When it comes to discussing divorce, we may not present our best selves, whether you are the one wanting to leave, or the one being left. Either way, the turmoil of a failing relationship can be painful for each party. You both will go through a cycle of grieving, and both will be engulfed in a myriad of emotions, including anger and fear.

Placing the blame.

Though we have come a long way in how people view and feel about divorce, we still hold onto the perception that divorce equals failure. As a result to this misnomer, we may feel the need to place blame for the failure, but blame is often based on irrational beliefs rather than fact. And, if we were to be bluntly honest with one another, we’d see that just as it takes two people to build a relationship, it takes two to break it. Yes, it’s hard to hear the truth, but it’s even harder to accept our responsibility for our part in the perceived failure.

The reality is, two partners will never agree on the marriage history, so laying blame is counterintuitive. Why not look at divorce as a way to begin again when the marriage no longer works? By focusing on the future, and not the past, we open ourselves up to personal growth and positive experiences. And when we’re able to accept our part in the end of a marriage, we are taking a very important step toward a healthy new start.

Still, it’s easier to place blame. It’s easier than rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard, dirty work needed to solve problems and find a way to move forward that benefits both partners. It’s a fact that accusations prompt defensive reactions, and participating in the blame game during a divorce discussion will result in anger — a deceptive feeling of having power and control when in fact, we’ve just spun out and crashed. We like to think of anger as a solution, but it solves nothing. In fact, it’s a distraction, taking focus away from important things like a positive resolution.

Emotional fallout.

When distraught, humans react in different ways. When faced with separation or divorce, feelings of guilt, anger, shame, and resentment are quite normal. Sometimes, the intensity of the reaction can be in relation to how attached you were to your spouse. Upon closer examination, these emotions may keep us connected to the very person we’re so angry with; a subtle, yet powerful reason to hold those emotions close and not let go.

But by hanging onto emotions such as anger (and its partner, fear), we keep ourselves from dealing with loss and moving forward. How can we think about the future if we dwell on who is to blame or who has been wronged? Depression and fear will be prolonged, making it difficult to get past the hurt and heal. We may get stuck, and sometimes even addicted to these feelings, feelings that eventually only become destructive and defeating.

Communication is key.

Managing a healthy divorce must be approached as diligently as when you were building a healthy marriage. Maintaining an honest and open line of communication is an important start. Easier said than done? Absolutely. Especially if your spouse is participating in the blame game. Placing blame is merely a reaction to difficult feelings lying beneath the surface. We must look deep to discover what is causing the blaming: it may be anger, pain, fear, or something else entirely.

It’s a reflex to react when blame is laid at your feet. So try to avoid defending anger with anger. Allow your spouse uninterrupted time to express their feelings. Then truly listen. Communication isn’t all about being able to speak your thoughts clearly so others comprehend what you’ve said. It’s also about listening, and giving the same decency and respect to the other person as you would expect from them. When they have had their say, summarize what you heard so they know they have been understood.

Practice empathy.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” — a hard quality to emulate when our own feelings may be a source of pain and frustration. Perhaps, it would even seem impossible during difficult divorce conversations, but it is immeasurably beneficial to empathize with our spouse, even when we’d prefer pinching their head off instead.

If possible, take a walk in their shoes for a new perspective and appreciation when approaching difficult subjects. How might your spouse’s childhood upbringing, beliefs, and values be affecting their behavior? Might their own parents’ previous divorce be dredging up familiar but painful emotions? Or, could a need to please others, including family without a history of divorce, be causing embarrassment and fear of ostracism? Empathy is a learned trait, and it becomes easier with practice and intention.

Finding forgiveness can set us free.

An unforgiving heart will only keep us from moving forward and keep the dysfunctional connection strong, the pain fresh, and the blame game unending. To remain in the past closes us off from the happiness we deserve and the good things that could enrich our future.

Be honest with yourself.

In a Wevorce article, Three Ways To Let Go After Divorce, a couple is asked a few very important questions that can help with self-examination. “Are you mourning the loss of your marriage for what it was? Or are you clinging to the thought of what you wished your marriage had been?” If we can manage an honest assessment of what we need to let go of, it will be easier to do so.

Look at the big picture.

Often, during divorce and separation it’s the little things that bog couples down. Due to their pain, many couples get stuck fighting over inconsequential matters and lose sight of the big picture.

Pain, whether physical or emotional, tells us something is wrong. Anger is a reaction to pain, with a strong dose of fear mixed in. When experiencing these emotions, this is not the time to make constructive decisions for the future, as our judgment can be impaired. If you have been unable to move out of this destructive cycle, you may need professional counseling. If you are unable to sit down and have a respectful, productive conservation with your spouse (or vice versa), perhaps Wevorce can help.

When relationships end, it can get dirty. But it needn’t. By avoiding the blame game, being kind and respectful to one another, and having honest, constructive conversations, couples can move beyond the old stigma of divorce being a failure, and discover instead how to build new separate lives in an amicable, healthful way.