I have been practicing family law since 1991 and have heard hundreds of divorcing spouses say they want to “take the high road” in their divorce. In almost every instance, they were telling the truth. In practice though, many fell short finding it difficult to choose the high road and stay there.
Because divorce involves a transactional event (“I give you this if you give me that”) and an emotional event (“you hurt me” or “I am afraid”) it is easy to understand how the interaction between the two events might cause someone, intentionally or not, to choose a lower road.
Why take the high road in a divorce? Taking the high road:
- Allows you to be the “good guy” (nobody ever wants to be the “bad guy”);
- Preserves your dignity and is respectful to your spouse;
- Benefits your children;
- Results in a more satisfying, mutually beneficial agreement; and,
- Costs less money.
If you are contemplating divorce and want to “take the high road” and ensure you stay there, keep in mind the following tips:
Choosing the high road is an affirmative choice, not something that happens by accident. And it is a choice you have to make over and over again throughout the divorce process.
2. Tell the truth (in the kindest way possible).
Telling the truth is easier then telling, and remembering, a lie, and is instrumental is creating an atmosphere of trust. An atmosphere of trust improves communication, and improved communication allows for productive and mutually beneficial negotiated agreements. Lies, silence, evasiveness, ambiguity, and vagueness create an atmosphere of anxiety, anger and fear. Distrust increases, communication deteriorates, and negotiated agreements become more difficult. Justifying less than the truth is not “cushioning the blow” or “sparing feelings” or “protecting your spouse”—it is the opposite.
Telling the truth in the kindest way possible is different than being brutally honest. There is a big difference between: “I do not like the shirt you are wearing” and “you look like a slob in that shirt”.
3. Avoid taking things personally.
Imagine you and your spouse both on a trail that circles a lake. You are walking and your spouse is on a bike. What you see and experience while walking is different than what your spouse sees and experiences on a bike. You are on the same path but your experiences and perspectives are different which may cause you each to describe the lake and the trail differently.
Your marriage is the same—you and your spouse have been on the same path but experiencing different things. Your decisions, goals, fears, and ideas are unique to you and are based on your individual experience and perspective. This is also true for your spouse. In a divorce, taking things personally may cause you to feel offended or defensive which in turn causes you to spend time and energy (and money) to convince your spouse of their flawed perspective. Then, your spouse is offended and defensive and invested in showing you the inaccuracy of your perspective. This is an expensive and never ending cycle not conducive to mutually beneficial negotiated agreements.
4. Abstain from assumptions.
Making assumptions in the midst of divorce leads to misunderstandings, distrust, poor communication and increased difficulty in obtaining a satisfying agreement. A couple falling in love assumes the best of each other–he had a good reason for being late; he didn’t intend to burn dinner. A divorcing couple tends to assume the worst—he was late because he doesn’t care about the children; he forgot to pay the credit card to hurt my credit. Assuming and then reacting to what you believe to be true creates drama where no drama needs to exist.
Similar to this is believing your spouse read can read your mind. They cannot. Hinting, crying, throwing temper tantrums, and gossiping are not substitutes for clearly expressing your requests, goals, intentions, and concerns.
Instead of assumptions, ask questions and communicate clearly.
5. Always do your best.
As Don Miguel Ruiz states in his book The Four Agreements, under any circumstance, always do your best. Your best will ebb and flow, varying from day-to-day. However, regardless of quality always do your best. In addition to doing your best, tell yourself that your spouse and the professionals involved in your divorce case are doing their best too.
Doing your best means keeping your commitments and if you find you need to change a commitment, let those to whom it was made know at the earliest opportunity. This builds trust, improves communication, and allows for more satisfying agreements.
For those who can do it, taking the high road helps to build trust, minimize anxiety and fear, allow for productive negotiation and creation of custom-made solutions for the divorcing couple and their children.