It came down to three things, all of which seem so silly right now: a nice car, new furniture, and how to split the savings we had spent years accumulating. These things were my lines in the sand—what I had chosen to fight over during my divorce. I wasn't as good at choosing my battles then as I am now. Most people going through a split, especially years, even decades after marriage—are not.
We cover lots of topics like this, see other posts about divorce.
When you are fighting during divorce, you may feel like you are getting dragged through the mud for months, even years, wondering if it will ever end. You can expect to fight over almost everything—how the retirement pensions will be divided, who will keep the house, who is entitled to the Social Security checks—the list is infinite. And despite the good intentions that everyone around you may have, ultimately it is up to you to decide what is worth the fight, and what are the things you need to walk away from. This balance seems so simple, but it is one of the most difficult things to learn how to do during one of the most difficult times of your life.
Divorce After 50: Letting Go
The first thing you must remember: do not beat yourself up when you are feeling frustrated.
It is completely normal to feel panicked and confused, especially if you were married for a long time. Divorce is messy because it steals away the life and identity we have known for decades, forcing us to change course during a time we are hurting and unsure of how to do so.
If you feel confused and panicked, even when you think you understand what's going on, it is because you are human. It’s going to be confusing and weird for a while.
In spite of the chaos, there are ways in which you can choose your divorce battles mindfully, so that you are able to take a look at the big picture from a standpoint with less stress. Doing so requires you to dig deep and be honest with yourself. When you are, you can then answer these following questions:
Honest Questions to Ask Yourself
Am I fighting over something I absolutely cannot live without? What are the things that my dependents and I need to ensure our security and well-being?
Answering these questions truthfully will give you a better understanding of the things you personally feel are non-negotiables when choosing which battles to fight. Everybody's situation is different, and you must figure out what is truly worth the time and emotional energy to battle over. These factors may include retirement savings, health care coverage, Social Security, fair division of debt, temporary spousal support, and protection orders if there is any type of endangerment. But remember, not everything during a divorce is something you need to survive.
I like to think of this section as the bottom two parts on Maslowe's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. This pyramid takes me back to high school psychology class. The foundation of the pyramid represented survival–the same things that you need to advocate for during the split.
Am I Fighting Over Something Only Because I Really want it? Do I think I Deserve It?
Divorces drag on sometimes due to division of assets that have nothing to do with money. Legal battles have gone on as couples fight for possession of the things that hold sentimental value to both of them (family photographs, heirlooms), that, although would not leave you destitute to lose, would wound you deeply if you lose them because those thing may remind you of the happier times. You may make those demands for possession of those things, as a way of making demands on controlling the image of the lives you thought you knew, as it continues to dissipate.
We are all susceptible to this behavior. I remember arguing about the brand-new Macy’s furniture—for some reason I thought I deserved to have it. There was no logical basis for this thought—we had purchased it jointly, but for some reason I thought I deserved it, and fought for it. Looking back, I realize it had nothing to do with the furniture—it was just my feeble attempt to make myself feel better.
It is important to understand the difference between the “nice to have” items and the “must have to survive” items, because that will help determine what you are willing to spend time and divorce dollars negotiating.
Am I Fighting Over this Because I'm Angry? Hurt?
There are times when you will be angry during the divorce, and you may choose to project feelings of anger at your spouse in the only way you think you can—by “getting back” at them. You may find yourself in your lawyer’s office or soliciting advice on how you can “make the ex pay” for the hurt they have caused, after years of you making sacrificing in your marriage. But instead of processing those emotions and separating them from the legal aspects of divorce, you may project them on tangential things. And if you find your spouse making unreasonable demands, understand they too may also be doing this, whether they know it or not—projecting their emotions onto something they think they can control—the ability to somehow hurt you or get back at you.
Although you cannot control how your spouse behaves during this process, if you find yourself putting demands on the other side—things that you may be able to negotiable in a more rational manner—it might not hurt to reconsider the approach its ability to make the divorce go smoother and to feel better and heal faster. How Will the Battles I am Fighting Impact my Future?
It is important to remember that nobody “wins” during a divorce—cases can drag out for years and the only thing to show for it is a drained bank account, cashed-out 401ks, and stress inflicted on ourselves during the time when we should be retiring and enjoying the next years of our lives. That is not to say you should not stick up for yourself. But before you begin a legal, emotional, and financial Battle Royale, you must be honest with yourself and consider: What do I really need to survive? What is important and right for me? What is best for those who depend on me? What will I regret in the future?
If you are drained and broke after fighting, how can you start the new chapter in your lives mindfully, without the weight of hurt and indignation? You must acknowledge the balance of advocating for yourself but also having the wisdom to know when you are fighting to maintain the illusion of control that no longer exists. The key is to be honest with yourself, kind to yourself, and mindful of the new chapter in your life that you can look forward to once this divorce journey ends. Let those points be the guide on how to spend your time, money, and emotional energy. And who knows—you may not even care about the new furniture after all.