you’re struggling to get through. For example, if someone asks how you’re doing and you’re overwhelmed because your ex-husband hasn’t paid their full child support payment this month, you can say, “Things are tough, we’re struggling to get the finances worked out, but we’ll make it work!” That really is so much healthier for everyone than, “Things are tough because my selfish ex-husband doesn’t love his kids enough to pay child support for the second month in a row!” Even though you’ve been able to get out some negative energy, you’ve forced the person who was just trying to help to have to deal with a lot of data they just don’t know how to deal with. Over time you’ll find out that fewer and fewer people will ask less and less how you’re doing.
4. Tell Whole Stories, Not Half Stories
If you’re going to discuss the details of your divorce with other people, then do everyone a favor and be sure to tell the whole story and not just your half of the story. Most people when talking about their divorce tend to focus more on what their partner did wrong to mess up the relationship than what they did wrong. This one side focus in the short term seems somewhat cathartic, relieving us of the pain that is trapped inside us. The problem with half stories is that they’re really never complete. When we only tell half of the story about our breakup, and that includes our partner’s mistakes, selfish motives and our role as a helpless victim that we’ve set ourselves up for failure. The healthiest stories we can tell are of the mistakes we made, coupled with the mistakes they made and how we’re learning how to be better for the next one. Such honesty about your own mistakes and failures gives you something you can actually work on, unlike a focus on your partner’s mistakes that leaves you nothing to actually do.
5. Surround Yourself with People that are Pro-Marriage
Remember that misery does tend to love company, but usually that only means that you’re both twice as miserable. One of the keys to making the big decisions about whether to work on your marriage or to let it go is to be informed with the most accurate tools, resources and research. Usually you’re not going to get that from your neighbor, even if they have been through a divorce recently. If you’re in a struggling relationship, then go get help. Don’t talk to everyone else who is in a struggling relationship, but instead go find a pro-marriage coach or counselors, a marriage educator, clergy and get the help you need. There are healthy reasons to divorce, but those avenues need to be explored with a trained professional who understands the dynamics of divorce and can help you see the picture in a clearer, healthier and less reactive way. Don’t give up until you really get what’s going on. If you are struggling let us help! Check us out at www.marriagemattersutah.com .