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The Classy Girl's Guide to Divorce: Taking the High Road

Sitting in the mediator's office towards the end of my legal divorce process a few years ago, I came in nervous because I assumed, based on our pattern of communication, that my ex wouldn't be happy with the changes I was going to propose. My experience of the comments we both made during our years of conflict, which continued throughout the divorce, at times, left me hurt and sometimes feeling powerless (and, I can only assume, him, as well). I know (or can only assume) I must've caused him hurt at times with my defensive comments.

Sometimes I responded defensively, sometimes snarkily, and sometimes I just teared up.*

The business of divorce is an emotional process. It's hard to ignore hurtful comments made to each other, intended or implied. We want to retort back at times, flip the middle finger, prove we are right, and all the things associated with conflict with someone we once loved, shared life, and relationship with. There is the emotional detachment and the business of divorce, the legal splitting of assets (sometimes including children) accumulated during your marriage. Everyone knows it's best to keep emotions out of business transactions, but boy oh do we do that when splitting a life apart? I'm not sure I have the perfect answer, but I do know that in most things divorce...

Taking the high road IS the answer--for your sanity and peace of mind.

So what does "taking the high road" mean? It means doing the decent or right thing even if it goes against popular majority. Taking the high road is using a rational approach, whereas taking the low road is more of a reactive and emotional approach. The phrase became popular in 1948 during the presidential campaign when President Truman's opponent, Robert Dewey told voters he was taking the "high road" to let voters decide whether President Truman was taking the moral high ground in campaign tactics.

Here's what I have learned (and am still working on having made many, many mistakes) to take the high road, learning the hard way from many mistakes of taking the low road!

1. Wait 24 hours (or longer) to respond if you are emotionally charged. Responding from a place of hurt isn't always the best course. While it might feel really good in the moment to make flippant, uncaring remarks, it doesn't leave you walking away with integrity. This includes any form of communication whether in person, email, text, etc. Offload your hurt and vent with a therapist, good friend, journal/diary, or church leader.

2. Don't project. In a recent article by Katie & Gay Hendricks of Hearts in Harmony, projecting assumes "you’re 100% convinced you’re 100% right about the situation at hand – and you’re certain your partner is at fault. You’ll feel angry, your brow will furrow, and you might even assume an intimidating posture over your mate." In this case, "ex-spouse." Offer to work through it and if you cannot find common ground, do not engage in the conflict any longer.

3. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. I know, you don't want to and this is hard, but you want to walk away from these emotionally charged reactions with integrity and being your best self. Sometimes during the process of divorce, we are scared, sad, and experience a myriad of hurt. Your ex spouse may also hurt too. They might be scared and sad for multiple reasons and lash out with comments that hurt. You don't have to respond in kind.

4. Do not engage with their hurt. Again, we all are capable of making hurtful comments. Do not engage with the emotional statements and keep it about the business of divorce. That's where good girlfriends, a therapist, and good counsel can help keep you accountable, and are safer places to vent.

5. Remember it's not your ex's responsibility to make you feel better or understand you. If they do, you are in luck! But most likely, they will not because they are stuck in their own emotions and adjustment.

6. Taking the high road takes away their power to keep you down and in a place of hurt. Walk away with grace and your head held high instead of responding out of your hurt. Do it often enough and notice how amazing it feels. That's where your power lays--not in being right or proving to them your case, but power over letting the comments bring out the reactivity in you!

7. Think about what is best for your children. No matter how old. It makes family gatherings more pleasurable for them and allows them to focus on being kids in the midst of a situation they didn't choose. You will be co-parents for the rest of your lives together and allows them to enjoy their milestones with two parents who can be in the same room and keep the focus on them, the event, and not your divorcing discord.

8. Do not post your differences on social media! It only makes you look bad. Social media is not the forum to vent about your ex-spouse.

Learning to set healthy boundaries for yourself (like the 8 tips above) can help you gain more peace during this difficult emotional process and beyond. You're worth it!

To read more practical tips on how to take the high road in divorce, I love this article by Karen Covey, Divorce Advisor, Attorney & Coach: read here.

Kimberly (formerly Sandstrom) McNary, LMFT is a licensed marriage & family therapist practicing in California. If you are currently going through a divorce, or still dealing with conflict with your ex-spouse and in California, please contact me for support. You do not have to go through this alone and counseling can help. I offer practical solutions on how to set boundaries, process the grief and pain associated with divorce, and co-parenting strategies. Click here to contact me.

*The opinions, views and perceptions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not reflect the opinions, views or perceptions of other persons mentioned or implied.

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