How to have a happy divorce

If you've decided to part ways, here's how to do it amicably.

By Liza Finlay
How to have a happy divorce

How to have a happy divorce

Happy divorce?

How do you have a happy divorce? Does such a thing even exist?

Yes, it does. Deciding to leave an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage can be liberating — a rebirth, a clean slate, an opportunity for a do-over. And that’s a good thing. But what’s critical to remember is that your ex isn’t making a complete exit. He is still your children’s other parent, and he is still your co-parent. That means getting along isn’t just desirable, it’s crucial. Here’s how to do it.

How to have a happy divorcePhoto: UygarGeographic/iStockphoto

Find common ground

With the divorce rate in Canada hovering around 40 percent, parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a growing social concern. PAS occurs when one parent turns the child against the other parent through verbal and emotional abuse. The manipulated child is left feeling insecure, angry and hurt.

Safety, significance and belonging: That's the holy trinity of co-parenting (and parenting, in general). Ensuring that your child feels safe, significant and like he belongs requires that splitting spouses construct a united front. Lori Thibodeau, a Minnesota-based family therapist specializing in high-conflict divorce, created a technique she calls "bridging." Essentially, parents bridge their marital divide with the following planks: respect, communication, parental primacy. Let’s break that down.

How to have a happy divorcePhoto: Richard Clark/iStockphoto



Every human being has the right to be treated respectfully. (Yes, even your ex.) Demonstrate this essential right to dignity by refusing to disparage your co-parent in front of children. In fact, how about even summoning up your higher self and finding something nice to say?

Read more: Should you fight in front of your kids>

How to have a happy divorcePhoto: Agnieszka Kirinicjanow/iStockphoto


Do you want to have interactions or transactions? There’s a difference. A transaction is one-way communication with no feedback. An interaction involves two-way communication with lots of feedback. It’s the difference between co-existing and cooperating; it’s the difference between low-fat plain yogurt and full-fat French vanilla. For the sake of your kids, go whole hog.

Read more: 5 good ways to argue>

How to have a happy divorcePhoto: UygarGeographic/iStockphoto

Parental primacy

There isn’t too much we need to say here. Kids come first. It’s that simple. Agree that the children will not be pawns used for political gains in parental disputes. Agree that your role as parents has primacy over any personal ill will, any residue of resentment.

How to have a happy divorcePhoto: iStockphoto


Truth and reconciliation

Of course, the best way to have a happy divorce is to reconcile. No, no, I don’t mean you should get back together. I mean, you should heal past hurts so that you can part as friends. Bury the dagger, and forgive. Tame the wild beast that has you wanting to scratch his eyes out every time you see him. This may require some therapy, and that’s OK. Couples counseling can help both of you part with the past peacefully. Ultimately, learning to let go lovingly allows you to love again.

Read more: 4 steps to letting go of the past>

How to have a happy divorcePhoto: Laflor/iStockphoto

More relationship tips

How to have a happy divorce
This article was originally published on May 03, 2013

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