When you and your STBX disagree about the issues of your divorce, one of your best friends — and sometimes one of your most vexing enemies — is time. This page is all about using time to your advantage as you negotiate with your STBX.
Let’s start with the assumption that you want this over with. Most of us do. Divorce stinks, and the more time you spend dealing with it, the more agonizing it gets. You’re tired of the conflict, you’re tired of negotiating, and you’re just about ready to give in to anything so you can move on with your life. That’s okay. You’re supposed to feel that way. We know, though, that if you give in to the impulse to let your spouse have his or her way on everything, you may later regret being so generous. Better to take a step back, reflect on where you are, and see if you can’t muster a little more patience.
How do you do that? I’m a big believer in what I call “gearing up to wait.” The idea here is that you want to make whatever living arrangements, whatever parenting arrangements, whatever financial arrangements, and even whatever emotional arrangements you need to make so that you can afford to be patient and wait for your spouse (or perhaps if necessary, the judge) to come around more to your way of thinking. This is all about stabilizing your life.
Where are you living now? Are you in a reasonably permanent residence where you could be comfortable for the next year or so? Are you reasonably convenient to your friends, to your job, to your children, and to the grocery store? Or are you living out of a suitcase, with your parents, or in a leaky trailer on Aunt Suzie’s timber land? Or worse yet, are you and your spouse living in frosty proximity to each other, both miserable, neither willing to be the one who moves out?
If you and your spouse aren’t moving on your divorce issues, you want to stabilize. Get a place to live where you can live pleasantly and affordably for the next year or two. Then you can be patient.
Are you and your STBX able to be cooperative about time with the children? Do the children have time with both of you? Or is one of you systematically using the children as a weapon to hurt the other? If your spouse is keeping the children away from you or is working aggressively to hook the children in so that they view you as the enemy, you have several choices:
- Reason with your spouse. To encourage your STBX to establish a more cooperative parenting arrangement, you could point out all the reasons why your children need a close loving relationship with both their parents, even though their parents are having a hard time getting along right now.
- Get a judge to order it. This may be expensive, and it requires you wade into the morass of adversarial divorce, but it may be necessary to take the pressure off so you can afford to be patient. If your STBX is systematically denying you access to the children, know that the issue of visitation is one on which you are very likely to win. And there’s no substitute for having the first issue you fight about be one that produces a clear victory for you.
- Live with it. We know that children are extraordinarily resilient. You may decide that the best solution is to allow your STBX to cut off access to the children and that you can afford to be patient. You can be confident that eventually, you will be able to see them on a regular basis and to restore your relationship with them. There will be scars, and they will blame you more than your STBX, at least in the short run, but scars heal.
The key is that you need to do whatever is necessary to get to a point where you can be at peace with things as they are, so you’re not desperate to give in and get this over with. Then you can be patient.
This is a toughie, and you’ll view it completely differently depending on where you stand on the economic ladder. Let’s take these one at a time.
If you’re the primary income producer, are you continuing to pay all the bills even though you’re no longer living in thehouse? Is your STBX basically insulated by your generosity from the coming sacrifices that will need to be made?
There are three problems with this. The first is that it makes you more anxious than you need to be to get this whole bloody business wrapped up, so that you might make concessions you might regret later just to bring the financial carnage to an end. The second is that if you end up opposite each other in adversarial divorce court, you will have strengthened the impression your spouse’s lawyer will try to give the judge that (a) your STBX needs this level of support and (b) you can afford to pay it. The third, and probably most important, is that your STBX needs to be adjusting now to the sacrifices he or she will need to make to life after divorce. By “taking care of everything” financially, you are delaying that process in a way that will make it more difficult for your STBX eventually. What’s more, you’re facing some tough times ahead yourself, and you need the cash.
So what do you do? Get with your lawyer or your coach and think through what you are likely to be paying once your divorce is concluded, both in child support and in alimony, if alimony is likely. Pay that amount and no more. If your STBX is still living in a house on which you are liable for the mortgage, pay the mortgage and then pay whatever is left to your STBX. If the house payment consumes all of what you should be paying, the lesson is clear: you and your STBX need to be selling the house ASAP, and your diverting the support payment to pay the house note will make that painfully clear to your STBX.
The same principle applies to car payments, auto insurance, payments on credit cards, etc. You need to begin the process of disentanglement, and the sooner the better. You may need to go ahead and close some bank accounts. You may need to close some or all of your credit cards to further purchases. Just make sure you don’t surprise your STBX by closing them down without notice. What you don’t want to happen is for your STBX to be standing at the checkout at the drugstore trying to buy a prescription for your child’s case of the flu and find out then that the Visa card’s no good.
Once you’ve stabilized the financial arrangement between you and your spouse, you can relax. You won’t be desperate to give in to finish the divorce. You can be patient.
If you’re not the primary income producer, are you living on a paltry pittance your STBX flips in your direction whenever he or she is feeling generous? Is your STBX using money as a tool to bring you to your knees innegotiations? You too need to begin the process of disentanglement. If you have access to a joint credit card or a joint bank account, go ahead and make a large enough withdrawal (yes, without your STBX’s permission or knowledge) so you can afford to live for a year or so. And by all means tell your STBX immediately after the fact what you have done and why. And make sure you keep careful documentation so that it’s clear what you withdrew, when you withdrew it, and how you used it.
If you don’t have such access, you still have options, but they be more limited. You certainly can attempt to negotiate with your spouse, of course, and mediation may be helpful as well. When push comes to shove, however, you may need to resort to adversarial divorce court so that you’re not disadvantaged by the passage of time. You want to be receiving whatever child support and/or alimony is due to you, so you won’t be desperate to finish your divorce. Then you can be patient.
Now we’re getting to the heart of things. Literally.
You need to move on emotionally. You need to stabilize your emotional life so that you aren’t imposing an artificial deadline on the divorce process. But you already knew that, didn’t you? This is not a question of whether you should be moving on, but how. And the how is so different for you depending on where you are in the process. Start with the page on Cutting Through the Crud, which has links to most of the information you’ll need to get through the emotional divorce process. Pay particular attention to the pages on Grieving, Letting Your Marriage Go, and the Three Divorces.
Now let’s talk about what is an issue for women and a crucial challenge for men. Let’s talk about sex.
One of the things most gladiators tell their clients is, “keep your pants zipped up,” or words to that effect. Generally, their advice is sound, and you certainly can’t go wrong if you’re able to stay celibate during the process of your divorce. On the other hand, however, it was the Apostle Paul in the new testament who said it was better for you “not to burn” with unsatisfied sexual longings. Let me second his advice. Talk to your attorney or your coach about how much worse off you would be if you begin dating. In many cases, particularly if you and your STBX have already been separated for a while, it may not matter as much as you think.
The key is to arrange your life so that you’re stable, that you’re not desperate to get your divorce finished. Then you can be patient.