What To Do When Divorce Is Your (Or Your Spouse’s) New Year’s Resolution
“Sam” found out about his wife’s decision to divorce on New Year’s Eve.
“She said she wanted to talk, and I assumed we were going to resolve together to lose our post-Thanksgiving weight. Instead, it turned out that her resolution was to divorce. Didn’t exactly make me want to break out the Veuve I had chilling.”
For Sam’s wife, making the decision had been a difficult and lengthy process. Many of our clients share that they took months, years, and even decades trying to decide whether to divorce. Finally making the decision and moving forward is scary, but also often provides a sense of relief and even excitement for the future.
Things are different for the spouse receiving the news. They have not weighed, processed, and made the decision. They did not make the choice, and often do not agree with the choice. They generally experience some combination of fear, worry, sadness, and even panic.
The divorce process goes more smoothly when both spouses commit to remaining conscious of what the other is experiencing.
Why Are More Divorces Initiated In January than Any Other Month?
Some spouses made the resolution to move forward with a divorce sometime earlier in the year. But, especially when there are children, many people decide to delay sharing their decision to end the marriage until after the holiday season.
For others, friction during the holiday seasons is a catalyst for spouses to separate. The pressure and tension of the holidays are sometimes the “final straw” in an already strained marriage.
For Sam’s wife and others, the New Year is a symbolic time of hope and new beginnings. Celebration of change is all around, and that environment can provide the nudge to make big, transformative decisions.
But while increased divorce filings after the holiday season are the statistical norm — it often comes as a real shock to spouses on the receiving end of a divorce announcement.
How To Take Care of Yourself and Be Kind To Your Spouse
Here are some tips on how to take care of yourself and be kind to your spouse during the beginning stages of a divorce — with a dash of Sam.
1. Do Everything You Can To Be Patient and Calm
If the divorce was your decision, remember that your spouse may well be caught off-guard. Have patience as he struggles to understand what happened and begins to try to conceive of a future different than he had imagined. Remember that it took you a long time to come to the decision, and he is playing emotional and practical catch-up.
If the divorce was not your decision, focus on trying to maintain an even temper. You do not want to say or do things that you will regret. You may want to know “why” and your spouse’s response may frustrate or upset you. Although getting your spouse to spouse to try to save the marriage through counseling or other steps may be at the forefront of your mind, that should not prevent you from beginning to make your own preparations in the event that the divorce proceeds. Meeting with a divorce lawyer will help you know your options and give you a sense of control. Sam was in our office for the first time two days after the New Year.
2. Avoid Fault and Blame
I have never met a divorcing couple who agreed 100% on their history and what lead to the divorce. If you are the one telling your spouse you want a divorce, don’t recount who did what to whom. Simply tell her that the marriage has not worked for a long time, that you no longer believe it can be fixed, and that divorce is the only alternative you can see in the future.
Depending on whether she saw a divorce coming, your spouse may be in acute pain. If she tries to draw you into a discussion of fault and recrimination, refuse to have that discussion. Remember that, as the one who made the decision, you are in a better position to manage your emotions and reactions. One of the things Sam most appreciates (in retrospect), is that his wife refused, as he put it, to “take any of my impressive attempts to bait her.”
If you are on the receiving end of divorce news, it may be difficult to accept that both of you have contributed to the erosion of the marriage and that it is pointless to try to figure out who is more to blame. Try to focus your mind and your conversations on how to ensure that the two of you (and your children if you have them) come through the process intact and able to rebuild and thrive. (This is easier said than done, of course.)
3. Don’t Try To Resolve Everything Right Away
If divorce is your choice, remember that your spouse may be very anxious about economic issues, or custody and access to the children. He will likely not have had the opportunity to meet with a lawyer and will be unsure of his options.
The fear he is experiencing may lead him to react in an (understandably) hostile way. There may be provocative, absolute “always/never” statements. Reassure him that you will be fair and that you are confident that the two of you will work out a reasonable agreement, but right now is not the time to do it. Don’t take the bait and don’t have any discussions for which neither of you are ready. Give your spouse the time and space he needs — even when he doesn’t know he needs it.
When you are the one hearing the news, try not to say much. Rather than fight, try to maintain calm and end the discussion without trying to get a plan in place. Get yourself appointments with people who can give you option, guidance, and clarity. You will want to speak with a divorce attorney and likely have a session with a mental health professional who can help you deal with the trauma you are experiencing. The sand just shifted underneath your feet, and you will need time and help adjusting before you try to make major decisions. According to Sam, “What I assumed happened in a divorce was basically all wrong and the immediate plan I can up with when she first told me was nuts. Thank goodness I paused before I just rolled it out.”
What Happened To Sam?
Sam got through it. He and his wife had a civil divorce and they occasionally have dinner. He began running last year, and his New Year’s resolution this year is to train for the Hartford Marathon. Go, Sam, go.
On behalf of the Freed Marcroft team, we wish you a wonderful New Year.
May we all be bold, brave, and kind.
Freed Marcroft’s attorneys guide select clients through the legal aspects of divorce and family law issues while remaining mindful of their overall wellness.
To discuss our helping with your situation, contact us today either here or by phone.