When You’re Trying to Keep it Civil

You and your spouse have every reason to stay in control. It’s what you need to do to save time and money, protect your children, and minimize the pain of divorce. But how do you make that happen when your spouse won’t hear of it? It’s all about patience, firmness, and thinking strategically.


If you’re the leaver, you’re generally anxious for this to happen quickly. You want your spouse to go ahead and sign the papers. You can’t understand this dawdling. You want decisions to happen quickly.

Divorce is all about managing different senses of time. The leaver is nearly always anxious for things to happen quickly, and the left is nearly always overwhelmed by the speed at which things are moving. Be sensitive to your spouse’s sense of time. Often your task as a leaver will be to resist the urge to hurry things along.

Divorce doesn’t have to happen quickly. As long as you’re not spending huge sums of money on gladiators in adversarial divorce, and as long as you’re not setting a precedent you’ll come to regret, let it move along at its own pace. The longer your spouse can have to work through the grieving process, the more likely the two of you will be able to stay in control.

There’s another reason to be patient. It’s a simple adage of negotiation that your opponent’s deadline can be your friend; your own deadline can wreck you. It’s simple when you think about it. If I have to get this finished quickly, either because I’m desperate to get remarried or because I’m simply sick and tired of the divorce process, you’ve got me at a disadvantage. And vice versa. What’s the lesson? Simple. You gotta be patient. Don’t get in a hurry.


You need to be resolute about your direction. If you’re the leaver and you’re trying to keep things under control, in most states you can make a very simple statement to your spouse. You can say, “__________, we’re going to get a divorce. You don’t get to decide whether we’re going to get a divorce. But you do get to decide how. If you make me, I’ll have to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer in adversarial divorce. You’ll end up spending thousands of dollars too, and we’ll end up spending the little of money we have (or don’t have) on lawyers. Or you and I can cooperate and get through this so we can move on with our lives.”

And here’s the important part. Don’t ask for a decision on the spot. If you do, you’ll often force a combative response. Give your spouse some time to think. Often (not always, but often) they’ll come to a decision to cooperate if you give them time to think about it for a few days.

There’s a great site designed to help people keep their divorce, friendly, called www.divorceasfriends.com. It’s worth a look if you haven’t already been there.

Thinking Strategically

There’s a separate page on Thinking Strategically, because it’s key to so much of what you see here on Divorceinfo.com. Briefly, there are three questions I hope you’ll ask yourself throughout the divorce process:

  1. How much is this issue worth to me in today’s dollars?
  2. How likely is it that I’ll win?
  3. What is it costing me to fight about it?

If you don’t know the answers to all three questions, or if you can’t tell from the answers that you need to keep fighting, it may be time to explore a concession.