Divorce Blog

3 Tips to an Amicable Divorce

By Thomas Westernholz

Getting divorced is stressful and costly. It’s likely the most expensive and emotionally draining experience of your life. I know because I have been through it myself, and I just wanted to run and hide.

couple amicable divorceThe reason most divorces go wrong is not that the partners can’t find logical solutions. I am sure you and your soon to be ex have solved many complex problems together before. The block that makes divorces become so hostile and become a painful process is unprocessed resentment and anger.

We are emotional creatures, and our emotions guide our actions. It’s not possible to separate the two, as neuroscience has taught us. To ensure the mediation is as stress-free and cheap as possible, we have first to clear the negative emotions that have piled up towards the end.

Our brain has a negative bias and tends to remember the last event more clearly than older memories. At the end of the relationship, much-unresolved pain and resentment are likely to have piled up over time, hence why you are getting a divorce.

To achieve a quick, cheap, and painless separation, here is what you must do.

 Safety

Divorce is stressful, and when you are in stress response, your default response is the fight, flight, or freeze. None of those options are productive and will cause chaos and destruction. Our most fundamental need is safety, and our brain is continually scanning for threats. If you see your partner as a threat, negotiations will deteriorate.

going for a runSo, the first step is for you to make your partner feel safe. It’s called co-regulation. To do this successfully, you must first calm yourself down. You can do this through movement. Go for a run, dance, punch a pillow, or if you can’t move much, compress a pillow or press your hands together as hard as you can and slowly release. This will discharge the adrenaline and restore calm.

Use slow breathing into your diaphragm to get peaceful. Now you are ready to help make your partner feel safer. When you speak together, avoid doing it in writing. It’s so much easier to misunderstand each other, and you will feel less empathetic towards each other.

If you worry about having everything in writing, then tell them the conversation will be recorded. Ensure you sit opposite each other and can have eye contact. Even having your partner in your peripheral vision is more likely to trigger your fear response.

Next, focus on your tone of voice. Loud sounds are a biological fear trigger, so keep the volume low and soft. Our brain is very receptive to sounds, and any hostility in your tone will send your partner in to fight or flight.

If you feel upset, then go back to the self-regulation steps I gave you earlier. Verbal reassurance is also a powerful way to create safety. Don’t lie, but let them know you want to find a solution that will be good for both of you, that you will listen to their views and that you care about their wellbeing.

The healing conversation

An amicable divorce is possible, but it may require some honest communication.

To get rid of the resentment and anger that will block progress, you have to have a healing conversation. Pushing it under the carpet will not work. It’s like walking a minefield, and eventually, you will step on a mine and blow up.

Clear the mines before meeting in the middle to sign the peace agreement. The healing conversation has three steps. You both get a chance to express how you feel.

The focus here is on using “I” statements. Don’t start blaming your partner. “You left me on my own and caused all this mess” – NO, that’s a “you” statement and is blame. “I felt so hurt and alone when you left” – YES, this is an “I” statement and focuses on how you felt.

The second part is that you acknowledge your partner’s experience. I often have a partner say, “but I don’t agree with what she said.” Acknowledging and agreeing is not the same. You can acknowledge that someone else feels different to you without agreeing on the reason behind those feelings.

You don’t have to agree, but you do have to acknowledge their experience. Use your empathy here.

If she said, “I felt so hurt and alone when you left.” Then your response can be:  “But I did not leave you pushed me away” – NO, this dis-acknowledge her feelings. “I hear how hurtful it was for you to feel left alone” – YES, this acknowledges her experience and feelings without saying you agree with that perspective.

The next part is to apologize for having caused your partner hurt or pain. Again, you don’t have to agree that it’s your fault. Just accept your partner felt pain, and you don’t want to cause your partner pain, do you? So, try something like, “I am sorry my actions caused you to hurt; that was never my intention.”

Remember the good times

middle-age-women recovering from divorceRemembering the bad times, the end, can make it easy to get stuck in a negative bias. You could journal down some of the good memories you had and share these. This will build goodwill and empathy towards each other and make finding solutions more accessible.

I hope your mediation is smooth and quick. I also hope your divorce is amicable. If you want to learn scientific relationship skills for your next relationship, then check out or advise on zensensa.