Most divorces are not mutual decisions, but are instead initiated by one of the partners when they reach the conclusion that the marriage cannot continue. This “initiator” has thought about the divorce for a long time, has had the opportunity to mourn the failure of the marriage, and has begun to visualize a new life separate from the spouse. This partner is ready for the divorce and regards the losses associated with the divorce as outweighed by the advantages. The other partner, the “non-initiator,” may or may not be ready for the divorce. He/she may be resigned to the divorce and may agree that the marriage needs to end, or may be absolutely thunderstruck by be the revelation from the spouse and caught totally by surprise. The non-initiator is in a very different psychological space and needs time to come to grips with the new reality.
Whether you are the initiator or the non-initiator, how you manage the beginning of the divorce can shape the entire process. If you define the divorce as the result of your spouse’s terrible conduct or character, you will have a mess. If you tell your spouse that the divorce is all their fault, you will have a mess. If you press your spouse to reach decisions that they are not ready to make, you will have a mess. If you use the divorce to try to vindicate all your emotional agendas of the marriage, you will also have a mess. On the other hand, if you approach the divorce as the sad but unavoidable decision occasioned by the erosion of the marriage, erosion to which you have both contributed, you have a chance at a good divorce. If you assure your spouse that you will wait until they are ready and then negotiate in good faith, you have a chance of a good divorce. And if you minimize your contact with an adversarial court system, you have a chance of a good divorce. Mediation can help you do this.