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The Ethical Will of Divorce

May 10, 2011

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Say what you have to say and move on. The news of another power couple separating is disturbing is on many levels. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, announced on Monday they are separating.

To a casual observer they were the public couple that had it all together, balancing politics, careers, charity work, children, celebrity and the responsibilities of a large extended family.  He supported her. She supported him.  When they looked at each other you saw their love and adoration. Behind closed doors you just never know what really happens in a marriage.

I hope and pray on many levels that they find a way to work out their issues and find a content place in their relationship, whether they stay together or not. That is the best anyone else can hope for a couple in trouble.

What hurt, however, was knowing there are four children, who are now dealing with the fallout of their parents’ marriage.

In recent weeks Maria Shriver has posted videos on YouTube talking about transitions in life.  It takes courage to go through big transitions. I love that she’s talking about it, yet keeping her privacy at the same time. What matters now is the family network. What needs to be said in the inner workings of the Schwarzenegger household – or any troubled household for that matter – doesn’t need to broadcast to the world.  I respect their request for privacy.

What else can you say to the children, however?

I wish I had thought of this idea years ago.

Maybe it’s time to write an ethical will to your children.

An ethical will is a document that you write or record that shares your experiences, life lessons, values and hopes for the future with the next generation. Ethical wills are also called legacy wills or legacy letters.  They can be as short as a three or four-page letter or as long as a book.

During transitions in our lives there is a great opportunity to record an ethical will about our experience, what we learned, what we still value and what we hope for future generations.

A couple in the tumultuous transition of divorce could give this a try. Write an ethical will to your children. It’s really a love letter: so wrap your head around that idea.  Outline what you loved about your partner. Say what first drew you to that person. Make note of their strengths. Share with them something you value about that person. Let your children know what you had hoped for them – together as a couple – when you became parents.

These are private messages your children will cherish. Package that love letter up with some photos.

Don’t detail the problems that led to the demise of your marriage. Save that for the courts.  Instead simply say something like this:

“The problems we faced as a couple today are not your fault and you along cannot fix them. We have to work these challenges out ourselves. You need to know that we always will remain a family, even if it looks a little different tomorrow. What is really important now is that you know how much we love you.”

Focus on your children’s future and what they really need you to say to them now. Give them something positive to hold on to during their transition, too.

Many divorced people have told me that they spent about five years hissing and spitting (not literally) at each other before really moving on.  Children hear that and they feel it. Maybe by remembering what went right in your time together, there will be moments that mattered to reflect upon.  It’s never too late to write a love letter. Maybe that could help everyone transition.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 17, 2011 12:02 pm

    I’ve always wondered why divorced couples make things so destructive. There must have been love at some point. Yours is a good idea.

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