Divorce and the paradox of choice

You’ve made your choice, that is, you’ve made the decision to separate or divorce. Or perhaps you’re still undecided which is why you find yourself reading this? I imagine that you’re endlessly weighing up all the pros and cons, considering the impact that such a decision will have on you, your spouse and your whole family. No matter how certain you might feel, taking the decision to part is probably the biggest one you will ever make.

Having made the decision, you are then faced with a vast array of options out there in terms of taking this forward. In the past, most divorcing couples would first contact a lawyer, after all, isn’t that what everyone does? Today, it’s a very different story – whilst lawyers still take the majority of new enquiries, increasingly, other professionals are being involved and rightly so. The internet also provides a rich source of experts with an endless supply of sites offering cheap, hassle-free, efficient divorces, support for dads, support for mums and support for children, parenting advice, financial planning, financial advice and much more besides. It can be both exhausting to search and overwhelming to be faced with such a plethora of choice.

Choice is a wonderful thing, but too much choice can make it very difficult to make the right decision. Option paralysis can set in making it impossible to even think. In addition, the wider the choice with which we’re faced, the greater our expectations become. This means that even when we make the ‘right’ decision, we are often plagued by doubt along the lines of “how do I know that I made the right choice, what if there was something better?” Add to this, the natural, normal sense of chaos and muddle that occurs during divorce or separation and you can end up feeling confused, depressed and disorientated.

So, what’s the answer? In this situation, you might think that you want advice – and yes, sometimes it is important to seek legal or financial advice but invariably, what is most helpful is an opportunity to make informed decisions, individually or together. Informed decision making when you take responsibility for the choices you make, are far more likely to be lasting. Mediation or family consultancy provide an environment in which you can explore your options with the support of professionals who will reality test these options, help you make the right choices for you and your family and help avoid things spiralling to the point where a decision might be imposed upon you.

The emotional side of divorce and separation

There are several areas that need addressing in divorce and separation – the legal and financial aspects are obvious but the emotional side is crucially important for the whole family and can sometimes be overlooked or not properly acknowledged.

Divorce is one of the most stressful life events – indeed the Holmes and Rahe scale (which measures stress levels) puts divorce only second to the death of a spouse. The end of a marriage or relationship is often experienced as an enormous loss. Whether the marriage has lasted for one year or thirty, separating couples often experience an enormous range of emotions – they might feel sad, angry, fearful, relieved, ashamed, hurt, confused, lost, in denial, depressed, resentful, anxious, bitter, betrayed, let down, misunderstood, rejected and many more besides. All these emotions are completely normal and similar to those going through bereavement but each person will experience their own unique combination of feelings in varying degrees. It is important that these emotions are allowed to be processed rather than denied or buried otherwise they have an uncanny way of erupting at inappropriate times and can often derail the divorce process.

Even when a marriage naturally comes to an end and is mutually agreed between the couple, emotions can and indeed often do run high. It is unusual for both spouses to be in the same emotional place at the same time and so it can be difficult for each to understand the other. One might feel that the other is being incredibly slow in coming to terms with the end of the relationship because they themselves are feeling fine about it. Conversely, the person who is struggling more might feel offended or confused about how well their ex partner is dealing with the breakdown. The emotions experienced can also be far more complex if they trigger previous experiences of loss and thus the feelings are greatly amplified. It can be hard for friends and family to understand this – typically we hear about well meaning friends saying things like, “I thought it’s what you wanted, why are you finding it so hard to move on?”

When separating couples aren’t able to be open and honest about their emotions, as in all areas of life, they get ‘acted out’. Normally rational, kind people become unrecognisable as they battle to make sense of what they’re going through. If they feel betrayed, they might seek vengeance by denying their ex-spouse access to the children. If they feel anxious, they will be far less able to make informed choices of themselves and their family. If they feel angry, they are likely to look for any opportunity to punish the other person, often to the detriment of children who can inadvertently get dragged into the crossfire. However, if they can find a voice for these emotions, either with the support of a friend, family member or professional, they can learn to ‘park’ the feelings so that they can focus on achieving the best outcome possible. Good, assertive communication is critical in order to be able to let others know how they’re feeling and couples often need help with this.

The importance of good communication

Many couples cite poor communication as being a key factor in their divorce or separation. How many times have you heard, “She wouldn’t listen” or “He couldn’t communicate”? The sadness lies in the fact that what we mean is often not what we actually say; and what we say is often heard in another way altogether by the other. We each bring to each individual relationship our own set of filters through which we listen. We can make wild assumptions about the responses we receive as we try and make sense of our feelings. Depending on our levels of self awareness, we may or may not have a sense of what’s going on. We may just be left with a continual feeling of not being heard and of not being able to get our message across which results in frustration and resentment. It’s easy to see how misunderstandings then become commonplace and in the end, a couple argue more and more or drift apart and separate.


At times of high conflict, couples have a tendency to take up polarised positions where communication is less likely to be moderated. The flavour of communication becomes more about “I’m right, you’re wrong – you just don’t get it!” Listening can often go right out the window as they battle to get their point across. These battles can go on for a very long time, well beyond the decree absolute with untold damage to the family’s wellbeing.


So why is communication so important once a couple have split up, surely that’s the problem solved? For the very reason that it’s arguably even more crucial that you communicate well with your ex spouse post divorce rather than pre-separation in order to function well as co-parents. Without good communication, you will merely repeat the dysfunctional patterns and dynamics that are probably pretty well entrenched by now and perhaps one of the key reasons for your separation.


When a couple separate, understandably there is often a powerful mix of emotions including hurt, sadness, rejection, betrayal, misunderstanding, jealousy, denial, anger and more besides. When we experience these difficult feelings, our natural response is to take up a defensive position that involves attacking the other, either explicitly or implicitly. It rarely involves saying what we think or how we feel but tends to focus on what the other has done or not done. More often than not, we’re not even aware of how we’re acting but good communication can minimise the detrimental impact that this kind of behaviour has on the whole family. It can be very hard to do things differently which is why support from family, friends or professionals can really help. Others can listen and help us find alternative ways of communicating.


Good communication becomes easier if you are able to think of your ex-spouse like you would a business partner (as a co-parent) rather than as ex-partners. Although you might be separated, if you have children, you will need to communicate for years to come – whether that’s discussing children’s arrangements, making decisions together or simply attending parents’ meetings or family celebrations. The more openly you are able to talk, the easier it will be to make tough decisions, to negotiate issues on which you disagree and most importantly, to mutually support your family in the future. Good communication models something very powerful to children and makes it much harder for them to take sides or play one parent off against the other.

If we communicate honestly and openly, we are far less likely to blame, point fingers or engage in manipulative behaviour. The upside is that good communication also aids understanding, helps us feel heard and can leave us and the other person feeling much better.

Divorce and the paradox of choice

You’ve made your choice, that is, you’ve made the decision to separate or divorce. Or perhaps you’re still undecided …

The emotional side of divorce and separation

There are several areas that need addressing in divorce and separation – the legal and financial aspects are obvious …

The importance of good communication

Many couples cite poor communication as being a key factor in their divorce or separation. How many times have you heard, …