Divorce is not for weaklings. It's a grueling and stressful ordeal that can leave even the toughest contenders bruised and bloody. But luckily for you, there are people like me who have been through it before. Rather than watch you stumble around making unnecessary mistakes while you get the snot beaten out of you, I'm holding a Divorce Boot Camp for you instead. In three short sessions you will increase your skills and endurance so that you can make it through this challenge in one piece.
In Session One, we went over seven skills to get you in the best condition possible. Today's session is about protecting your reputation and managing your relationships with others. In Session Three, we'll cover how to choose a divorce lawyer and then get the most for your money.
Your kids don’t need to hear you rag on about their dad. After all, they didn’t choose him, you did. And while you can divorce him, they can’t.
That quick review was the warm-up exercise. Now let’s get to the work out.
- Crazy isn’t your best color. People love to paint a crazy picture of their future ex. And since divorce generally doesn’t bring out the best in people, this can be pretty easy to do. Your job is to make sure you don’t provide your future ex with a paint-by-numbers coloring book for him to use for this exact purpose. Don’t set his collection of classic rock albums on fire in the front yard giving a new, more literal meaning to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burning for You.” Don’t go on a ludicrous spending spree buying things like a 2012 Camaro and new clothes that are better suited for a ho than a housewife. Don’t drunk dial him and leave crazy messages on his cell phone in the middle of the night. Don’t buy a GPS tracking device and secretly attach it to his car—even if you're sure that he’s been cheating and it turns out you were in fact right. All of these actions will only make you look crazy, which in turn will have the effect of making his jerky behavior look somehow justified. (“Sure, he was cheating. But who can blame him? She’s crazy!”)
- The Waiting is the Hardest Part. My pretend ex-flame Tom Petty was right. But even though waiting is hard, don’t date until your divorce is final. Getting a divorce doesn’t have to take a long time. If you avoid needless drama, you could realistically be done with the whole process in six months or less. And since premature dating is the leading cause of drama in a divorce, waiting to date for the few months it takes to wrap up your divorce will go a long way toward keeping drama to a minimum.
But if impulse control isn’t your thing or you’re the insecure type that can’t be alone even for the brief amount of time it takes for the wreckage of your last relationship to be towed off and the shattered glass to be swept away, at least have the good sense to keep your kids out of it. They have enough to sort through right now, so don’t add to the emotional chaos that they’re already experiencing by introducing them to your next Mr. Wrong. Trust me, there is a zero percent chance that mixing your love life together with your kids’ lives before your divorce is final will result in a smoother divorce--and there’s a bazillion percent chance that it will end up creating problems. So, do the math. A little restraint can have a huge pay-off.
- Don’t manufacture evidence against yourself. When you’re going through a divorce, you are a party to a lawsuit. Your character matters—particularly if kids are involved. Don’t want to answer embarrassing interrogatory questions about your sex life before your divorce is final? Easy! Don’t have a sex life before your divorce is final. And while you’re at it, don’t create material that your ex and his lawyer can use against you and then post that material on the internet. Posting on Facebook the photos of you and your BFFs doing shots at Maggie Mae’s at 1:30 in the morning may feel liberating then; but at 1:30 in the afternoon on the day of your deposition it’ll only feel humiliating—especially if those photos were taken on a night when your kids were on your watch. (Do you want Exhibit A to why your ex got custody in glossy or matte finish? Single or double prints?)
- If you can’t say anything nice…. When it comes to communicating with your ex, keep it short and sweet. And if you can’t do both, keep it even shorter. Even if you are on good terms, if getting divorced teaches you anything it’s that feelings can change. The fact that you get along now doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself crosswise with him in the future.
If you have kids, it’s likely that some communication will be necessary. Whenever possible, limit these conversations to brief, vitriol-free emails—that way you have a written record of keeping him informed (which is the decent thing to do), and the emails can speak for themselves when it comes to content, timing and to a certain degree even tone.
Need to tell him about an upcoming school play? Do say, “Callie’s class play is at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening in the school auditorium.” Don’t say, “You may not be aware of this since you never bothered to spend any time at home while we were married, but you have a daughter. Her name is Callie and she is eight years old and goes to Boone Elementary. She is in her class play this Thursday evening at 7:00. Normally, I wouldn’t expect that you would want to go since you never gave a rat’s ass about things like this before. But seeing as how you are now suddenly acting like you are the World’s Greatest Dad, and this is an event that will have a built-in audience, I figure this is exactly the type of thing you’ll want to show up for. Please note that she has been allergic to carnations since birth, so please ask your secretary to tell the florist not to include those in the gigantic bouquet that you are sure to bring to her at her performance and present to her when everyone is looking.”
- I choo, choo, choose you! Since you’re going through hell, you’re going to need someone to talk to. But chose your confidants carefully—and limit them to one or two people, like your big sister and your best friend. When it comes to everyone else, it’s okay to be honest, but use some discretion and keep it brief. You don’t have any duty to protect your future ex’s reputation, but you don’t need to ruin yours by droning on and on about all the ways he did you wrong. It’s fair to say you are getting a divorce because he was having an affair if that’s what really happened. But when you’re at the library checking out the entire row of self-help books, don’t hold up the line by educating the librarian on the details of how your ex was sexting with the teacher from hot yoga class. If you catch yourself doing that, as soon as you’re done checking out be sure to check in with your therapist. Over-sharing about your divorce is a sure sign that you’re overdue for a session.
- Leave your kids out of it. While you need people to confide in, make sure you leave your kids out of this. Your kids don’t need to hear you rag on about their dad. After all, they didn’t choose him, you did. And while you can divorce him, they can’t. I’m not saying you should bullshit them about him or pretend he’s some sort of hero if he’s not. I’m just saying give them the time and space to form their own opinions. Even if he hasn’t been a dream husband, he could still be a great dad—and he might be a better dad after the divorce than he ever was when you were married. And that could turn out to be the silver lining in the shit storm that is your divorce.
That’s it for Session Two. Next week we’ll conclude with a session on choosing and working with your divorce lawyer. Until then remember this: Strong is the new sexy.