We don't want divorce to bring out the worst in us, but it has a way of doing just that. Before your own divorce, perhaps you looked at other divorcing couples with a critical eye. Or thought some version of, "I just don't get what all the excitement's about. It's a divorce, people. Keep it together." You did this because you had absolutely no idea what it meant to divorce until, well, you did. And now you wonder how you'll ever get through this. One way is to summon your inner superhero (yes, you have one) to help you navigate these choppy waters and guide you to saner land.
Start by giving your divorce superhero a name: Resilient Rita or Strong Sam will do. Then, when you're tempted to crumble into a pint of Ben and Jerrys, or send that scathing email to your in-laws, or tell your ex you never, ever loved him/her, ask what your superhero would do. Because your superhero (who is, in essence, your best self) makes better, clearer decisions than you -- and, with some focus and effort, will swoop you up and save you from plunging into the burning detritus of divorce.
Here are ways to be the superhero of your divorce:
1) Protect the innocents. Your kids don't need to know what uglies transpired between their parents. Instead, decide together on the party line and then stick to it. "We've been unhappy for a long time," or "We've done everything we can and we still can't make it work," should suffice. It's tempting to paint their other parent as a schmuck, but this will ultimately make you the villain. Kids will resent the parent who tried to poison them against the other one because, as they grow into adults, they realize it takes two to tango. Eventually, they will be embittered by your lack of appropriateness and failure to shield them from grownup-only business.
2) Be careful and fair in your dealings. It's tempting to rush through a divorce especially when the marriage has long been in decline. Instead, take a breath and slow down. A couple more months will not end you. Negotiate in good faith. When you're ready to sign, have other eyes on your agreement. If you can, have another divorce lawyer or mediator do a second read-through. Or ask a smart, divorced friend to take a peek. Treat your divorce like a serious medical diagnosis. Wouldn't you get a second opinion even if you trusted your physician?
3) Stick with your superhero friends. The whole neighborhood shouldn't know the dirty details of your split. And, remember, there are parents out there who may not be so careful when gossiping about your divorce in front of their own kids. Don't tell anyone you don't completely trust with anything you wouldn't want your kids to find out. Little pitchers have big ears, and you never want to hear from your kids, "Well, Ashley's mom said you and dad divorced because..."
4) Don't re-wreak havoc. Very few marriages end peacefully. There may be awful fights, affairs, or addictions involved. There may be threats lobbed about money and/or the kids. People say lots of crazy stuff during this time. Try not to join their ranks. And don't keep replaying (and retelling) the worst details of your spouse's behaviors. You already know how they made you feel. Why rip the bandaid off countless times over? You know this isn't healthy. And it doesn't change a thing.
5) Stay the course. Or discover a better one. This probably isn't the time to quit a good job or move if you can help it. Divorce is a big enough change. Give yourself -- and your kids -- a chance to adjust. Conversely, if the stress of divorce has you in an awful eating/drinking/not exercising slump, it's time to be the superhero of your well-being and make positive changes.
6) Tell the truth, the whole truth. Have you ever heard of a superhero who didn't? It's so easy to place the blame fully on your ex-spouse. But, if you haven't noticed, that's really not making you feel any better. Instead, tell yourself the real story of the marriage, the one in which you also had a starring role. The goal here is to understand yourself in relationships. If you're not honest with yourself now, you will take that same oblivious person (you!) into another relationship which will also likely fail.
7) Build a superhero legacy. The chaotic phase of divorce will pass, although it may not seem that way right now. How do you want to remember your behaviors during this difficult time? How do you want your children, friends, and family to remember how you managed this transition? Feel all the feelings but manage them appropriately. Maintain your dignity and your self-respect. Save yourself and those you love from future embarrassment and pain. Because that's what superheroes do.