Divorce can be a rocky and unforgiving process that pits two people against one another. There are many different views on how to approach the process, which can get even nastier when there are children involved.
Thousands of books are out there to help you to navigate and recover from divorce. Below are five books I found to be essential tools for navigating my own divorce and post-divorce journey.
1. "It's All Your Fault" by Bill Eddy
Bill Eddy is the Co-Founder and President of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, and a Senior Family Mediator and Certified Family Law Specialist who has also worked as a clinical Social Worker and Therapist.
This book is not specifically for divorced people but Bill's experiences in the area of family law are used to illustrate concepts in the book and provide concrete, useful tips which would be helpful to both divorcing and post-divorced people. This book is at the top of my list for good reason - it continues to be an essential tool for helping me to manage my co-parenting relationship with my high conflict ex.
The book provides an explanation of high conflict behaviour, why it happens, and some tips on how to break the cycle. By understanding the cycle of thinking from the High Conflict Person's (HCP's) point of view, the book helps you to identify escalating conflict (or the potential for it), and deflate it.
It explains that HCPs tend target those close to them and this book focuses on specific actions to take when you are the "Target of Blame." Bill brings an appropriate sense of humour to what can be a very sensitive and difficult topic and is very passionate about his work. In addition to founding the High Conflict Institute, he has written several books on the topic of conflict (including: High Conflict People in Legal Disputes and SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist). He is considered to be an expert on conflict and has spoken nationally and internationally on the topic.
2. "Custody Chaos, Personal Peace" by Dr. Jeffrey P. Wittman, PhD
Dr. Wittmann is a licensed psychologist and trial consultant whose New York practice concentrates on custody and access matters. His book is subtitled "Sharing Custody with an Ex who Drives You Crazy" and is an essential guide to co-parenting with an uncooperative ex-spouse. My favourite quote in the book is "See your life as a wisdom school with you as a student and your ex as dean of the faculty." It's a reminder to use lemons to make lemonade by turning your frustration into an opportunity for personal growth and freedom.
There are constructive tips on empowering yourself, reclaiming your life, and finding peace with your post-divorce relationship with your ex. The book also reminds you to engage in self reflection and suggests that if something's not working, then maybe you need to try something different.
3. "Joint Custody with a Jerk" by parenting expert Julie A. Ross and writer Judy Corcoran
This book explains the unhelpful cycle some couples experience as they try to negotiate their divorce and post-divorce life much in the same way they managed during their (now failed) marriage. The book suggests that enacting the same patterns that led to your eventual divorce is destructive and will not lead to resolution or peace.
Instead of expecting your ex to change their behaviour, you need to acknowledge your own contributions to the situation and change your behaviour in order to get the results you want. The book uses a cognitive-behavioural approach suggesting that you need to leave aside your negative thoughts and feelings (that your ex is a jerk), identify your specific co-parenting problems and take action to resolve them. By taking responsibility for yourself you are empowered to solve your problems in a constructive way, move on with your life and find some post-divorce peace.
4. "The Divorce Workbook for Children" by Lisa M. Schab, LCSW
This is less of a fiction or non-fiction work and more of a workbook for children experiencing their parent's divorce. The book contains 40 simple activities for children of all ages to help them understand and cope with parental conflict and divorce, communicate their needs, and stay out of "adult" problems.
The book is directed more towards children from age 7-14 and focuses on helping children work through their feelings with theraputic writing and pictures. It helps children to understand that the divorce is not their fault. Parents should assist their children working through the exercises, to help them to understand children's feelings and correct unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.
This book is a helpful starting point for the ongoing communication that you need to have with your children to stay in touch with their feelings and ensure that they are dealing with your divorce in an emotionally healthy way. The book has powerful messages about putting your children's needs first.
5. "Lessons from the End of a Marriage" by Lisa Arends
This is the only book on my list that reads like fiction. It is however the real life story of Lisa Arends and describes her personal journey through what she describes as a "tsunami divorce". The book provides some excellent lessons on self-recovery and healing after a particularly traumatizing divorce. Lisa is a brilliant writer who opens up so you can feel her pain as she describes the almost unbelievable story of her sudden marital collapse after ten years, with the receipt of a text message from her STBX.
She doesn't turn from, and avoid the pain - she embraces it and learns important lessons about love and forgiveness - both for her ex-partner, and for herself. My favourite quote from the book: "I forgave him for me. It helped to extinguish the fire of anger. It brought peace to my days and kept him out of my dreams at night." Lisa stands as a shining example of a strong divorced woman who does not define herself as a victim of divorce but instead a student. I am grateful that she has shared her painful story in an effort to help others with their own very personal divorce journey.
Each person experiences divorce in very different ways. These books were all essential to my healing process and have assisted me in navigating my post-divorce, co-parenting issues while keeping my eye on the ball, raising emotionally healthy children.
I've been trying very hard to understand my ex's need for conflict and to constructively use my insight into both his issues and my own to minimize conflict and help me with my own healing journey. The simple concepts and lessons and the easy to apply, concrete tips provided in each of these books have helped me to empower myself and focus on the problems instead of the feelings while healing myself. If the topics covered by these books speak to you - I encourage you to read them and use them as tools to assist you in your own personal divorce recovery.