While I was going through my messy divorce, I was stunned to run across a book called The Good Divorce. Hello? Who does that?
No matter how you cut it, divorce is not an easy solution. It’s not easy emotionally, and the stakes are high financially and legally. In fact, divorce is the second most stressful life event on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.
The most stressful life event is the death of a spouse or child. So my question is … if you choose to kill your spouse, wouldn’t the death of the spouse be less stressful than divorcing the spouse?
I don’t generally harbor homicidal tendencies, but early in the divorce process I found myself wanting to strangle my therapist, too. Her too-lofty observation, “Jan, you’re now in a place of exquisite vulnerability,” was incredibly ill-timed.
Instead of strangling her, I fired her, got a new therapist, and bought a copy of Crazy Time: Surviving a Divorce and Building a New Life. Just reading the title of the book was therapeutic.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I find myself speaking at nationally recognized divorce workshops, describing how to go about making the best decision for your marriage and your life if you’re contemplating divorce, or how to navigate the emotional and family challenges if you’re in the process of divorce.
“No matter how you cut it, divorce is not an easy option.”
Divorce Is Hard on Kids. Bad Marriages Are Hard on Kids, Too
Deciding about divorce can be one of the biggest, most challenging decisions you will ever have to make, especially if children are involved.
Virtually all researchers and therapists agree that children are better off when their parents stay together — unless the marital strife has become damaging to the children as well.
Study after study on divorce finds that children have the best chance to turn out okay if you do two things:
Don’t ask your kid to choose between you and your ex.
Provide a stable home life.
Here’s the catch: You’re supposed to pull this off this feat of mature, perfectly-calibrated parenting during what may be one of the most unstable periods of your entire adult life.
At the time we most need and want to be strong and supportive of our kids — to be at our best as parents — we are likely to be at our most uncertain, volatile, weak, guilt-ridden, catatonic, or despairing. We’re profoundly, not exquisitely, vulnerable.
STAY OR GO?
For most people, contemplating divorce is an agonizing “too good to leave, too bad to stay” dilemma. So I’m not entirely surprised that most couples experiencing marital problems wait an average of six years before they seek counseling.
My job is to help people figure out what kind of gridlock they have and what they can do about it.
What level of stuckness are we dealing with?
“Most couples experiencing marital problems wait an average of six years before they seek counseling.”
Stuck, but the Relationship Is Capable of Repair and Revitalization.
The remedy is almost always a balance between working on yourself and working on the relationship. The payoff for all that work? Practically every dimension of life happiness is influenced by the quality of your marriage, according to a robust body of research.
Stuck, Based on Differences You Can’t Do Much About, at Least for Now.
This is tricky territory because it involves evaluating whether you or your partner can change or even wants to change. Getting a clear read can be extremely challenging, because it’s easy to fool yourself in various ways:
Feeling hopeful when you shouldn’t
Thinking it’s all their fault — so getting rid of them will make all your unhappiness go away
Thinking it’s all your fault — so if you could just figure out what to do more of or less of, everything would be okay
“You may be avoiding the sad reality that your partner doesn’t love you enough to care about your wishes. On the other hand, your angry disappointment may keep your partner so much on the defensive that he or she feels too criticized to want to behave differently,” points out Joshua Coleman, author of The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony.
“Practically every dimension of life happiness is influenced by the quality of your marriage.”
Gridlock, Based on Differences You Can’t Do Much About — Ever.
Once you have a realistic perspective on what cannot be changed, either in yourself or your partner, the next challenge to navigate is: How do you come to terms with that reality?
IF YOU STAY:
Regardless of an unhappy marriage, some people decide to stay — for the children, or for financial or other reasons. In this case there are two issues to address:
How will you protect your children from the effects of your difficult partner, your marital strife, or your personal unhappiness?
How will you manage to stay in an unhappy marriage and still be happy?
IF YOU GO:
If you decide to end the marriage, the challenges are a little different:
Are you the “Leaver” or the “Left?” Depending on your position, the balance of power and the emotional challenges will be quite different.
How will you rebuild your life?
How will you keep your relationship with your children together as your marriage comes apart?
By the way — my apologies to Constance Ahrons. Her book, The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart, actually has some good stuff in it. When the timing is right.