How Divorce Can Make You A Better Father And Ex-Husband

There's a silver-lining to ending a marriage.

by Alison Zeidman
Originally Published: 
Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane smiling in the movie "Boyhood"

If you didn’t have a fairytale wedding, or fairytale marriage, maybe it’s time for a fairytale divorce. Not to sound too pessimistic, but in the era where even Brad and Angelina can’t stay together, what hope is there for you?

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids

Wendy Paris, author of Splitopia: Dispatches From Today’s Good Divorce And How To Part Well, has first-hand knowledge of just how much divorce can suck. “Nobody gets divorced for the divorce. You don’t say ‘I’m really unhappy, so I’ll move out and live on half my income, and that’ll make me happy,” she jokes.But she also knows this necessary evil can have a positive spin. Here are her tips on how to be woke (as the still-married kids say) about divorce, and come out the other side a better parent and happier person.

Why Divorce Might Make You A Better Dad

Splitting up with a spouse doesn’t have to be a family tragedy. There are paths to making things work better between you, your ex, and your kids. “So many men say ‘I have a better relationship with my children than I did when I was married,’” says Paris. “I talked to this guy who said ‘When I was married it was always I’ll get to it tomorrow. Now I have 9 days a month with my son, and I’m always there for my 9 days.”

Besides lighting a fire because your one-on-one family time is finite, Paris says being divorced is a golden opportunity to lean into parenting. You may only be there half the time, but you’ll be playing all the roles.

First, though, you have to get through the legal part …

You’re Not The Only One Going Through It

As you’re meeting with lawyers and splitting up finances, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the logistical and emotional details and fall into an “I suck, I failed” mindset. Paris says the research shows that self-compassion is the strongest indicator of post-divorce resilience. First step: Stop thinking of yourself as the only divorced guy. “It’s easy to think ‘Everyone’s marriage is succeeding and I’m the only one.’ Understand that this is not a unique failing, and it’s part of the human experience,” she says.

Your Invitation To The Pity Party Got Lost

Once you’re ready to give yourself a break (in both senses of the word), be mindful. “In divorce [that] means accepting your feelings, recognizing the negative feelings, processing them, and being able to put those down and bring positivity into your life.” You wouldn’t tell a friend they’re a garbage person made out of failure trash for not making their marriage work. You shouldn’t tell that your yourself either.

Do What You Like, Not What You Feel You Have To Do

It takes effort to be happy. Just because things aren’t bad, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good. “How many hours are really positive, and how can you shoehorn more in there?” says Paris. “In divorce you’re trying to problem-solve. If you’re coming at it with a positive attitude, you have a much better chance of making good decisions.” That means putting the cardio at the gym before court-ordered paperwork. Friends before filing. And stop to smell the roses — they’re in the supermarket aisle next to the Hungry Man dinners.

Quick Isn’t Always Painless

“I always say, don’t confuse filing [for divorce] with closure,” says Paris. “When you rush to file, you’ve finished the legal part, but you might not have finished the emotional part. You might miss out on mediation or collaborative divorce.” In her case, she and her husband waited 3 years to actually lock down their split because they weren’t in a good position to separate their finances. By that time it was a lot easier to adjust to being single people and parents, and divide things up without fighting. “We had this forced cooling off period. Then I started interviewing people and I would hear these stories like, ‘You know we get along great now 4 years later. We spent $350,000 fighting, and now I don’t even know what we were fighting about.’” Perhaps it was about spending $350,000?

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