Heart & Mind:  Beyond Divorce

HOW TO DIVORCE AS FRIENDS

By Bill Ferguson

...and maybe even save your marriage. 

Editor's Note: This article is not geared towards those in abusive relationships; being nicer to your abuser is unlikely to have a positive result. What you can do, however, is to take responsibility for being in the relationship, and for ending it in a way that is safe and works for both you and your kids (if you have any). 

No matter how painful or destructive your relationship is today, you have the ability to turn your situation around. You can end the conflict, heal the hurt and restore the love, not necessarily as husband and wife, but as one human being to another.

The first key to handling your situation is to put your focus on healing your relationship, one human being to another. To the extent that you're able to do this, everything else takes care of itself.

If your relationship is a fit, you will come back together like magnets. If your relationship is not a fit, you'll go your separate ways -- but you'll be able to do so in a way that's loving and supportive.

The second key to healing your relationship is you. How you act towards your ex largely determines how he/she will act towards you. How you treat each other will determine whether your relationship is painful or supportive.

THE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIPS

Let's look at the nature of relationships. We think that love is enough to have a relationship work, but it's not: the divorce courts are full of people who love each other. To have a relationship work, you need the experience of love, which you create by giving the gift of acceptance and appreciation.

Consider how you feel when someone genuinely accepts and appreciates you. It feels great! You feel better about yourself and better about life, and you also feel better about the person who accepts and appreciates you.

The same thing happens when you give acceptance and appreciation to someone else: that person feels better about him or herself and better about you. When your ex feels loved, he/she becomes more accepting towards you, then you feel more accepting towards him/her. You soon create a cycle of loving, supporting, and empowering each other.

This is the way most relationships begin, but they don't stay this way. Sooner or later, someone gets upset and destroys the experience of love by being critical or judgmental.

Think about how you feel when someone you love is non-accepting and critical towards you. Instantly, the experience of love disappears. You feel hurt and upset. You close down inside. You put up your walls of protection and you automatically resist this person.

The same thing happens when you're critical towards someone else: that person gets upset, puts up his/her walls of protection, and automatically becomes critical and resentful towards you. Being critical or judgmental destroys the experience of love and starts a vicious cycle of blame and hurt between you and the other person.

Without knowing how it happened, you've created a cycle of conflict, resistance, attack, and withdrawal from each other. This vicious cycle -- which produces tremendous suffering -- goes on and on without either person noticing his or her role in the conflict. Sides get drawn and issues become something to fight over rather than something to resolve. Walls of protection get fortified and distance grows. We hurt each other over and over again, feeling fully justified for everything we do. We do serious damage to each other, and none of it is necessary.

It takes two people to create and maintain the cycle of conflict, but it only takes one person to end it. It's like a tennis match: two people are required to keep the volley going. As soon as one person stops serving, the game is over.

ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

Once you discover and accept responsibility for your role in the conflict, you can turn your situation around; without this recognition, you'll stay stuck forever. 

We have been taught that relationships are 50/50, but this really isn't true: relationships are 100/100. How you treat your ex will determine how he/she will react to you. That makes you 100% responsible for the presence or absence of love in your relationship. Your ex is 0% responsible because he/she is merely reacting to whatever you do.

But the reverse is also is also true: how your ex treats you will determine how you're going to react. That makes your ex 100% (and you 0%) responsible for the presence of love in your relationship. In other words, each of you is 100% responsible for the presence or absence of love in your relationship. Unfortunately, we seldom recognize our 100% responsibility. All we see is what the other person does to us. We then blame the other person for the conflict, and everything we say about him/her is the truth: that person really is 100% responsible.

The problem is that when you focus on the other person's 100% responsibility, you make yourself 0% responsible. When you are 0% responsible, you have 0% power. By blaming the other person, you make yourself a victim.

You can only reclaim your power by accepting 100% responsibility for your role in the problem. If you're responsible for the problem, you can also be responsible for the solution. Now, you can put water on the fire instead of adding more fuel.

So take a moment and examine your relationship. Find your 100% responsibility for the loss of love. Notice how judgmental and critical you've been, how much you've hurt your ex, and how you've forced him/her to resist you in turn. Keep working with this until you can see that you single-handedly destroyed the experience of love in your relationship.

Of course, your ex is also 100% responsible, but blaming him/her doesn't change a thing. You can't force anyone else to change -- even if it's for his/her own good. The only thing you can change in your situation is your own actions and reactions.

Once you're willing to see yourself as a powerful being who created the situation -- rather than a helpless victim -- the next step is to heal your hurt and to let go of your automatic resistance towards your ex. Your goal is to end the conflict, heal the hurt, and restore the love in your relationship -- not necessarily as husband and wife, but as one human being to another.

HEAL YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Here are some important steps to take if you want to heal your relationship:

Restore Your Peace of Mind
When you're full of fear and upset, you close down inside. You lose your ability to see clearly. You get tunnel vision, and almost anything you do destroys love and makes your situation worse.

To restore your peace of mind, you need to remove the fear and upset by letting go of your resistance. To see how this works, let's look at the nature of upsets.

Upsets seem to be caused by what happened, but they're actually caused by your resisting what happened. Select a recent distressing event and imagine what would happen to your upset if you were at peace with what happened. There would be no upset. By letting go of your resistance and accepting 100% responsibility for your role in the event, your upset would lose power and disappear. This would restore both your peace of mind and your effectiveness.

So let go of your demands and expectations for how life should be and make peace with the way it is. Restore your peace of mind. Then take whatever action you need to make your life great.

Let Go Of Your Resistance
To let go, you must trust that you'll be okay no matter what happens; fear about the future will keep you locked in resistance. Then, be willing to really feel your hurt. Ultimately, it's the attempt to avoid pain that creates fear and upset. We think we're fighting our circumstances, but at a deeper level, we're fighting all the old hurt that's being reactivated by our circumstances.

Once you're willing to feel this hurt, you no longer need to fight the circumstances. The moment you make peace with your circumstances, fear and upset lose their power.

Feel, Then Release, Your Hurt
If you were free of your hurt, there would be no need to fight and resist. The process for healing hurt is relatively simple. For example, little children are masters at healing hurt. When a child feels hurt, he/she cries. Then, after the child finishes crying, the hurt is all gone. Little children are able to release their hurt because they're totally willing to feel their emotions.

The key word here is "willing." Little children feel their hurt willingly. When you feel your hurt willingly, you allow the hurt to run its course. It then loses power and disappears.

To see this in your life, think about a time when you were hurt and you allowed yourself to sob unrestrainedly -- not trying to hide or stop your tears for any reason. After your tears stopped naturally, you felt peaceful and calm. This is an example of a time when you felt your hurt willingly.

So cry your hurt as hard as you can. Feel the hurt of your circumstances, of your relationship breaking down. Let the hurt come and let it go.

Accept Your Ex Exactly The Way He Or She Is
Your ex has a unique way of looking at the world, of acting and reacting. And your ex is the way he/she is whether you like it or not! Let go of your demands for how you believe he/she should be and make peace with the way he/she is. You don't have to like it; just surrender to the truth. Give your ex full permission to be himself/herself -- and to be that way forever.

When you can't accept the way someone is, you create a state of upset that destroys your effectiveness. You also kill compassion and understanding, and you make your situation worse.

Let Go Of Resentment
When you're resentful, a part of you dies inside. You lose your aliveness and joy for life. You become bitter and less able to love. Letting go of resentment is for your benefit -- it's not for the other person.

We resent in a subconscious attempt to avoid feeling hurt. When we resent, we're forcefully blaming the other person. We're putting all our focus on the other person's responsibility so we don't have to look at ourselves.

We don't want to see that, deep down, we are the problem. We don't want to see that what happened was the result of our being unloveable, not good enough, or even worthless. Thinking that we're unloveable is never the truth: it's just an old hurt, but it's a hurt that we will do anything to avoid feeling. Once you're willing to feel this hurt, the need for the resentment disappears.

The next step in letting go of resentment is to notice that your ex is doing the very best he/she can with his/her extremely limited equipment. If your ex were wiser and more aware, he/she would have been able to act in a very different way. It may help you to consider your ex to be "disabled" in certain areas: just as you wouldn't be mad at a person in a wheelchair who refused to climb a staircase, so you wouldn't be mad at your ex for failing to see your point of view if he/she is "disabled" in the area of compassion.

Find Your Role In The Conflict
Both of you are 100% responsible for the loss of love in your relationship. Find your 100%: recognize how non-accepting, critical, and resentful you've been. Notice how your actions have resulted in the loss of love in your relationship. Once you accept your 100%, you can no longer blame the other person. The good news about this is that you get your power back.

Be Willing To Lose Your Ex
The more you hang on to someone, the more he/she struggles to escape. If you want your relationship to be loving and supportive, you need to create an environment where the person will enjoy being with you. When you cling desperately to someone, you do the opposite. To let go of your ex, you must be willing to feel your hurt: the pain of feeling unlovable, worthless -- whatever other emotion is there for you. The more you're willing to feel your hurt, the less you need to hang on.

Communicate Your Hurt and Express Your Love
After you make peace with the way your ex really is, the next step is to "clean up" your relationship. Do this in person, by telephone, by letter or e-mail -- whichever works best for you. Tell your ex that having a good relationship with him/her is important to you, and that you want to restore the love -- even if you can't restore the marriage. Accept responsibility for the conflict, and ask to be forgiven. Make sure the person feels loved, accepted, and appreciated -- and not blamed at all. For instance, if you say: "I'm sorry for being so critical, but you really were a jerk!" you will accomplish nothing. Just apologize for your own contribution and ask to be forgiven.

The purpose of this conversation is to restore the love, remove the distance, and to shift the way the two of you interact with each other. Do whatever you can to make this happen.

Keep Looking For "Win-Win" Solutions
Make sure your ex knows that you are also interested in his/her well-being. When your ex feels threatened by you, you force him/her to fight against you, making your situation much worse. To avoid conflict, refuse to engage in adversarial conversations that pit you against each other. Instead, keep looking for common ground and solutions that are fair and work for everyone. It's hard to fight someone who's on your side. Sometimes you find solutions quickly; sometimes it takes longer. Just make sure you don't stop looking.

CASE STUDIES

.A Friendly Divorce: Linda & Roger
Linda and Roger, a married couple, were deep in the cycle of conflict. Finally, Roger moved out. He was so full of anger and resentment, he never wanted to see Linda again.

When Roger came to me, he wanted an attorney who would protect him. As we talked, he soon realized that the best way to protect himself was to make peace with his attacker.

Initially, the thought of making peace with Linda seemed not only impossible but also counter-productive. He didn't want to have any kind of relationship with her.

Then he realized that he did have a relationship with her, and that this was true whether he liked it or not. The relationship just happened to be a painful one. 

Although Roger didn't want to get back together with his wife, he knew that his life would be much easier if his relationship with Linda was more constructive. He decided that making peace was worth a try.

He started by forgiving Linda for the pain she had caused him, and started to accept her just the way she was. He refused to fight or take sides against her. He made sure she felt loved, accepted, and appreciated by him.

Gradually, Linda dropped her walls of protection and stopped trying to attack Roger. She even became friendly towards him. As time went by, their relationship became more and more supportive. They never got back together, but now they have a post-divorce relationship that works -- for both of them.

Brad & Carol's Divorce
Brad and Carol were in the process of divorce. Brad wanted to part as friends, but he found it very difficult. Carol was very demanding: she wanted to receive unreasonably high child support, most of the property, and none of the debts.

She didn't care about Brad's welfare, and when she didn't get what she wanted, she became abusive.

Brad's natural tendency was to fight back. He wanted to declare war, pay her nothing, and seek custody of their children. This situation could have very easily turned into a nightmare.

Fortunately, Brad was more interested in the welfare of the children and his future relationship with Carol than he was in being an adversary. He continued to work with Carol and do whatever he could to heal their relationship.

He also said "no" whenever he felt it was appropriate. When Carol got mad, he let her be angry, and he still said "no." He didn't attack her or even take sides against her. He kept looking for solutions that worked for both of them.

Since they never became adversaries, there were no battle scars and no resentments. Once the divorce was over, the relationship healed quickly. Brad saw his children often and developed a close, supportive relationship with Carol.


As a former divorce attorney, Bill Ferguson gained national attention for his ability to take conflict out of divorce. 15% of his clients never divorced, and the ones who did were able to part as friends. He has led more than 2,000 workshops and has worked with thousands of people. He has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and on radio and television talk shows around the country. His books, How To Heal A Painful Relationship, Heal The Hurt That Runs Your Life, and Miracles Are Guaranteed have become bestsellers. His website, www.DivorceAsFriends.com, has changed the lives of people all over the world. Based in Houston, Bill Ferguson can be reached at (713) 520-5370.