Happy Cool Divorce Friends

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Unless You Plan In Advance

Artwork supplied by Lo

So you’ve decided to separate and get a divorce. Congratulations on taking this exciting step in your relationship. Now’s your chance to be Happy Cool Divorce Friends with your spouse, this guide will help you dismantle a marriage that has eroded to the point where you know you have to get out but the reservoir of love hasn’t completely run dry. This won’t help you at all if one of you has been caught lying, cheating, or any situation where the police or fire brigade have been called to your house — the ship has sailed for you, you need to make sure your passport is ready for your post-separation trip to Bangkok and you may as well go ahead and pick out an ugly hairstyle or tattoo you’re going to punish yourself and everyone around you with for the next 6 months while you’re updating Instagram with how happy you are. Best of luck.

“Friends with your ex spouse? What!?” I hear you gasp? Please, save your applause for the end of the presentation. It’s not an easy road, so listen up.

If you haven’t already, first you will have to sit your spouse down and begin unemotionally making your case for divorce. Unless you are a master of acting, and they are a master of idiots, they probably won’t be shocked at your proposal, if anything probably relieved you were the one to bring it up. Like any problem, it’s better to present a well thought-out solution rather than treading over old ground and blabbering on about the horror of your marriage — it may be from a different perspective but they already have an intimate knowledge of that. Think about and share the ways in which you will both be benefitted by the administration of divorce, don’t delude yourself that they will be somehow worse off, that simply won’t be true in the end. The list of ‘pros’ will be just as long for them if it has gotten to this point.

Don’t plan too far ahead on your own, you don’t want to make your spouse feel like the train left the station a while ago without them on it. Make it clear you want to work out together how to tackle things like property and asset division, who gets the pets, who has to move out first, your plan of attack for telling friends and family. Focus on getting them amped for divorce, but don’t forget that leaving each other, even if it’s firmly what you’ve decided, is a massive undertaking. In many ways you will need each other, only they will have any idea what you’re going through, and keeping them happy and friendly will make your life a million times easier.

Prepare yourself for the person your ex is probably about to be. They will lose weight, they will start wearing their hair the way you’ve always wanted them to, they will date someone who you will feel threatened by, their clothes will change, they might block you on social media — I mean, of course they will, if they have any semblance of self respect and courtesy, let’s be honest here. Be prepared that some of your friends will just fall off the face of the earth, don’t waste your energy by being disappointed in them, you are always better off without people who aren’t there during times like this — no exclusions.

While you’re at it, forget feeling guilty. You don’t need to be a cold hard ice block about it, but do you really think you’d be doing them a favour by staying? No matter how dependant they are, they will be better off out of a relationship that at least one person doesn’t want to be part of anymore. Feeling guilty will suffocate you and stop you from being the person you need to be to get through this next 12 months, so figure out a way to process your feelings quick smart and put your guilt in the bin.

You will need money, in Australia even the most simplistic divorce will set you back about a grand, that’s not including lawyer fees if it gets to that point or child custody orders, and it certainly doesn’t include the atrocious amount of money you’re definitely about to spend finding a new place to live, moving, therapy, and trying every trick in the book to keep your kids happy. It’s expensive, and bullshit, but if you don’t approach the situation with a level head and with the bigger picture in mind then you will suffer for it more than you need to.

BOUNDARIES

Remaining Divorce Friends does NOT mean you continue to perform any actions that you would have as their spouse after you separate unless it directly benefits you, after all it’s still a divorce no matter how happy and cool it is. This means no more:

  • booking appointments
  • emotional labour
  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • shopping
  • paying rent or bills
  • attending events together (unless you’re doing it to announce your divorce, in that case good for you!)
  • being the point of contact for their family’s shit
  • arguments (having an argument is what people do when they need to change someone else’s mind. You no longer need to change anyone’s mind, you know what you’re doing and calmly going about that is all you need to do)

Things you can and should do in the first 6 months, once you’ve established boundaries:

  • text , email, or speak to each other about mutual issues (kids, pets, sale of assets etc)
  • check in where you feel it’s appropriate, it’s ok to be friendly, and fine to ask them now and then how work is going and how they are personally, if you feel it becomes too intimate or too regular then remind them who else they could speak to and that you no longer feel ok talking about that, if they don’t have anyone then recommend therapy
  • tell them up front if they become too dependant on you for anything, unless something major is happening that involves both of you (sick kids or the sale of your marital home or cars etc) then in the first 6 months contact should be kept to a minimum for the sake of both of you to grow
  • make it clear that you’re expecting them to move on romantically — you do want them to move on romantically, don’t you? Yes, you do. Friendly support is positive, you don’t need to filter out potential hook-ups on their behalf or get into the details of their last date, but allowing yourself to step into an encouraging role will not only make it easier for you when you get back into dating but it will strengthen your friendship with your ex. You won’t have time for jealousy or resentment if you focus on what’s good for you, and that often means being positive and realistic.

All break-ups happen for one reason, whether you realise it at the time or not someone wasn’t getting what they needed. If you’re lucky enough to understand exactly what you’re not getting from the relationship and manage to articulate it chances are slim that anything can be done about it, for that requires the other person or maybe even yourself to admit fault and follow through on changing a behaviour. Humans don’t make behavioural changes easily, and they rarely change for other people, or worse they act like they’ve changed and 8 months go by and you’re back to square one only with less patience.

By the time you realise a certain behaviour is a problem you can’t get past you’ve probably been in the relationship long enough to either be married or seriously committed. Problems like these surface after a few years of being together, if it was an obvious problem then you’d just not have dated them to begin with. It’s most likely going to be a slow burn problem, but don’t be fooled, it’s a problem that’s been there all along. They haven’t changed, if anything they changed slightly to accomodate you to begin with, then reverted back to their true selves — you did the exact same thing, and it’s likely this has contributed to you noticing the issue.

Once you see the big problem for what it is it could be rabid, you’ve ignored or misunderstood it for so long that it’s become a large infected abscess. Now you have to deal with it, and you’re not a dum-dum, you know it’s going to be painful and exhausting. Divorce is sad, and hard, so as a small favour to yourself make one aspect less difficult. Be Happy Cool Divorce Friends, because you’re about to be a happy cool divorced babe enjoying the freedoms of single life with a much better understanding of your own needs and at the end of the day that’s the bigger picture.

Professional amateur writer in Perth, Western Australia. All accompanying illustrations are my own.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store