A couple of years ago there was a story in the Dallas Morning News, entitled, “Bowing Out on Her Own Terms.” It was a story about an artist, Betsy Davis, who developed Lou Gehrig’s Disease/ALS several years ago and was taking advantage of the newly passed California physician assisted suicide law.
The article gave details of how this former artist was able to invite and spend a last glorious weekend with her dearest friends, then at what she felt was the right time, assisted by her physician, she took her exit. Few of us have the luxury of determining when and how we die; some may even feel that we have no right to make that decision. But there is one area where we can exercise the “right to write” our own story – when we find ourselves in the midst of a divorce. Most people feel like a pinball bouncing uncontrollably in a pinball machine of emotions, controlled and thrashed from side to side by an outside force. Those feelings are typical and normal. But if someone in a divorce is able, like Betsy Davis, to take control of their story, despite the uncontrollable circumstances, they have the ability to feel more in control and write the story that they want for themselves, and if they have children, for their children and grandchildren, too.
Other than the death of a child, most people say divorce is the most difficult experience they ever have.
Things are not as the couple planned when they found each other, fell in love, and got married. The vision of their “happily ever after” story (metaphorically sitting together on their front porch through their golden years) is destroyed, and they don’t initially know how to begin their story again. The real danger is getting stuck in the victim’s story, with feelings like, “This isn’t the life I planned and signed on for; this isn’t the life my spouse promised me; I was going to have financial and relationship security, and now I am having to start all over again; this isn’t fair.” If divorcing parties cannot figure out how to move beyond this stage, they will be stuck there; I have had some clients stay there and dwell in that place the rest of their lives.
Making the choice to stay stuck in denial or grief must be comfortable and give them some feeling that they desire, or they wouldn’t stay there. Some people may not have the ability to know how to get unstuck; if they are willing to see a counselor, who can help them face the hard work of personal growth, and if they have a willingness to work, grow and accept or even embrace change, they may come out on the other side of their divorce stronger and wiser than they ever imagined. I have seen clients who say to themselves and by their actions say, “This is not what I planned, but it could have been that I was widowed, so now even though things didn’t turn out as I planned, I need to roll up my sleeves and get busy writing my new life story: now that the first plan is gone, what do I want the rest of my life to look like?” It is almost like they are back at that stage of life, usually when they were young, where the world was their oyster – and they spent time dreaming, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” There is an quote from Albert Einstein that reads: “I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.”
Maybe you liked who you were in your marriage, and you feel like life has dealt you a bad hand, but so do the people who are diagnosed with cancer. The difference is you can probably have more control over your story than most people with a disease have. You can get stuck in one of the first four stages of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stage of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression, or you can take control of your life and your future, and with the help and support of others, you can move on to acceptance and write your own story. Do you want your story to be that you were a victim or bitter for the rest of your life or do you want your children and grandchildren to talk with pride about how you conducted yourself with dignity and grace during one of the toughest times in life? The circumstances you may be in may not be in your control; how your story comes out IS in your control.
So, you have choices if you find yourself in a divorce:
1) you can sit and let the story unfold without your writing any of it; you can do this by either letting your spouse control every decision or by going to court, where the judge decides your and your children’s future; or,
2) you and your spouse can together write the story of your ending and your futures.
Collaborative Divorce is the process that best enables you and your spouse to write your and your children’s stories.
In the Collaborative Divorce Process, you, your spouse, each of your lawyers, and a communications coach and financial professional will work together to help you gather and consider all the information that is necessary for you to make an informed decision. You brainstorm to develop and consider all the options for how you and your spouse and your family, if you have children, can move forward to best meet all your needs, individually and collectively.