There is one truth about divorce that is the key to everything. If you know this one thing, you can predict, with surprising accuracy, how difficult your divorce will be, how badly your kids will be affected by it, and the level of financial devastation you will suffer once your divorce is finally behind you. The problem is: no one wants to tell you this truth about divorce.
Your friends won’t tell you because they probably don’t realize it. Your lawyer won’t tell you because s/he is powerless to change it, so why bring it up? Even your therapist might not mention it because so many other things seem more important.
So what is this one truth about divorce that makes such a big difference? You actually already know it. Somewhere, deep down, you know that the single most important predictor of how your divorce will go is: who you married.
The Power of the Truth
Who your spouse really is at his or her core, matters. If your spouse is fundamentally reasonable, well-adjusted, and basically a good person, your divorce is much more likely to progress smoothly and reasonably. If you married a narcissist, an alcoholic or an abuser, your divorce will be way harder. Now, don’t get me wrong: getting divorced is always painful. But if your spouse has a personality disorder, or if your spouse is the kind of person who is willing to lose everything just to get revenge, your divorce is not just going to be difficult, it is going to be a nightmare.
Human behavior is consistent. If your spouse didn’t want to work while you were married, don’t expect him to get a job when you are getting divorced. If your spouse was a control freak while you were married, she is going to be a control freak during your divorce. On the other hand, if your spouse was always frugal, honest, and great with the kids while you were married, those behaviors are also likely to continue even if you are getting a divorce.
But, My Spouse Didn’t Used to Act Like This!
The problem with divorce, though, is that it seems to change people. Suddenly your spouse, who couldn’t stay up past 9:00pm while you were married, is out with “friends” until 3:00am … on a weekday! How are you supposed to be able to predict your spouse’s behavior when you feel like you are married to a complete stranger?
The answer is to take a step back and re-examine what you know to be true. People can act differently for awhile, but who they are at their core doesn’t change so quickly. Values and beliefs can change, but that, too, takes time. If your spouse seems totally different to you now, there are only two possible explanations: 1) your spouse was always different, but you just didn’t see it; or 2) your spouse is really the same but may be acting differently at the moment out of anxiety, fear, depression, frustration, desperation, or even because s/he is in love with someone else (or maybe still with you!).
What is True?
When your whole world is crumbling and your spouse is acting like someone you never met, how are you supposed to figure out what is real? The answer is simple: you have to look. You have to look, as honestly and objectively as possible, at your past, your marriage, your spouse’s behavior, and his/her character. How has your spouse been acting in the last 6 – 12 months? What, if anything, was different about his/her behavior? What was happening at work? in your marriage? in your personal lives? Is there anything you can see now that you didn’t see before?
Looking backwards is painful, and it is not something you want to dwell on forever, but doing so might give you a better idea of what you are dealing with in the present. Look, too, at the present. What is your spouse doing now? How is she acting? How is he coping? The more you can know and understand your spouse, the better you will be at dealing with your divorce.
So You Know the Truth. Now What?
Knowing your spouse is meaningless if you don’t use that information. The problem is that most people want to use that information to try to control their spouse. That never works. The more you try to control your spouse, the more your spouse is likely to act in ways you don’t like, want, or expect.
So what do you do? You use your knowledge of your spouse to control yourself!
A lot of the pain of divorce comes from unmet expectations. You expected marriage to be one way, but it was different. You expected your spouse to do something (or not), and s/he didn’t. If you know – really know – who your spouse is, and how your spouse is likely to behave, you can start to adjust your expectations of divorce. You can also adjust your choices and your own behavior so you are more likely to end up with the result that you want. What do I mean?
How to Manage Yourself
If you are married to a narcissist (I mean a real narcissist, not someone who just has a big ego), your divorce is going to be hell. (Sorry.) If you know that on the front end, though, you can save yourself an enormous amount of grief by not getting sucked into believing that you will resolve your divorce quickly or amicably.
Do NOT expect your spouse to be reasonable. You will save time and money by NOT trying to negotiate yourself. You also may not want to mediate your case (unless you have a very strong mediator and are willing to give up a lot so your spouse feels like s/he won.) Get a good lawyer and batten down the hatches. You’re in for a rough ride.
If your spouse has always hid financial information from you, you may have to become a detective. You will need to start paying attention to your finances. Go to the bank. Get copies of your bank statements. Open your mail. Start collecting as much information as you can yourself. Also, get a good lawyer to start sending subpoenas for documents as soon as possible.
On the other hand, if your spouse is basically honest, and is not trying to hide anything, then getting a trial lawyer to send subpoenas all over the world is the last thing you want to do! Not only will you be wasting your time and money, but you are also likely to start a fight. Why do that when you can settle your case amicably?
The bottom line is this:
You can’t have a good divorce with a bad spouse. But, you can have a bad divorce with a good spouse if you treat him/her badly. Knowing who you are married to, and understanding where your spouse is coming from, is the key to setting your own expectations and adjusting your own behavior. Do that, and your divorce still won’t be fabulous, but it will be better.
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