(The following is an excerpt from chapter 5, pages 84-87 of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life)
It’s a huge adjustment to go from being involved in every aspect of your spouse’s life to leading separate lives. One of the ways you can get off course toward making your divorce work is by continuing to be involved in your spouse’s business. By that we mean aspects of the way he is living his new life that as a former spouse you no longer have a say in.
Keep your involvement to the least you need to know and stop there. If you have children, there are things you’ll need to know, like whether your co-parent has their sports equipment, books, toys, or school papers. But you don’t need to know how your spouse plans to spend Sunday afternoon, what she has in her refrigerator or how her relationship with her sister is going. If you don’t have children, you will need to know even less about what is going on in your spouse’s new life. Stay out of your spouse’s business as much as you possibly can. You need all your energy to run your own life.
Wishing your spouse would change is a waste of your time. You will likely find yourself embroiled in conflict any time you have a thought process that goes like this:
My spouse is wrong about _________ and needs to change.
I cannot be happy because he won’t change.
Chances are the things you want to change about him now are the same things you wanted to change about him when you were married. He didn’t change then and he’s not going to change now. In fact, it may even seem worse because even the little compromises you used to make for each other for the sake of the relationship are certainly not going to happen now that you are getting a divorce. Anticipate that.
If you need to be in your spouse’s business in order to navigate your day-to-day relationship, keep it on a need-to-know basis. If your wife has a new boyfriend who has met your children, find out his name and a little bit about him so you can help normalize the situation with your kids. “I’m glad you had fun with Mommy and John at the state fair last weekend” helps everyone feel comfortable. You don’t want your kids to have secrets or taboo topics. On the other hand, you don’t need to know “Is John as handsome as Daddy?” or “Did Mommy kiss him?”
You can’t change your spouse or the way she is living her life, and it is inappropriate for you to even want to. If you pin your happiness on changing her, you are in for a lot of pain and disappointment. And never use your children as spies for you to find out what is going on in the other household, no matter how tempting it is. Now is the time to focus on your own life and happiness.
Overcoming Being Involved in Your Spouse’s Business
The best way to stop being involved in your spouse’s business and to focus on your own life is to let go. Letting go is not a passive surrender. Letting go is an active demonstration that you trust yourself to make the right decisions about your divorce. The ideas you are learning in this book will work for you if you allow them to.
Letting go means opening your mind to new insights. These insights will give you greater clarity to work with your spouse to create a win-win settlement and design your new life.
Letting go is relieving yourself—and your spouse—of guilt. You are not a horrible person or a failure for getting divorced, and neither is your spouse. You do not have to spend time and energy now justifying why you are getting divorced, since you have already made that decision. What matters is what you do with the situation.
Letting go allows you to accept that there are some things you can’t change and some things you can. For example, if you’re struggling with what to do with a too expensive house, you can’t change the fact that neither you nor your spouse will likely be able to afford the house on your own. You can change your focus to what you can do—like making minor repairs and cleaning the house so it will sell quickly and for a fair asking price.
The Things I Cannot Change
List people, issues, and circumstances that bother you, but that you know you cannot change. For each item, also note where you might be able to shift your focus toward personal responsibility and effect change where you can. Here’s a sample:
My spouse’s parents blame me for our divorce and confront me with their anger every time I see them.
I cannot change this because: Their feelings are theirs and they are entitled to them.
Instead I will focus on: How I can manage my anger when they confront me so I don’t allow myself to be drawn into the argument.
If you think through the things you cannot change, you can redirect your energy so you don’t become frustrated and waste your time needlessly suffering about things over which you have no control. Focusing on what you can change puts you in charge of how you feel and provides insight into how you can make things better.
She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and writes for the Huffington Post, as well as her own blog, Making Divorce Work.