For many, tension and conflict permeates divorce proceedings. But there is such a thing as a civilized, amicable divorce. Who would know better than Martin Kranitz, who has more than 24 years of experience as a mediator and more than 20 years as a mediation and conflict resolution trainer? He has a private mediation practice in Annapolis, MD, and travels throughout the country providing mediation and conflict resolution training to professionals. Kranitz is author of Getting Apart Together: The Couple's Guide to a Fair Divorce or Separation, which addresses the practical issues that arise when people decide they can no longer live together. Here, Kranitz discusses the first 30 days of getting divorced.
“How am I going to survive?” “How am I going to survive and take care of the kids?” “Are we going to be able to work together to minimize the damage to the kids?” “Should we be doing this to the kids?” “Am I going to get screwed?” “What will happen if we can’t reach agreement?” “When am I going to stop feeling so crappy?”
In the first 30 days of a separation—if you didn’t know it was coming, if it was the other party’s decision—the questions are: “How am I going to function, because I’m in shock?” The questions are more about survival than the larger picture, and much different from the first 30 days after divorce. Those questions are: “How will I be able to stop thinking about ‘us’ or ‘we’ and start thinking about ‘I?’ ” It’s a lot easier to go from “I” to “we” than it is from “we” to “I.” Another big question is, “Can I survive?” This question has a number of components, emotional and practical, such as, “Are the resources going to be sufficient for all of us?”
It’s a function of which couple you’re looking at. Some couples have gone through counseling and reached a joint agreement, so their emotions are not in as much turmoil. For people for whom this is a unilateral decision, they are asking, “Can I trust this person?” “Can I work with this person?” They need to understand that the separation is the end of the marriage, not the end of the family. They can work together for the children.
Go to counseling. Talk to people who have worked through this successfully, not angrily. Seek out support groups. Misery loves company: Use it to your advantage by talking to people about how they dealt with the emotions of separation.
Understand that relationships very seldom break up because of one person. Both people have responsibility for the relationship and for its breakup. Each person must recognize that. From an emotional standpoint, it will be overwhelming, but from a practical standpoint, you must get on with your life. Compartmentalize your emotions—don’t let them run your life. Learn how to deal with stress.
Practice distraction. Do something that will take your mind off the separation and all its implications. When you come back to it, you’ll be more clear-headed.
I think it’s important to be someone else. If you’re going to be yourself, you’re going to fall apart. Be a cool person who can handle it.
Because there are many absolute or potential changes one has to deal with. Your whole system—internal and external—is in turmoil. And most people don’t like change.
In the “old” days, 20 to 25 years ago, when people separated, they went running to their lawyers. There was an assumption of a conflict of interest between the parties. Realize that there isn’t necessarily a conflict of interest; although it may feel that way, it is not necessarily true. Both people want to get through this in as constructive, civilized and practical a way as possible—in a collaborative, not competitive, way and in the least adversarial way. It doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation. If you decide that you want to hurt the other person because of the pain they have caused, you will only hurt yourself and the kids: You will all suffer more than you need to.
Continue to grow. The change of separation and divorce is a growth process, like any other experience in life. It’s something to learn from. The reality is that second marriages and third marriages have the same percentage of divorce as first marriages. No matter how carefully we choose, change is inevitable in each of us. Five years from now, we are, in essence, married to a different person. We have to appreciate in other people the people they have become.
That I’ll survive; that I’ll get through it. “This too shall pass”—that’s what my Dad would say. Life and nature throw us all kinds of things and we just have to get through it. We have to do the best we can.
…it makes us stronger. It improves us. I teach a college course and emphasize that change is unavoidable. Conflict is unavoidable. It improves things in the long run; if not personally, then globally.
Going from working for others to being in private practice. Going from being a student to being a teacher. It’s a cliché but I believe it very strongly: Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for life.
For more information about Martin Kranitz, visit Martinkranitz.com.
"Your chances of getting the outcome you want are best when you take control of the decision-making process," says Martin Kranitz, Director of the National Center for Mediation Education. This book shows you how to work through your divorce together....