Two nights a week during baseball season, you’ll find Angie Milhous watching her son’s game with her current husband, her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s wife. “My husband and I have both had successful divorce experiences. It’s kind of unusual,” said Milhous, who has a masters degree in nursing and family therapy. Her son and her ex-husband’s stepson are on the same baseball team and attend the same school. The foursome is together regularly, so they have had to find a way to make it work for the sake of the children.
Divorce does not have to be an angry, vindictive experience. There are ways to negotiate the process while remaining dignified and amicable. Milhous attributes her harmonious divorce to the fact that she was vigilant about the steps of the grieving process that both spouses had to experience as they passed through to the end of their marriage: shock or disbelief, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression and acceptance.
Milhous said that often, the person who initiates the divorce is far ahead in the grieving process – as much as 12 months ahead. That was the case for her. She knew about a year before she asked for a divorce, that her marriage would end. “So I had time to grieve, albeit in private,” Milhous said.
She took that time to prepare for the divorce that lay ahead. She got her finances in order, she got her emotions ready. “When I told him this was it, he of course, had to start the grieving process right then,” Milhous said. Once he moved through his shock and denial, the anger kicked in. And that’s when Milhous’s real work began. ANGER MAKES DIVORCE MORE PAINFUL
“I think anger is the point when the divorce process falls apart,” Milhous said. She said she knew that to try to keep her divorce amicable, she had to try not to give in to the anger her husband was experiencing. She did everything she could not to respond to his anger, not to escalate it. “I just stayed quiet, and I understood that was the part of the grieving process he was in,” Milhous said. “It wasn’t pretty, but I just waited.”
She and her husband were in negotiations with their attorneys at that point. She had to warn her attorney to try not to make the situation worse. She said she told her attorney, “Just sit tight. He’s in the anger phase, and we’ll just get through it.”
It was painful to sit by and let her husband spew his frustrations at her, she said. But she knew that eventually, it would blow over, and they could move on toward accepting that the divorce was going to proceed. Milhous said she believes that egos get in the way of dignified divorce because, by letting an ego be the guide, one is likely to focus more on taking a defensive stance in the process. “It takes a very strong, patient person to sit back and wait it out,” Milhous said.LEARN ABOUT THE PROCESS
It takes not only strength but self control. Deborah Moskovitch
, who recently published the book “Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors and Other Experts,” said she weathered a difficult divorce process and came through with several lessons learned. The first of which was that she was responsible for her own behavior. “You can’t control what is happening to your soon-to-be former spouse,” Moskovitch said. “You can only control yourself.”
She said one of the deepest pitfalls into which people descend is letting their emotions guide their decision-making behavior. Moskovitch said that she saw herself becoming overly emotional and making faulty decisions. When she realized it, she said, she focused her efforts on making informed choices about financial and ethical issues. “There are so many things that I felt needed to be taken care of through the legal issues, and it doesn’t work that way,” Moskovitch said.