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4 Tips for a Peaceful Divorce

Photograph by Getty Images

What a mighty task Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have chosen. They announced in June that they were divorcing and have stated that they plan to go forward in love and friendship as they co-parent their children, despite rumors of Affleck dating the nanny.

As a divorced woman, I know firsthand how painful a split can be, especially when another woman plays a role in the breakup. I also know how difficult it was at first to love my kids more than I hated my ex.

Ben and Jen have recently been spotted coming out of counseling in Los Angeles and have opted to remain united for the privacy and well-being of their children. What they are doing is commendable in many ways and it means making very difficult choices, which have proven impossible for many couples.

What must be done to have a peaceful divorce that doesn't destroy the esteem of the children and maintains the connection between each parent?

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1. Stay off social media

One of the biggest mistakes I see angry divorcing couples do is go to Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to publicly shame the other parent for perceived wrongs. It's like having a schoolyard battle in which every student is asked to pick sides and stand behind the "good" parent. It's important to find a means or outlet to express one's emotions about betrayal that doesn't include social media. It's also valuable to know that social media travels far, wide, high and deep. These are spaces we often share with our children, meaning our angry social media rants might be seen by our children and their friends and communities.

2. Focus on healing

In the moments when you can get clear of the anger, betrayal and hurt, start asking yourself what you'd like to see happen in the next six months. How would you like to feel and what would you like to be doing? How would you like your children to feel and what would you have them doing? Healing will likely be a very slow and gradual process, as undoing a long-term relationship is no small task. You might consider counseling like Jennifer and Ben. If your ex is not willing or ready to participate with you, you can go it alone for a while. Getting through the phase of anger and hurt is very challenging, and getting assistance is a great way to set yourself up for success.

3. Create a new life

Divorce means that you have a whole new life ahead of you. There are undoubtedly things you would like to do but didn't because your spouse wasn't interested or thought they were too costly or otherwise unsuitable. Whatever desires you've tucked away behind your marriage are all up for grabs now. Learn to surf. Attend a tantra workshop. Take cooking classes. Focus all that extra energy you have gained now that you are single into creating the life you'd love as a single mom.

4. Resist the call to victimhood

The intention in taking responsibility is to empower yourself.

Yes, it can be hard to start over, especially when you haven't consciously planned on doing so. It's easy to make your ex a really bad guy who is the cause of all the negative things that are happening. But blaming is a surefire way to get stuck in a downward spiral of victim poison. In marriage, we create the experiences that hurt us and make us happy together. Let go of the idea that someone did something "to you" and ask yourself, "how did I contribute to the current experience I'm having?" I'm not suggesting that you blame yourself rather than blame your ex. The intention in taking responsibility is to empower yourself—being honest about the role you've played can help you correct your course and create desirable results. Also, if you consider your ex a villain and yourself a victim, your children will unfailingly pick up on that idea.

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Clearly Jen and Ben are very committed to their children and themselves. They have chosen to take what could have been an ugly, volatile public situation and manage it nonreactively. This demands a good deal of control, and while we have no idea what is going on behind closed doors, it seems they have hired someone to guide them along. Being trained and successful actors not only works on the set, it also helps when the world is watching and waiting for your frailties to be exposed. Thus far, their performance has been stellar and serves as a model for all parents undergoing the trial of divorce.

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