Divorce Mediators of New Jersey

Guidelines for the noninitiating woman.

1. Don’t think of yourself as a helpless victim. You’ve just been told your marriage is over. You may feel that your world has collapsed around you, and that it was his decision alone, not yours, that did it. And it may take a little while to get past that point. However, there really is life beyond divorce. Thinking of yourself as a victim is just a way of feeling sorry for yourself. This is a disaster like other disasters that might leave you alone in the world; like fire, flood, or catastrophic illness. You would cope with those crises with thought, sensitivity, and courage. This is no different. You have your children to think about as well as yourself. And help is available. Use it.

2. Be honest with yourself about the marriage. To what degree did you really know it would end? Do you really think the marriage could work again for the two of you? Should it really continue? What do you do about trust? If you have real hope, get him into counseling somehow. If not, let yourself mourn the death of the relationship.


3. Give yourself time to come to terms with the divorce. Your husband has already come to terms with it. It probably took him awhile. Now it is your turn. Tell him you need some time to think. Wait until you are settled down before you try to settle anything else. When you are still in shock, do not negotiate or make other important decisions.

4. Don’t use your children for support. The last place you want your kids is on either your side or your husband’s side in the divorce. Your kids can’t really support you. Let them try and they lose their father by supporting you and lose you as a parent when they protect you instead of you protecting them. So they lose both parents when they need you most. The result is damaged children who will occupy your life in horrendous ways and make it difficult or impossible for you to successfully create a new life. So you must protect your children from your anger at their other parent no matter what you feel, no matter what the cost, for their sake and yours. You must keep them out of it; so don’t let them take sides. And reread the first rule on page 4 of this packet.

5. Don’t believe that your lawyer will really fight for you. You are outraged and lawyers are professional fighters. So you plan to hire one to fight for you. Unfortunately, it is a con. Lawyers act like they are viciously pursuing a lawsuit. But in the end they will settle the case, usually using cookie cutter solutions as you get to the courthouse steps in 2-4 years. The law doesn’t care whose fault it really was nor who initiated the divorce; the very things you are most angry about get entirely ignored. In fact, it is unprofessional for attorneys to be concerned with them. Moreover, solutions reached on the verge of the nonexistent “trial” are often so unfair that one couple in two winds up back in litigation after the divorce is final. Then you get to do it again. As do your kids. Remember, along with the wasted money, the legal fight can be the center of your life for years. Mediate, don’t litigate. Then get advice from an experienced attorney during mediation, not before.

6. Once it is in the open, go to your friends and adult relatives for emotional support. You need people to talk to about what is going on. Talk with your friends and family. Talk to a counselor. Get emotional support and wise advise. Don’t go it alone for any reason.

7. Don’t continue to have sex with him. Period. If you have trouble with this, consult a therapist right now.

8. Don’t depend on your husband’s guilt. Guilt quickly sours and turns into resentment. Your husband may feel guilty now and be willing to give you a giver share of the pie. But if that share is too big, resentment will pile up and he may play “catch me if you can” in the long run. That will cut him off from both the kids and you. Nor is your own anger a good bargaining guide. Negotiate for what is fair, no more no less. Only a fair agreement minimizes resentment over the long term and helps you parent cooperatively in the future.

9. Help him leave amicably. In over 90% of divorces with children, it is the father who moves out of the home. The question is when. Many husbands get bad advice, telling them they will lose their share of the house should they move out. Be wiling to put in writing that your husband is moving out by mutual consent; that his moving elsewhere is neither desertion nor abandonment of his property rights. It is foolish in a number of ways to live in the same house with him while getting divorce. We call this state “Unholy Deadlock.” It can go on for wasted years and damage everyone. Do your best to avoid it. Separate living quarters are the only thing, aside from job training, that you should spends savings on or borrow for if necessary during this period. At worst, divide the house and respect each other’s privacy.

10. Don’t act out your uncontrolled anger and hurt. Avoid revenge, blaming, and recriminations, especially after the initial shock is over. Expressing your feelings may be satisfying in the short run, but you will shortly pay a very high price. Self-righteous anger expressed by you produces self righteous anger in him and so on. If someone tells you that you have to express your anger to live with yourself, express it to them instead of in situations that will make your divorce worse. Read one or both of Carol Tavris excellent books: Anger and Controlling Anger. And get professional help. Brief psychotherapy is a lot less expensive than one bad move in a divorce. Your anger may feel too powerful to control, but you can decide how to act in your own best interests despite it.

11. Don’t start legal action. Get into mediation; it is usually cheaper, faster, and better. Then add lawyers as advisors, not litigators, later in the process. Until that later point, the legal process most often tends to worsen conflict during divorce, not help resolve it.

12. Remember, the law doesn’t care who wants the divorce and who does not. Nor does it care, with very rare exceptions, who were at fault. It cares only that the marriage is over. Negotiate with that in mind.