I was shocked when my husband of thirty years told me that he wanted a divorce. In retrospect, there were a few warning signs. But I had come to a place of acceptance about my admittedly not perfect marriage and was attached to my husband and our life together. So, when he said that he didn’t love me, and hadn’t for a long time, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
I work as a Marriage and Family Therapist and divorce coach now, so I know that my experience wasn’t uncommon. In almost every divorce, there is one partner who has been thinking about the idea for a long time and another who is taken by surprise. For both, divorce can evoke a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. But for the spouse who thought the marriage would last, the feelings can at first be much more intense and include profound betrayal, grief, and fear.
My husband gave me the choice of which process to use for the divorce. Having worked as a therapist for children for many years before I became a stay-at-home mom. I knew that the traditional litigated divorce could be so damaging for everyone in the family. I briefly considered mediation, but knew I’d need more support than mediation could offer. Whenever I was in the same room with my now soon-to-be-ex-husband, my throat got so clogged with conflicting emotions, I literally couldn’t speak. I had heard of Collaborative Divorce and decided to explore this is a more peaceful, and more supported process.
So, I went to see a Collaborative Divorce lawyer, and I said, “I will really need you to speak for me. So…maybe I can tell you in advance of the mediation meetings what I want. And you can just say it, because I’m not going to be able to talk in the room.”
This lawyer said “No. I’m not going to do that for you. You are going to have a great coach who can help you with all the big emotions you’re feeling right now and with communicating clearly. You are going to have me to help you to fully understand the law and the choices you’re going to need to make. Your team is going to work hard–not for you, but with you. You get to regain your power. You deserve to have a voice.” I’m not sure I thought that this was possible at the time. But I did hire him. And my husband agreed to hire his own Collaborative team.
A Collaborative Divorce is a beautiful solution in cases like mine where there’s an imbalance of power that makes mediation too challenging but both parties still want to divorce without creating a war. I’ve seen in my experience as a Collaborative divorce coach that the process can be effective even when there is deep tension and distrust between the parties, so-called “high conflict” couples. The only requirement is that both parties agree at the outset to tell the truth and negotiate with respect. Collaborative professionals: attorneys, neutral financial professionals, coaches, and child specialists, work together to support the family.
Divorce is never easy. There are tough decisions to be made every day and complex, sometimes profound, even moral, or spiritual options to choose from. At every step of the way, my Collaborative team fulfilled their promise of supporting me through understanding these choices fully and then using my own resources to act with as much wisdom as I could muster. My husband’s team did the same for him. What this meant was that in the end we not only came to an agreement that was good for both of us, but we also preserved a respectful co-parenting relationship. Even after the divorce was long over, we were able to communicate and make decisions together with the skills we had both learned from the team.
I found my voice in my Collaborative Divorce and that changed…everything. I had the courage and strength to create a business I’m proud of, a mental health clinic for children in San Jose where I now act as mentor for a team of young therapists. And I’ve been a Collaborative coach and child specialist for the last ten years, helping others to follow the path that was so transformational for me. I’ve created an exciting life, full of travel and beautiful surprises, with a wonderful second husband who expresses his gratitude for me every day. And, because life does move on, my ex and I are now “co-grandparenting” our baby grandchild.
What if we could resolve all conflicts peacefully? Collaborative Divorce may be just the beginning of a revolution in how we understand and solve problems. Helping people who are filled up with strong emotions of anger, fear, betrayal, and grief to make decisions with respect and wisdom is immensely challenging. It turns out that it takes a “village,” a team of trained and dedicated professionals, all working together to support an outcome that is in everyone’s best interests. When people ask me if my divorce was expensive, I answer that it was worth every penny. I would have paid more. What Collaborative Divorce gave our family is…priceless.