Calling a cease-fire in your divorce war


This post is in partnership with CDC Certified Divorce Coach. All opinions are my own.

The first shots in divorce might be fired long before seeing your name vs. their name on court documents and you are legally declared opponents. The war may have begun long before the D-word was whispered, when you were blissfully sleeping with the person who’d become your enemy, when you thought and trusted you were on the same side. Whenever divorce is actually declared, the quick slide into the trenches can be startling, full of fury and make you wonder if you will ever make it to safety.

Love turned to hate quickly in my marriage. I grieved deeply and loudly, sobbing and hurting as if my limbs had been torn from my body. And the next week, I was in full-rage stage. The deeper we got into dividing time with our son and the few assets left in our marital apartment and bank accounts, the more battles we each waged. I stayed as sane and actd as reasonably as I could, but that was not enough. I was barely employed, living with my parents and standing in the wreckage of an 11-year relationship built on a lot of lies. I was fiercely protecting my son while tending to my own wounds, simply surviving one day at a time. I did my best. But maybe, with some guidance and a different perspective, I could have de-escalated how we were handling the divorce. Or at least how I was being in the divorce.

Years later, I can see that a lot of that war was raging within me, not just between me and my ex-husband.

Now I get it — calling a cease-fire is taking control of how I act and speak and think, and is not the same as raising a white flag to give up or give in. It’s saying, “Enough. I want to think before I shoot.”

There’s a power in that, isn’t there? To stand up in the middle of a spray of bullets with the confidence, clarity and calm to make better choices, respond without losing your mind and act in a way that feels more you than you-at-divorce-war.  And if the other person over there lobbing cannon balls at you never knows you’ve called a cease-fire, that’s OK. They might eventually put down the musket to hear you, and, hey, they may even follow your lead.

Are you ready to call a cease-fire in your divorce (or break-up or ongoing relationship with the other parent of your children)?

Here’s a four-step process I learned in the Essential Divorce Survival Guide webinar series produced by CDC Certified Divorce Coach. This six-part free series is available now to help you (or a loved one or maybe even that other person you are versus in this whole thing) move to and through divorce in a healthier way.

“It can’t be as simple as stopping,” divorce coach Kira Gould says of behaving (and feeling) better during this transition in her webinar “How to Be Your Best Self When You Feel Your Worst.

Instead, practice these four steps to step away from the combat and conflict.

1. Pause to gain perspective.

Just because your ex pulls the pin and tosses a grenade, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it and throw it back. Choosing to respond instead of react means that you can now step away, take a break and think through exactly what you want to say or do. And reminding yourself that you have a choice is critical here.

2. Write it out.

Put pen to paper or fingers to keypad to script exactly how you’d like to respond (again, not react). Practice using friendly and neutral language. Keep it concise. If it is best for you to have a written record of your interactions, don’t hit send on the email until you’ve had some time to compose, edit and rewrite a message you feel proud to send. I’ll add here that it can be a profound exercise to unleash all those words you want to use in a private journal that is never shown or shared with your ex. Getting out all those reactions can actually make responding as your best self a lot easier.

3. Create healthy, respectful boundaries.

Separating from someone whose life has been enmeshed with yours can be very difficult and emotional. Your circumstances might also make that harder. If you are sharing a home with the person you’re divorcing or they can come and go as they please where you now live, it is easy to invite that war into the places you need to rest, refuel and recover. Consider the boundaries that will help you be your best self when you interact with your ex (and beyond) and respect those that they set up. Communicate them clearly. My own boundary-setting helped me to retreat from the text battles happening every week during my divorce. I will not respond for 24 hours unless it is an emergency (it is rarely an emergency). I will not accept calls after 7 pm. I will greet you door rather than buzz you up to my apartment. I will opt for email over texts. Once I felt in control of when I communicated, I became empowered to communicate in clearer, calmer ways.

4. Ask for another perspective.

You may need the good counsel of a professional (or three) or a person who is not as close to the tumult as you are. The practice of seeking and asking for help is not only an authentic act of self-care, it may also open you up to views of the warfare you hadn’t previously considered. I’ve had some powerful perspective-shifting moments with friends and therapists and coaches who’ve only asked questions about a conflict rather than offering advice. What would happen if you…? What’s the worst thing that could come out of this? What’s the best? How would you feel if you…? Where might you take this after a good night’s rest?

This process works when there’s hostility at work or with friends, your teen kids and other tough situations, too. And you don’t have to expect yourself to earn a Medal of Honor for your efforts to be brave and change your ways. The practice will be worth it for however much time you have left to sort your divorce and well beyond when you’ve signed your legal armistice.

Why does it work? Because you’re calling on your best self, a practice that grows as we do and serves us far beyond what we can ever strategize. It allows you to look away from the scary stuff and other person and turn your energy, attention and care inward. You can’t change them. But you can love you. You can come to a truce with your stressed-out, worn-out, bugged-out self and declare peace in the home that you are.

Listen in to the Essential Guide to Surviving Divorce webinar series here for free. You can also order the companion book Divorce: Taking the High Road: Simple Strategies for Creating a Healthy Divorce here.