“Divorce” still drips with shame and stigma, but in my opinion, it is the single most empowering event one might experience. While I would never wish it on anyone, and I would counsel couples to avoid it if there is a shred of hope for a path forward together, in a situation where divorce is a fact for a family, it should be embraced wholeheartedly. Why? Few transitions affect the totality of one’s day-to-day life while allowing for a complete reset and empowerment.
While we tend to focus on the painful loss and changing structure inherent in divorce, which, admittedly can be paralyzing; and the legal process, which, admittedly, can be brutal; divorce presents an opportunity that can be as big and bright as the sun.
Financial education and responsibility = financial empowerment = freedom
This is the big one. The divorce process is an unbelievable amount of work. It requires couples to identify every single expense, sources of income, the history behind every asset, and the details around every debt; your financial picture deconstructed. The value? Priceless.
With financial matters, ignorance is not bliss. Often in marriage, one spouse retains control. There is a difference between transparency and control. It makes sense for one spouse to manage financial tasks such as managing retirement savings, investments, monthly bills, credit card debt, tax returns, etc., but it doesn’t make sense for the other to be ignorant, or worse, not invited in.
If you are what is described as the “non-money spouse,” after divorce you now have a blueprint from which to build your independent life. If you are the spouse who previously lacked financial insight or control, you have, for the first time, complete transparency and are now in control of your own financial picture. You will never abdicate or allow that financial relationship to be repeated. (Repeat after me, “I will never again allow another partner to own and control my financial picture or to manage it without transparency.”) Now, a lifestyle spending plan to support your independent future can be developed, the proper insurance policies can be put in place, and a new estate plan can be carefully constructed. Financial freedom, even in tight financial circumstances is hugely empowering.
New relating and relationships
No more compromising in the areas that matter. It is always fascinating how many people in the divorce process agonize over how they will meet the next person. Marriage is the proverbial birdcage: when we are in, we want out and when we are out, we want back in. No one wants to be alone, but after divorce, we are astute enough to know that being with the wrong person is unsustainable. While often heartbreaking, divorce is an opportunity for a do-over. That is empowering and freeing, but with it comes a responsibility to ourselves. The divorce rate among second marriages is higher than among first, so rather than run into the arms of “the same person in a different pair of pants,” as Oprah has so beautifully articulated, it is an opportunity to evaluate what is important, how you feel when you are with a potential new partner and to re-script relationship that fully supports yourself and your children.
Your relationship with your children
Children in in-tact (married) families naturally have a different relationship with each parent. Sometimes one parent is the permissive one and the other is stricter, or parents unconsciously take on different roles that become defined over time. The division of labor approach required to manage the household often establishes activities that are only done with a specific parent which defines the day-to-day relationship and experience. None of that is wrong, but co-parenting in two homes changes everything and often it is an opening for parents to redefine their roles and relationship with the children. It can be terribly difficult and isolating to be a divorced parent, but it can be empowering to shift the relationship to a more fully rounded experience as a parent that often results in rewarding relationships with your children.
Money, relationships and parenting. With the shift of a single thought, we can emerge from divorce to become fully empowered and free from the confines of an unsustainable structure. Now here is a twist. How can we turn marriage into the single most empowering transition of our lives? Let’s go upstream and begin that exciting journey with greater clarity and conversation about the financial, relationship and shared parenting values in a way that will dramatically reduce the divorce statistics and conflict.