Taking the High Road in Divorce

What do you do when you have a choice about how to act in your divorce? Take the high road.

As you go through your divorce, time after time you’ll be faced with the same kind of choice: give a little bit or stand firm on principle. Agree to send your kids for visitation early on a day your spouse is off work or let them go on your spouse’s birthday, or hold to the visitation schedule as if any deviation would be fatal. Go with your spouse to a parent-teacher conference or insist on scheduling separate meetings. Offer an olive branch or fire off a scathing letter.

It may not seem true now, but the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to take the high road as often as you can. The high road means trying to compromise. Consider the other person’s feelings. Do what’s best for your kids. Think about negotiating solutions that work for everyone, not just you. Whenever possible, don’t create or escalate conflict.

You don’t choose the high road just because it’s morally superior to pettiness and vindictiveness (though of course it is). Experienced divorce lawyers and family therapists will tell you that the angriest people end up hurting their own interests and dragging out everyone’s pain by their refusal to give an inch. No question, it is very difficult to make reasoned decisions when you’re in emotional turmoil. You may be very angry at your spouse; you may be deeply hurt by an affair or another betrayal; you probably feel that you can’t get away from the situation quickly enough. And if your spouse is abusive or otherwise impossible to work with, you may know from experience that efforts at compromise will probably be wasted. But in the vast majority of situations, a little compromise goes a long way—and if you do choose the high road, then when you look back on this time, you will feel good about the choices you made.

You’ll also feel good about having done right by your kids. The other thing that experts agree on is that although divorce is difficult and stressful for kids no matter what, the real harm to kids comes from being subjected to conflict between parents. The longer that lasts, and the more severe it is, the worse it is for your children. If you truly want to shield your children from the pain of divorce, recognize that the more you take the high road with your spouse, the better job you’ll do.


For help  communicating with your spouse, take a look at  Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen (Penguin), which has practical advice about how to prepare for difficult talks and communicate successfully about hard topics.

See our section on Getting Divorced for information on how to manage your divorce case.

Excerpted from Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow.  

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