Marriage, for many people, becomes the joy of their lives and gives it the ultimate meaning. To find a partner to love and hold, cherish through good times and bad, all while sharing your hopes and fears can be a transcendental experience unlike any other. Whether you’re with your “soul mate” or perfect compatible partner, marriage ranks up near the top of “to do” lists in most people’s overall lives. The vast majority of couples take vows that include “till death do us part,” so ending a long marriage is not usually in the cards. Otherwise, why would anyone get married?
Unfortunately, approximately 40-50% of marriages also end in divorce, meaning that for many people splitting up is just as common as getting hitched. Divorce has not always been legal around the world and, therefore, has been a relatively uncommon occurrence in human history, but since the 1970s in modern industrialized countries it has been on the rise. Whether this is because we no longer tolerate bad marriages or because people are naturally serial monogamists is up for debate, but it is reality.
Ending a long marriage can be logistically challenging, as well as fraught with emotional and spiritual conundrums. But it need not be the defining negative moment of both partners’ lives. There are multiple positive avenues to go down that will result in increased net happiness for both partners, as well as simply making your life simpler. There is no need to turn an already difficult time into a terrible time, and we hope this article can offer some practical advice on how to make the separation as pleasant as possible.
Ending a Long Marriage on Paper: Legal Separation
“Divorce” is a term that is fraught with all sorts of emotional and mental rhetoric. For many people, single and couples alike, the word conjures up an automatic knee-jerk reaction akin to drinking sour milk. Why would anyone want to get divorced after they’ve pledged to get married? Doesn’t that defeat the point of being married in the first place? While we cannot answer the philosophical questions for people’s individual lives, we can appropriately direct them toward a family law practice which will be able to more appropriately serve your needs.
There are many reasons why people get divorced, or file for legal separation, which you can read about online and elsewhere, but the simple fact is that like marriage, divorce is a legal process that you must go through in order to become separate individuals again in the eyes of the law. This can be a costly process, and there is a reason why you often see billboards advertising an “affordable” divorce lawyer when traversing the country’s highways. When ending a long marriage, it is up to you and your spouse on whether you’d like to get a lawyer together to legally separate you, or engage with individual lawyers in order to divide your accumulated assets more appropriately.
Dividing Up the Assets and Moving
If you’ve finally decided to get an attorney and split up your marriage amicably, eventually you will come to the decision of how to divide your assets. This can include many things, from your home to stocks/bonds, cash, antiques, or anything else of value. Whether this means you must sell your home, vehicles, or anything else, eventually to be legally separated there must be some things that you own and they own. The only thing the usually remains after a divorce that has shared responsibility is pets or children. If you have neither this will not be an issue, if you have both it can become quite the headache.
Sometimes it can help to get out of the attorney’s office and into a mediation room, especially with a family mediation specialist. Unlike lawyers, they generally try to take a comprehensive approach on how to go about ending a long marriage with minimal friction and interference. From providing advice on how to socialize with mutual friends to the best way to distribute mutual fund dividends, mediators can help both partners talk it out before they pack it in.
Eventually, when you have decided on what to keep and what to give to each other, there will come a moving day and you will probably need moving help. Whether both of you will locate to separate residences or only one partner moves, there will be a decent amount of work involved in order to make everything hunky-dory so that you can both begin your lives anew with a clean slate.
Children: A Complicated Issue
If you don’t have children, pets, or other dependents, you may skip this section. But if you do have children, then you may have to get involved with the family court system or find a child custody lawyer in order to determine the best course of action for everyone involved. This can be a situation that is fraught with so many emotions, complications, and tensions that most people would rather avoid it than deal with it. But rest assured that when ending a long marriage, there is no nobler cause than providing a satisfactory life for your little ones, whether they have fur or not.
Nobody wants the worst for their children, so be careful when planning out how you and your partner will be in their life. Ideally, it will be a relatively seamless transition that will involve both of you getting to see any dependents you have on a basis that works for everyone, without friction or bad feelings or cause for concern. Many couples try to arrange it so that it is on a predictable schedule that everyone knows and anticipates. Something where the children know that the same person will pick them up from school, attend sporting events, and be able to make them their favorite meals on rainy days.
Another thing that many couples neglect to think about is that they themselves are still children (albeit adult children) of their parents, and while you may not care for your spouse any longer you may still care for you in-laws. If you’re ending a long marriage, chances are that your in-laws are getting up there in their years and may require some elderly home care services quite soon. While either partner may think the individual knows what is best, sometimes it can still be more beneficial to work as a team for the greater good of your family. Once again, a family mediator, counselor or spiritual advisor will give you the best advice relative to your personalized situation.
After Your Marriage: Picking Up the Pieces
When you’ve finally gotten legally separated and you are on your own, what now? After ending a long marriage, many people don’t remember what it is like to be single. They’ve spent so long as part of a couple or family unit that they’ve subconsciously taken on the role of “husband,” “wife,” or anything in between. Many married people report no longer thinking of themselves as individuals because their lives are so intertwined together. But after a divorce and legal separation, you will be forced to confront these feelings and ideas, lest you devolve into nothing.
If you’re struggling to regain your sense of self after ending a long marriage, it can be helpful to pick up new hobbies. Think of things that you liked to do before you were involved with your significant other, or that even made your partner attracted to you in the first place. Were you in a band? Did you write poetry or see artistic movies? Involved in politics or activist causes? People’s hobbies can be wide and diverse, and so you are bound to meet many people through them if you pursue them with the same passion that chases anything you love.
New activities that you pursue as a single person can involve other people or be solo as well. You can join a hiking group or simply go on hikes in the wilderness by yourself. You can join cooking classes, or get the same amount of enjoyment by subscribing to your favorite YouTube cook series. Not everything you do or everything you talk about has to involve dialogue on ending a long marriage, which by now is in the past. It’s time to look forward into the future and reap all that you can sow from your newfound fruits.
After a divorce, many people also experience a crisis of faith. They may think to themselves “why has this happened to me? I’ve done everything I was told to do.” Matters of spirituality and religion are a personal endeavor that is both hard to quantify and qualify into actions and words. You may have been raised in one faith or tradition and left it completely, only to want to return. Or since the divorce, you may want to explore other faiths or jettison beliefs completely. In all these cases, it can be helpful to seek out a spiritual advisor that knows these matters front to back and can lead you through all the mental exercises you need to reach a conclusion. Be wary of those that claim to have all the answers, but if you’re open to learning you will more than likely find some kind of fulfillment that can fill a greater purpose in your life.
The End is Also a Beginning: Dating and Life After Marriage
Ending a long marriage is a tough road that comes with lots of trials and tribulations. From divorce to custody battles, moving out of your residence or dividing up antiques may seem like relative pieces of cake. But when you’re finally single and don’t want to be anymore, what do you do? Dating can be scary, emotional, and bring up old feelings of reliving what life was like before your marriage. You might judge prospective dating partners like they’re your future wife/husband and react with traumatic memories or knee-jerk reactions. This is understandable and valid from a psychology standpoint, as one doesn’t just jettison a large part of their life (like a long marriage) without some costs.
When you’re looking to meet new people and evolve as a person, you might want to think about accessing a life coaching service that focuses on people that have been divorced. Many of these services exist, and some are even run by divorced people themselves who have found new happiness. You can search around the internet, your local area or online forums to find people with similar experiences that have gotten through to the end with flying colors. Try to meet with them (if possible) or have an extended phone call before deciding to commit to a pricing plan or take on extended coaching. Look for reviews or client testimonials to try and make the difference between someone with actual experience and fraudsters. Unfortunately, there are people who try to make a living off of other people’s pain.
Some individuals find a tremendous amount of satisfaction in volunteering after a divorce. Being able to help others that are clearly in need, without recourse or compensation, brings meaning to their lives in a way that lifts them up. Even a friendly smile can change someone’s day for the better. Never neglect the power of helping someone else out when you are struggling with a problem. In a way, it might just provide the perspective that you need to get out of your own head and back into your body to face the world like a champion.
Divorced Or Not, You’re Still Alive
Some couples go through a truly rough divorce that shatters both partners to their core, mentally and emotionally. Once finances and the law get involved, breaking up as a couple can be truly devastating. While it would be nice if every divorce was amicable, thoughtful, and graceful, this is simply not reality and it is always practical to be prepared for what can actually occur. If the worst ends up happening when ending a long marriage, and you have prepared for it, it will simply be another unpleasant occurrence in your life like any other. If the best ends up happening, it may be a teachable moment that you carry with you for the rest of your life. When you come out on the other side of divorce as a legal individual, you may have different values and a new perspective on life that actually enrich you. Nobody can tell you how to feel or act, that is up for you to decide.
Always remember, through thick and thin, whether the divorce was completely amicable or absolutely terrible: you’re alive. Being alive is a privilege that many people take for granted simply because they wake up and breathe, but it shouldn’t be. All one has to do is read stories about people that die suddenly, without warning or previous incident. It truly can happen at any time to anyone of any age. Therefore, you should realize that every morning when you wake up that it makes sense to be thankful for the life that you have and the continued privilege to live. As the old saying goes: if it wasn’t a gift they wouldn’t call it “the present.”