DIVORCE is said to be one of life's most stressful experiences, second only to the death of a loved one.
US-based divorce coach and author Micki McWade believes the death of a marriage is a traumatic experience that may require expert help.
When Ms McWade divorced after 25 years of marriage, she felt alone and lost. With four children to consider, she had to find a way to make her divorce as amicable and painless as possible.
She'd been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and decided to apply the 12-step program to her divorce.
"The power of the 12 steps helped me to find peace with my divorce and rediscover myself again," she said.
Now a certified divorce coach in the United States, Ms McWade uses her experience to help others through the dark days of divorce.
Her book - Getting Up, Getting Over, Getting On: A Twelve Step Guide to Divorce Recovery - outlines the use of the 12 steps in moving on from a marriage breakdown.
"I have changed the principles from alcohol to relationships," she said. "The program is remarkably effective for couples or individuals who are looking to find peace with their divorce."
Ms McWade's book includes advice on how a couple can maintain a good relationship after a divorce, particularly where children are involved.
"Just because a marital relationship ends, that doesn't mean the parenting relationship is over," she said.
"You will find yourselves together many times in your child's life, so having the maturity to create a good divorce is self-preservation and smart."
Ms McWade says it is almost inevitable one person will be harder hit by the divorce than the other.
"The chances of a husband and wife sitting at the breakfast table and one says "I want a divorce" and the other says "Okay, let's do it" are slim to none," she wrote in The Huffington Post.
"Usually, one person will initiate and the other will resist. The degree of resistance ranges from letting go reluctantly to fighting it all the way.
"The spouse debating divorce has thought about it for months or years before the announcement is made.
"Regardless of the current state of the marriage, this announcement often comes as a shock to the other spouse, even though he or she may have been thinking about separation as an option too.
"Rejection is hard and most people fight it initially. It feels like falling off a cliff. Stability shifts. We hold on to whatever we can to stop the fall.
"The announcement may serve as a wake-up call for the resistant partner; he or she may press for another chance or for marriage counselling.
"The sad fact is that by the time a partner asks for a divorce, it's often - but not always - too late to save the marriage. The initiating partner has turned an emotional corner.
"She may have wanted change for a long time but was refused. He may have warned her that he wasn't happy but she didn't pay attention. Eventually, when requests have been ignored for too long, the person wanting the change shuts down emotionally. The relationship has gradually eroded away, abraded by disappointment. He or she eventually gives up.
"This erosion is particularly common in cases where there is an addiction or other major distraction. The offender uses their addiction or distraction to keep from thinking about what their partner is asking.
"The committed partner will do his or her best to keep the relationship going single-handedly for a while, but not indefinitely. A relationship can't survive without investment from both people.
"Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a good option for coming to terms with an unwanted divorce. Divorce Support groups are also helpful. Both of these options help reduce the adjustment time and get a person onto a less painful, healthier and productive road to recovery.
"It's wise to be sure the divorce is necessary, but if there's no hope for the marriage, letting go as gently and as quickly as possible will save the sanity and the assets of both partners and their children."
While statistics show that one-third of Australian marriages end in divorce, Relationships Australia's Sue Miller says people don't take divorce lightly.
"It's easier for people to leave unhappy marriages than ever before, but generally couples try to save their relationship," she said.
Ms Miller said the top reasons for divorce in Australia were: financial difficulty, communication problems, differences in values and expectations, and trust.
"We need to focus on communicating honestly and openly with our partners," she said.
Ms Miller recommended couples experiencing communication problems seek counselling, because a third party might help them to explore difficult issues.
For more on Micki McWade go to mickimcwade.com.
If you are having trouble coping with a divorce or relationship breakdown phone Relationships Australia NSW on 1300 364 277 or Lifeline (24 hours) on 131 114.
UNDOING YOUR 'I DO'
- Use your energy and creativity to improve your own life rather than try to control another adult's behaviour.
- Lead by example. Be reasonable and understanding, especially when it comes to arrangements for children.
- Make your children the focus. Don't make them feel like they have to choose between you, no matter how old they are.
- Say as little as possible to others about your ex, and especially don't badmouth them.
- Choose one or two close people to talk to about your divorce and confide in them only. Going over and over the details to different people will only encourage you to dwell on the negative and prevent your recovery.
- Choose goals and slowly work towards them.
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