Yes, divorce would be much more pleasant if everyone could do it peacefully. Christie Ray and her ex-accomplished that.
True, divorce is more often a war. But whether you are going through an amicable or confrontational divorce process, Christie has some thoughts and perspectives you should consider, whichever side of the court you are on.
DivorceForce: You have shared with DivorceForce that your divorce was a positive scenario. How and why is that possible?
Christie Ray: My divorce was positive because both my then-husband and I were aware that our marriage was no longer working. We knew we did not want to "go to war" with each other—both of us had seen too many families destroyed by divorce, so we agreed to work together to be as kind to the other party as possible, and to always put our children first.
I understood that my then-husband was once “my person” and that he would always be my children’s father. He was a good man and had tried as hard as he could to be the best husband he could be to me, the same way that I had tried to be the best wife I could be for him. We just grew apart. This happens to couples.
We decided to respect what we had built, and chose not to destroy the trust between us by being bitter with each other; the only people who would be hurt would be our children, or us. I honored my husband as the person who I had chosen to be the father of my children. I had to trust that he would honor me in the same way. He had to trust that I would not take his children away from him, and I had to trust that he would not leave me destitute. It was scary at first, but the fear was worth the risk.
DivorceForce: Your book is titled “Untying the Knot With Grace.” What does it mean to divorce with grace, and how does one accomplish that?
Christie Ray: I wanted to change the word “divorce.” In our language today, the word brings up images of war and families that have been torn apart, or children who grow into adults haunted by their parent’s divorce. I needed a new phrase… Untying the Knot is a kinder and gentler way of describing what you do when you let go of your marriage with grace and kindness.
When you divorce with grace, you simply make the decision that you will end your marriage and part without hurting the other person more than is necessary. This is especially important when there are children involved. You agree that you will not disparage the other party, or allow your family to do so.
Explain to your friends that you and your spouse are amicably splitting, and no sides will be taken. Ask for your friends' support in keeping your divorce a private matter.
You must never discuss your divorce in any public forum or use social media as a place to vent any frustration or fears you may have.
If you have fears about your divorce, you must handle them with dignity and protect them the way you would a secret crush. Find a trusted friend to lean on, a spiritual counselor or coach, if you need to talk through things. Hopefully, you and your spouse are able to discuss your fears with each other—this is the ideal in divorcing with grace. When this happens, you will feel better about moving forward.
You will also receive the added benefit of learning to communicate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse—thus, learning to move on as a couple and move into friendship.
DivorceForce: How do divorced parents minimize the harm to their children? What should a "family unit" look like after divorce?
Christie Ray: Parents who choose to divorce must always remember that they are the people who are divorcing—the children are not divorcing either parent. If you divorce with grace, you remember that you are both your children’s parents and the foundation of their family... for the rest of their lives. You must work together and continue to co-parent together—even when divorced.
If possible, especially if you have younger children, try to schedule family gatherings even after the divorce. This can be simply getting ice cream together on a weekend, or having your child look out from the stage of the school play to see both parents sitting next to each other. You don’t have to speak to each other, just be respectful of the other person—the way you would be to any parent in your child’s circle of friends. I understand that circumstances may not make this scenario possible, but if you can, it is a wonderful gift for children and helps with their stress and worry about a sense of family.
Divorced parents who work to co-parent together give their children, and themselves, a life-long gift. They will never create stress for their children on days of celebration. Every graduation, wedding, birth, bar/bat mitzvah, and christening will be a family event that is celebrated by all. No child will have to juggle or stress over divorced/angry parents running into each other. Instead, you will provide both yourself and your children the gift of an amicable divorce—a graceful divorce—thus allowing you an open invitation to all celebrations.
DivorceForce: You have stated, "Divorce is only ‘hell' if you let it be hell.” How can people navigating divorce avoid hell? Is it possible if the soon-to-be ex is miserable and vindictive?
Christie Ray: You and your spouse are responsible for setting the tone of your divorce. It takes two to make it graceful, and one to make it hell. Do whatever you can to keep your dignity and grace when working with your soon-to-be ex. It may seem like an impossible task—you have been so hurt by this person. Unless you do not have children together, this person is going to be in your life for a long time; you will grow old together, only not in the way you imagined. It is easier for you, and on your children, if you let go of your anger as best you can.
If you have hired a pit-bull lawyer who is going to fight the big fight for you, remember that this lawyer will not be with you at your child’s graduation—but your ex will. Make it easier for yourself, and on everyone, to divorce with grace. It will serve you in the long run.
Divorcing with grace means that you and your partner are united in agreeing to things before presenting them to your lawyers—because a lawyer can hijack your divorce and destroy even the most peaceful separation. You must be willing to terminate your lawyer at any time when/if this party starts to interfere with your amicable split. Remember that your lawyer is doing his/her job—divorce is a business. Do not let a lawyer take advantage of your vulnerability and create a situation of distrust between you and your spouse. This will only cause you pain, and cost you money.
If one of the parties in a divorce is miserable and vindictive, it is almost impossible to have a graceful divorce. Both parties must be willing participants in order to achieve a graceful split.
I will say that many people who are miserable and vindictive are those who were hurt unnecessarily by their partners. This happens when people stop being respectful and act irresponsibly without regard to their vows. When this happens, the person who is hurt should ask for an apology—but that may not be enough. If there are children involved, I would hope the vindictive person would put the children first and remember that they still love the other parent. I understand it is asking a lot of the hurt parent to put this aside for the sake of the children, but this is exactly what divorcing with grace is about.
I often say to people who are struggling with this issue that it is like being an organ donor to your child—if your child needed a kidney, you wouldn’t hesitate to give it to them, no matter how much pain you had to endure. A divorce presents a similar scenario, only in the psychological sense.
DivorceForce: What are some things you suggest people do to release their anger and bitterness as they deal with their divorce?
Christie Ray: Bitterness is a powerful thing that can do more than make you feel unhappy; it can freeze you in your tracks and prevent you from growing in your relationships, your personal life, and your professional life.
It is important that every person going through the pain of divorce has someone to talk to. That person can be a trusted friend, minister/rabbi, therapist, or coach. No one should go through this alone, or in isolation. Find people who are going through, or who have gone through, divorce through the Internet, Facebook, meet-up groups, church groups. Take this time to explore hobbies that interest you. Sign up for a weekly class where you can focus on a new and interesting subject and new people. Take long walks. Scream because it feels good. Cry too. Go to a gym or yoga class. Journal your feelings. Find a retreat that focuses on separation and divorce (I offer these). Do things for yourself that you haven’t done since you were single.
Do not destroy property that belongs to your soon-to-be ex. This will only make you more bitter, and feel guilty. Do not jump into bed with the first warm body that presents itself. You are worth so much more than that.
Accept the things that you cannot change. Be grateful for the things that you have had. Embrace this new chapter of your life, no matter how scary. Try to make lemonade out of the lemons. Remember that bitterness can tarnish everything in your life. If you let go of bitterness, and look for joy in even the smallest of things, life will become sweeter. Do it for your children; but mostly, do it for yourself.
Christie Ray is the mother of two boys, who she happily shares with her ex-husband. She is an illustrator, designer, writer, and life coach. Having survived an unhappy marriage, Christie learned firsthand that divorce did not have to mean war, but could instead be the solution to her family’s happiness. She currently helps others who have survived living in an unhappy marriage and advises them how to untie their knot with grace and integrity, in a way that keeps children protected, safe, and loved. You can order her book here.