If you’re considering ending your marriage or have already started the process, you have probably been deluged with “What to Expect When You’re Divorcing” tidbits delivered with great authority from friends, family, and even mental health professionals. These pearls of wisdom may be the exact opposite of what you encounter during and after your divorce, however, so don’t base your decision to deep-six your marriage on a picture someone else paints of your future. Below are 5 popular divorce myths–diced, spliced, and debunked. Take what you want and leave the rest behind.
1. Mediation is better than litigation.
When it works, mediation is cheaper, quicker and more peaceful than litigation–but it requires two people who fundamentally believe in the process. Mediation doesn’t work when one or both parties are inflexible, are determined to leave nothing on the table for the other person, or are power-mongers who can’t tolerate the concept of a level playing field. Furthermore, while good mediators are trained to balance power, some pressure the “underdog”–generally, the person who is more compliant but has less money–into accepting an unfair settlement in order to close the deal quickly. If your ex is incapable of compromise, or if you suspect he or she is hiding assets, you need a litigator, not a mediator.
2. It takes two to have a fight.
Actually, it takes one person who won’t stop fighting. Attilla the Hun can not always be disarmed by Ghandi. In How to Co-Parent–and Stay Sane-When You and Your Ex Agree on Nothing, Encino-based divorce therapist Rob Kaufman LCSW likens capitulating to a chronically hostile ex to “giving your lunch money to the school bully.” Instead of thinking, wow, I got the better end of that deal, so next time I’m going to be fair and accomodating, a hostile divorcee will only escalate the attacks. You and your children should not have to suffer because your ex stops paying child support, barrages you with abusive e-mails and phone calls or plays games with timeshare. Know which fights are worth fighting and go to court when co-parenting becomes unmanageable.
3. He’ll be nicer when he gets a girlfriend/remarries.
Only if your ex is a reasonably well-adjusted human being. Those who never complete the emotional divorce will not be tamed by a trophy wife–nor cherry-red Porsche, nor remodeled house, nor remodeled body parts. While a new relationship may make it appear that your ex has moved on, endless assaults on your parenting, lifestyle and pocketbook demonstrate that his primary attachment is unfortunately still to you. If you have a chronically hostile ex, hope for the best and plan for the worst, i.e. headaches that continue until your youngest turns eighteen.
4. Don’t worry if your ex trashes you; take the high ground, say nothing, and your kids will figure out the truth.
Not in cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome, in which one parent brainwashes the child into believing the other parent is “bad,” crazy or incompetent. If someone other than your ex were accusing you of child abuse or were otherwise sabotaging your relationship with your kids, would you stand by beatifically and say nothing? Not only is it your right to defend yourself, but it is imperative for you children’s mental health that you name the elephant in the room–Parental Alienation–and put things in context: “Mom/Dad is very angry with me and is telling you things about me that aren’t true.” Children who are victims of parental alienation are like kids who have been co-opted by a cult. In order to grow into well-adjusted adults, they need to learn the dangers of black-and-white thinking. They need to understand that there is more than one way to look at things and be able to come to their own conclusions. For more information on managing parental alienation, read Amy JL Baker’s Adult Children of Parental Alienation: Breaking the Ties That Bind or Mike Jeffries’ A Family’s Heartbreak.
5. The kids will be better off not growing up in an unhappy in tact family.
Studies on long-term effects of divorce on children are mixed. Renowned divorce researcher Judith Wallerstein maintains that adult children of divorce are forever scarred and would have been better off if their parents had stayed unhappily married. Her colleague Constance Ahrons takes a more positive approach in We’re Still Family, having found in her research that divorce and successful remarriage can actually strengthen children’s ties with parents and give them templates for healthy, enduring relationships. What is clear is this: ongoing conflict hurts kids–and adults–whether or not parents are divorced.