Melissa Lee-Tammeus, PhD/LMHC View Entire Blog

Divorce: Being the Bigger Person

Cheating is the primary reason for divorce. Incompatibility, substance abuse, and simply growing apart are close runner-ups (Amato & Previti, 2003).

But, even with all that against a couple, usually only one part of that couple wants to end it. Women, roughly 75% of the time, are the ones to start divorce proceedings (Lawler, 2007).

The person that takes that step to make it official is called the “leaver” while the other – and kids are “other,” too, by the way – is considered the “victim” (Lawler, 2007, p. 1). Even if it is seems entirely legit as to why the leaver is leaving, you don’t get to claim victim. There’s your first clue that this is not going to be pretty.

And, really, there’s only two ways a divorce goes down – by orderly separation or by disorderly separation. These are nice legal terms that mean sort of tolerable and off the chain horrific.

Clearly, an orderly separation is the best. But it’s also the hardest. It takes interaction, collaboration, and honesty. Possibly, you never had this as a couple, so how in the world do you get it now? And more over, you don’t need this just between the two of you, but with your kids and even the grandparents. Believe it or not, you’re not the only one going through this – feelings of loss and grief are free for the taking (Drew & Silverstein, 372; Salts, & Smith, 2003).

Orderly separation look like this: relationship boundaries and expectations for everyone talked about and agreed upon, plans made ahead of time for everything from holidays to school pickup times, and when something ain’t working you say it then and there and fix it then and there. When spouses can work as cooperative colleagues, adjustments can be made and it can happen quickly and with less negativity (Lawler, 2007; Salts & Smith, 2003).

Damn hard to do. Someone has to be the bigger person. All the time.

If no one takes that role of the bigger person, then a disorderly separation is most likely. This is where the past clashes with the present. This is where the past and present hurt blinds the future possibilities. Granted, it’s damn hard to see through the pain and feelings of desertion and vulnerability. It can put a cloud over anything that resembles “be the bigger person.”

But here’s the deal. Your kids have it way worse than you. They are victims, too, remember. They witness the fighting. They are the ones who get ignored. They are the ones that become the pawns in the ridiculous game of who hurts more (Taanila, Laitinen, Moilanen & Järvelin, 2002).

So, whether you are the leaver or the victim, you gotta work on what happens next. Without the honesty, the placed boundaries, the expectations voiced and understood, even the terminology discussed and dissected and agreed upon, dissension and confusion for all family members will keep growing (Taanila et al., 2002).

Your best bet if you can’t be the bigger person is to get some mediation (Lawley, 2007; Salts & Smith, 2003). Having someone outside of the emotional situation can help a couple come to an understanding about the new roles, boundaries, and expectations that need to occur.

And find yourself some support because you will not get it from your ex. Not the way you need it. Find a divorce group, or sympathetic friend, or a compassionate family member. Get yourself a therapist.

The dissolution of a relationship is nothing short of experiencing a death. Your emotions and coping skills will be unpredictable and extreme. One minute they will be there. The next minute they won’t. You will not be the bigger person all the time, no matter how hard you try. After all, it’s not just you in this.

But give it your best shot. Your kids’ future is worth that. And so is yours.