I have written before what a successful divorce is not. It is not accumulated assets, properties, alimony, or support payments. I am always trying to pinpoint what does define a successful divorce, so I can help my clients keep that as the goal in their minds.
It begins with taking an inventory of the best parts of your life. Not the most financially valuable – like a house or a 401(k); but the parts that are priceless. Think of things that make you smile; like seeing your mom, your wife, and your daughter all baking cookies together; or watching your kids playing flag football with a yard full of cousins. Maybe the best part of your marriage is the annual ski trip, just the four of you, even though the drive there and back always includes a fight. Maybe you and your husband get along best when the kids are asleep and you share a glass of wine before doing the dishes.
As bad as your overall relationship might have gotten; there are still small moments within your dynamic that have a life all their own. The parts that refuse to give way to the pressures of too much or too little work/social life/children/attention. These precious little organic moments that might crop up on a daily basis, or only annually, contribute to why you have stayed together this long. And are probably vestiges of what attracted you to each other in the first place, all those years ago.
I recommend that my clients try to make a point of noticing them. Even, and especially, as their marriages draw to a close. I have even suggested keeping a list. These might be the most sacred moments of your entire shared experience, and if there is any way to capture them. Or even continue to create them it could be worth a try.
One couple I worked with added a monthly “family dinner” to their divorce agreement. The concept they had was that no matter what else was going on in their lives, one meal per month, probably on a Friday night, the two parents and the two kids would sit down together and have a nice dinner, because that was when they always got along the best. When the work week was over, and the house smelled of home-cooked food and the adults could sit and finish a sentence without the kids needing something in another room. Even after the divorce, when they had other partners and other priorities, there still would need to be time for them to communicate with each other. It opens an unpressured forum where they can talk about the kids’ school or extra-curricular events, about their own plans and directions, about their extended families, and just about the state of the world in general.
One of my very first divorces took place in 1992 between a young husband and wife with a two year old son. The adult son now likes to pick rock concerts in the area and buy three tickets, so he and his parents can go together. If the dad is planning to have a few beers, the mom will drive, and vice versa. Each of the parents has current relationships, but sometimes they just say, “I need to go spend time with my son and his mom/dad,” and off they go. Back to the rock music that brought them together in the first place. Back to the spark that eventually became the light of both their lives – their son.
What we Love: Measure the success in your life by what makes you happy, then pursue that success no matter what the obstacles may be.
– Sharon Oberst DeFala