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A Man’s Guide to a Civilized Divorce – Relating to Your Wife

Between the decision to divorce and the physical separation, you and your wife are stranded between two worlds: your past life together and your future lives apart. It is only natural during this period of limbo that emotions run high. Even the slightest miscue can lead to an explosion that could irrevocably damage your chances at a good divorce. The problem is that, because the relationship has changed, it is hard to know how to act.

Managing Day-to-Day Interactions

So how do you relate to each other? Even though you and your wife are divorcing, you are still together and still have many of the expectations of a married couple. She may still be your primary confidant, so you may be inclined to turn to her when something is troubling you. However, she is also the person you are divorcing and the feelings of rejection are still palpable. She is both friend and stranger at the same time, as are you to her.

While you are in this stage, it’s likely that you and your wife may get into discussions that begin as pleasant recollections from the past, only to see them deteriorate into two conflicting versions of history. You may each ruminate about the future, only to find yourselves in a fight over how much support she seeks or whether she will agree to sell the house. Your situation is volatile, and what begins as a simple discussion soon becomes a battle with hurt feelings.

This is all part of the process of parting, and the sooner you acquire new expectations of each other, the better off you will be. Many couples come to me for mediation and express hope that they can come out of the divorce still being friends. It is very difficult to ratchet a relationship down from an intimate one to a friendship.

Friends expect to be able to turn to each other for emotional sustenance, encouragement, and approval. Calling on each other for help or emotional reinforcement is tricky because intimate conversation between you triggers so many old and unresolved issues.

You are the source of so much pain to each other that the pain is simply inconsistent with a friendship. So talk of friendship, more often than not, can just lead to further disillusionment with each other.

So, instead of aiming for friendship, the model that I return to repeatedly in this book is the appropriate dialogue with a business colleague. We expect business colleagues to be friendly rather than to be friends.

When you talk to a colleague, you are careful to maintain a cordial and respectful tone. You do not engage in bursts of anger and you do not attack each other’s character. You can agree to disagree, and you can negotiate amicable resolutions.

Because your relationship with a business colleague is limited to your common purpose, your communication is also limited. This helps ensure the relationship is long term; you do not stress it by demanding interaction outside of what is necessary to achieve a common goal. This is especially important if you have children, as you and your wife will have to cooperate around child-related issues for a long time.

You will have to be able to share relevant information, cooperate with each other to achieve common but limited goals, and resolve conflicts related to those goals on the occasions when such conflicts arise. Although it is quite difficult to shift gears suddenly and move from an intimate relationship with complex expectations to that of business colleagues, you need to begin consciously moving toward the transition.

As mentioned before, during the very difficult period after you have decided to divorce but before you have separated, it is easy to do great damage. Each of you may still be testing old agendas with each other. Each may look for approval and then feel angry when it is not forthcoming.

That’s why now is the time to learn how to steer clear of trouble. You must be polite and cordial. Let your wife know when you are coming and going. Do your share of work in the house and have no expectations of personal service from her. Do your own laundry and shopping.

Think of yourself as housemates, not spouses; you need to exercise the independence of a housemate. Do not burden your wife with your fears and do not expect to have intimate discussions. That is what you have friends for. That is what you use a therapist for. The sooner you and your wife achieve a respectful and cordial distance, the better off you both will be.

I also urge that you suggest divorce counseling for the two of you. Divorce counseling is not marital therapy and is not intended to achieve reconciliation. Divorce counseling uses a skilled therapist to help the two of you have any unfinished discussions about emotional issues that will help you both accept that the marriage is over.

Ideally, divorce counseling provides a safe place where each of you can say things that you feel the need to say and ask questions that are still unanswered. Frequently in such counseling, the noninitiator of the divorce seeks answers about why you want a divorce and sometimes tries one last time to get you to agree to try again.

It is a useful forum, because the therapist can interrupt to ensure that each of you are heard, can intervene to help you frame statements to minimize injury, and can provide the opinion of an independent third party that the marriage indeed seems to be over. It is also a safe place to try and obtain your wife’s agreement to join you in managing a decent and gentle divorce. It gives you an opportunity to assure her that your intentions are to be fair and gentle and to meet your responsibilities to her and the children.

A competent counselor should be able to help you do this in a few sessions. As in the choice of any professional, check out the counselor’s credentials and experience carefully because an incompetent counselor can do more harm than good.

Copyright © 2004 Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D.
Excerpted by permission from A Man’s Guide to a Civilized Divorce: How to Divorce with Grace, a Little Class, and a Lot of Common Sense.

While divorce is painful for both husband and wife, the process presents unique emotional and logistical problems for men. All too often, men lack the proper model when it comes to divorce. Men are told that it is either “go to war” or “get taken to the cleaners.” This myth that there are only two options leads to protracted, destructive, and costly proceedings. Worst of all, it helps neither party accomplish the true goal of divorce — to move on with life.

Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. In this comprehensive guide, renowned divorce negotiator and mediator Sam Margulies leads men step by step through the divorce process — from the initiation to the signing of the final papers. Using real-life examples from the thousands of cases he has helped mediate, Margulies covers the emotional, financial, and legal issues men face during divorces.

Delivering his expert advice in the straightforward tone of a best friend, Margulies provides the guide for any guy who wants to keep his honor while avoiding useless wars.

About the Author: Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D., has been one of the leaders in the field of mediation for 25 years. An early pioneer in mediation, Margulies was instrumental in helping to define the field. He has taught mediation for 20 years, has made innumerable presentations throughout the country, and has published extensively. His first book, Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life, was one of the earliest texts that taught that divorce can be done decently and without the traditional adversarial process.

Margulies lives and practices mediation in both Greensboro, North Carolina, and Montclair, New Jersey. When not mediating, teaching, or writing, he can often be found driving his tractor on his North Carolina farm.