Divorce can be a wild beast ... a tricky animal at best. I know a thing or two about it. I grew up with divorced parents, and I watched my mother go through a second one later on. I saw it happen to every one of my aunts and uncles. I helped my best friend go through one of the messiest on record. And I've waded through those choppy waters myself, once upon a time. I'm currently watching another couple attempt to tackle the tempest, and it isn't going well. Like I said, I know a thing or two about it, and I'd like to tell you what I've learned:
1) It has the potential to turn you into someone that you never thought you would be. Looking in the mirror, you won't even recognize the angry, bitter, vengeful, cynical person you've become. And then there will be the days when the reflection is nothing but a sniveling, whining, sack of depression and lost hope sending out the RSVP to the pity party you've invited yourself to. It's The Faucet Syndrome; emotions running hot and cold, back and forth, and never the same one twice (in a row, at least).
2) In the midst of these mood swings, is not the time to make permanent, life altering decisions. In order to stabilize, it's important to find a support system. Surround yourself with friends and family to help you build the confidence you'll need to move on. They don't have to be wise, they only have to be honest. The last thing you want is a group of "yes-men" clinging to your anger to satisfy their own agendas, or grudges that anyone else may have against your ex. Or their own ex's, for that matter. There may be strength in numbers, but you can't rely on others for your own strength. It has to be built from within.
3) Don't get caught up in the "he said-she said" drama, and don't immerse yourself in the mystique of the International Spy Game ... finding and collecting evidence, and every little stick and stone that you can throw in a courtroom battle. It may make you feel powerful in the moment, but it only leads to a very anti-climactic ending. Depending on the laws of your governing state, many of your weapons may be irrelevant or inadmissible. Most divorces never see the inside of a courtroom. The battles are fought between the lawyers, through their phone lines, while sitting at their desks. You reach out to grasp the handle of your perceived sword, but your lawyer only hands you a pen, which is indeed mightier anyway. Just sign your name on the dotted line, and be done with it. Besides, all the threats and mind games serve to do is distract you from your original task, which is getting on with your future.
4) Speaking of weapons... children are not them. They aren't steel plated or covered in spikes. As tough as they may seem on the outside, they have chewy centers. They are soft, pliable, and easily injured. If it's spikes you want, then go ahead.. involve them in your troubles, engulf them in your anger, use them as your messengers, fill their heads with tales of woe and stories that they aren't ready to hear. Go ahead and belittle them when they show affection for the other parent, and openly attempt to sway their loyalties. You will indeed cause those spikes to grow, but don't be surprised to find that they are aimed at you. And they don't dissolve away as easily as you might think. They merely shrink to cover their hearts and damage their own future relationships.
5) Take responsibility for the part you played in whatever went wrong. A marriage is a partnership between two people. It takes both of them to build it up, and it takes both of them to tear it down. The other one may have made life a living hell, but how much fun were you to live with? Were you a supportive partner, or a critical one? Maybe you either pushed them away, or kept them in a choke hold. Maybe your part was as simple as knowing that the whole thing was crashing and burning, but never once reaching for the fire extinguisher... or making an attempt to get out of the smoke and save yourself. Remember that old adage about pointing the finger at someone else, and how many are pointing back at you? It's corny, yes, but there is a seed of truth in it. It took me four years to be able to say, out loud, what I had done wrong in my previous marriage, and then two months of therapy to be able to apologize for it. Oh, how nice it was to breath that sweet, clean air!
6) Don't let greed get the best of you. The "best of you" is what you're trying to rebuild, so that it can carry you forward into a new and better future. Of course you want to be sure that you get the financial support that you deserve for the kids. And you need to try to split any assets fairly and evenly. However, if the fight is turning out to be just another way for you to hold on to your ex, or your anger, or if it's causing pain to those around you (especially your kids), or if it's keeping you from moving on ... then it might just be in your best interest to cut your losses, and walk away.
7) A divorce can be a great opportunity for you to perfect your Madonna impersonation. That means "reinvent yourself"! Lose some weight, or put on some muscle, or just work out to boost your energy level. Dye your hair. Change your style. Change your diet. Discover a new form of music. Redecorate a room. Learn a new skill or sharpen the ones you have. Start a new hobby. Make some new friends, or get together with some old ones. Take that walk down memory lane, and rediscover the dreams you once had, that maybe you had let go of. Make a new you, make a new plan, and put it all into action! This is a great way to keep yourself busy focusing on something positive, instead of sitting around and stewing about how things have gone awry.
8) Learn to be alone. You certainly don't want to isolate yourself, but there are going to be times when you find yourself alone on the couch with ... yourself, and you have to learn how to spend quality time with... yourself. Being alone together is one of the best ways to learn how to like... yourself. A quiet walk in the park. Morning meditation on the porch. It soothes the nerves, and clears the mind.
9) Divorce can be a test of your character, and an opportunity to build upon it. No other attribute can be as life changing as respect, for yourself and your ex. This is not the time to brag about all that you have, that the other person will now have to live without. And this is not the time to put your new lover on display. Those times will come. But for now, practice the fine art of discretion.
10) If you subscribe to any religious institution, or just harbor a spiritual ideal, then it's time to take a look at the mantras. The Taoist would say, "Hey, it is what it is, and all things are what they're meant to be". The Buddhist would say "Life is suffering. It's the struggle against the suffering that brings unhappiness. So accept it, and move on." And the Christian will say "Forgiveness is the key". If that doesn't work for you, then listen to Julie Andrews ..."Whenever God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window".
So, there's my two cents. I know that every situation is different, and every person has to do what they feel is best for themselves. But it can't hurt to learn from other people's mistakes, and it only helps to know that you are not the first person to suffer through any situation, and you won't be the last.