Perhaps you’re past the point of no return with your marriage. You’ve endured years of neglect or mistreatment, and your feelings for your spouse are dead. No amount of outside intervention can revive the relationship, and you no longer believe your spouse’s…
But maybe you have been struggling with the decision about whether to remain in your marriage or divorce. Maybe there is still some glimmer of hope that you could, given the right assistance, transform your misery into joy, and maybe you’re willing to put some effort into finding out.
How do you make this decision? Certainly, there are many good reasons to stay in a marriage – especially if there are children – but are those reasons enough to persuade you to stick it out? Only you can answer this question. This article will discuss some common feelings among people who are considering divorce and help you get clarity about the right next step for you, given your current circumstances.
Some people know their heart’s desire but avoid acting on it because they feel bound by the commitments they made at the altar. Viewing commitments as important is a very good personality trait. People want to know that they can count on you to do what you say you will do. But if you make a lifelong commitment based on a specific set of circumstances, are you forever stuck with that decision, even after the situation or the people have changed? What if you agreed to host a large charity event at your house, then, on the day of the party, your child developed a life-threatening condition and had to be put into the hospital? Would you blindly stick to your commitment and ignore the needs of your child? Of course not! The situation has changed, and you will break your commitment to the charity to attend to your more important priorities. No one will judge you for this. In fact, they might judge you harshly if youdidn’t skip the event to be with your child.
Obviously, that example is simplistic – relationships have many variables, any one of which could throw you off balance – but it does show that, given the right circumstances, most people are willing to change their commitments. The question is this: Do your current circumstances justify breaking a very big commitment to join your life with someone else’s life?
Here is one way to look at the issue of commitments and when it is acceptable to break them:
Step One: Decide from a place of emotional neutrality. People can use very bad judgment when they are feeling strong emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, and even joy will diminish your ability to make sound decisions. Think about how much trouble people can get into if they give in to an urge to hurt someone whenever they’re angry. When cooler heads prevail, the once-angry person will appreciate the fact that he did not punch the next-door neighbor in the nose. Deferring a decision about how to relate to the neighbor was a good choice. The same theory applies to a man who decides to divorce in the middle of an argument with his wife, or a woman who decides to divorce when she’s having an exciting affair. Emotions are temporary, and it’s dangerous to allow them to be the basis of a permanent decision that affects many people other than yourself.
When you make decisions from a place of emotional neutrality, you give yourself choices. You have the ability to say something like “I’ll agree to stay in this relationship under the following conditions: ________; ________; ________, and if you can live with those, then we will be together. If you can’t agree to my requests, then I will need to be out of this relationship.” You know that you will be happy either way. After you learn the conditions that your spouse would like for you to agree to (and there almost certainly will be some), take some time to consider which choice makes you feel lighter and less weighed down.
When you take a calm look at your situation and make rational choices based on your own interests, values, and perspectives, you will make decisions that serve you in the long run. If, however, you make a snap decision when you’re feeling driven by a strong emotion, you might later regret that decision, or – worse yet – find yourself in the same kind of uncomfortable relationship with a different person, facing the same complicated issues.
Holding off on a decision about changing your commitment until you have achieved emotional neutrality is difficult. It’s much easier to storm out of a room and slam the door in anger or rush into the arms of an exciting new sexual partner. A skilled counselor can help you gain insight in this area so that you can decide whether the result is worth the effort and the wait.
Step Two: Compare your level of certainty about the original commitment to your level of certainty about the new situation. Almost all of us have heard someone say, “If I had been really honest with myself at the time, I would have known that I shouldn’t marry my spouse,” or perhaps, “I turned a blind eye to the problems because the wedding invitations had already been mailed. It was obvious to everyone except me that this was not a good match.” Although this observation is always made in hindsight, it can provide information that will help you decide whether to change your commitment now.
Look back on how certain you were that you were doing the right thing when you married, and give it a rating, 1 to 10. Now look at the new situation you’re contemplating – maybe you’ll be alone, or be a single parent, or be with another partner. Be honest and rate your level of certainty that the new situation will make you happier. Unless your degree of certainty about the contemplated situation is equal to or greater than your level of certainty about the original decision, it’s not yet time to change your original commitment.
No one gets married in the hope of someday being divorced. Divorce is a painful, difficult experience that often has shattering effects on people’s emotions, finances and family relationships. Divorcing can feel like a failure, and these feelings can be intensified if your family or cultural background views divorce as inherently bad or wrong.
It will help to talk through your feelings with a counselor or member of the clergy. If possible, consider couples counseling or conjoint therapy sessions with your spouse. Give yourself and your spouse the opportunity to save your marriage, if that is an option you want to consider. Ask the counselor to help you and your spouse set benchmarks to measure progress, and be honest with yourself and your spouse about how your feelings change as you do this work. If your spouse declines to go to counseling with you, go alone, and talk about how his or her refusal to look for ways to repair your relationship makes you feel.
Some people find that more intense work over a shorter period can give them the energy they need to put their relationship back together. Many religious and secular organizations offer couples weekend retreats designed to give participants time to explore the possibilities for their marriage during the program, as well as tools to continue the work after they return home.
Ultimately, you will have to listen to your own heart to make this decision. Which is better: to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of appearances, or to face harsh judgment from people or institutions that are important to you? Will the economic benefits that come with staying married be worth the sacrifice? What failures come with deciding to stay in a relationship that doesn’t meet your needs? What are your children learning about relationships by observing you and your spouse as role models? Is the person you are when you’re with your spouse someone you like or someone you barely recognize? Does the marriage really count as a “relationship” any more, or do you feel more like a roommate or business partner? If you change how you behave in the relationship to better express who you are, are you prepared to face some potentially difficult choices?
There is no getting around the fact that divorces are hard on children. Research generally supports the idea that, all other things being equal, children are best off living in a loving household with both biological parents. But if you’re considering divorce, then all other things are not equal. One or both parents have decided that exploring divorce as an alternative is something that needs to happen.
All families are different, as are all children. No outsider can predict with any certainty how separation and divorce will affect your children. So although it is a given that separation and divorce are major upheavals for everyone involved, most children are resilient and able to adjust to changed circumstances if given the right amount of attention and support. Below are links to several articles that examine how children are affected by high-conflict divorces, and even by divorces in which the parents settle their differences amicably.
There are countless books about relationships, marriage, and divorce lining the shelves of your local bookstore. Two that deal specifically with deciding whether to stay married or split up are, Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, by Mira Kirshenbaum, and A Practical Guide to Deciding Whether or Not to Get a Divorce, by Karl Augustine. The Internet also provides seemingly endless advice about these topics. Do your research. Others’ opinions can help you understand different points of view and expand your ideas about acceptable resolutions.
Divorce is a life-altering event. The decision to divorce should be one that is made over time, considering your family’s unique circumstances, strengths and difficulties. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to this question – only one that feels like the best alternative for you and your children, given your situation.
The lawyers and staff at The Law Offices of Jennifer Tull are here to help when you need us.
If you have decided that divorcing is the best option for you, the next step is to tell your spouse of your decision. Although you and he or she may have discussed divorce as an abstract idea in the past, saying the words, “I want a divorce,” makes the…
Introducing your spouse to the idea that you want a divorce is a tricky prospect. You want to be clear in your intentions, but you also want to be as kind as you can. You want to deliver your message in a way that will assure that the message is received, but not in a way that will cause unnecessary hurt and anger.
This difficult conversation must be held at a time when you feel you are emotionally strong enough to manage your spouse’s reaction and your response to his or her reaction.
Your spouse should be the first person among your family and friends to know that you want a divorce. If you have shared this information with others, your spouse could hear the news from someone else. This very well might add public humiliation to the resentment and anger that your spouse will experience upon hearing that his or her marriage is ending, and that can never be good for the prospect of having your divorce be a smooth transition for all involved.
Location. As a rule, people like to be out of the public eye when they’re feeling strong emotions, so a private place – and one that is free from either good or bad memories – would be the preferred setting. Make arrangements for your children to be cared for elsewhere so you can avoid being interrupted at an awkward time. Avoid making this announcement on or around a special occasion to avoid turning little Johnny’s birthday into “the day my mom moved out.”
If, however, you fear that you spouse may react violently to the news about the divorce, choose a public place like a park or a coffee shop for the conversation. If you worry that your spouse might engage in self-destructive behavior, you might want to consult with a mental health professional for advice about your situation before you have this talk with your spouse.
Professional Assistance. If you are engaged in marriage counseling or joint therapy with your spouse, consider telling your spouse of your intention to divorce during a counseling session. In a private session with your counselor, you can plan what you will say and how it will be said. Then, while you and your spouse are with the counselor, he or she can guide you through the conversation and help you get back on track if you veer off your original path. A counselor can also help you and your spouse deal with the strong emotions you are both likely to experience during the session so that a meaningful conversation can occur. One approach might be for both of you to be with the counselor for the first half of the session, then the counselor and your spouse can have the second half without you to process the message that you delivered.
Even if you don’t arrange for a structured, time-limited meeting in a therapist’s office, consider creating a situation where there is a designated end time. Your goal is to deliver the message that you want a divorce with as little drama as possible. Having an exit strategy will help.
You know your spouse better than anyone, but if you’ve never had a discussion specifically about the reality that you will be divorcing, you cannot predict how he or she will respond. A surprising number of those divorced say they never saw it coming, and had no idea how unhappy their partners were. So, even if you have been miserable and thinking of moving on for months, your spouse may be shocked at your request. And even if you and your spouse are equally unhappy in your marriage, you’re pulling the trigger on getting a divorce, and that stings. Imagine how you would feel if your boss came into your office one day out of the blue and told you that you’re fired and your replacement will be here in the morning, so please leave now. You would certainly feel strong emotions and need some time to get yourself together before you are ready to make decisions or emotionally move on.
Anger and Resentment. Be prepared with a plan for how to respond if your spouse lashes out at you. Avoid the temptation to defend yourself or strike back. Listening intently and actively to your spouse at this moment will take the wind out of his or her sails; making excuses or hurling back accusations will add fuel to the fire and change the focus of the conversation from what is going to happen to what a jerk you are. When there is a pause in your spouse’s litany of reasons why a divorce will be your fault, you can say, “I can hear that you have also been unhappy for a long time, and I’m sorry that I did not realize that sooner so that I did not continue adding to your misery.” Remember, this is the moment in which you set the tone for your entire divorce process, so put all your energy into making it one that will be most likely to take you in the direction you feel will be most beneficial for you and your family over the long term.
Blame. Refuse to engage in the blame game. You can repeat what you have already said emphasizing four points:
Tell your spouse that you are aware that the two of you will have to negotiate many decisions and that you will work with him or her to get a fair and reasonable resolution. But this is not the time for those discussions. That will come when he or she has had time to reflect on the situation and feels ready to begin. You may also say that you will not precipitate any kind of legal action without notice, and that you hope to minimize contact with lawyers and the courts.
Request for reasons. Anticipate that you will be asked why you want a divorce, and be prepared to give an answer that is truthful, but not hurtful or insulting. “I’m just tired of all the fighting and I feel that there’s no hope for our marriage,” will be much better received than, “You’re a horrible person who has messed up our children beyond belief.” Accept responsibility for your part in the decline of your relationship rather than blaming your spouse, but avoid long confessions that will change the subject from moving forward with separation and divorce to who created the problems. “I can’t be the person you want me to be,” will work better than reciting a list of anyone’s bad behaviors.
If you are involved in a relationship outside of your marriage that is not already known to your spouse, this will not be the time or place to confess that fact – this will be a low point for your spouse’s self-esteem, so there is no reason to add insult to injury. If you are specifically asked about an affair, say, “We will talk about everything soon, but not right now. We are both too upset for that right now.”
Request for reconsideration. If your spouse doesn’t share your idea that divorcing is the right option for your family, he or she will likely ask you to change your mind about getting a divorce. If you’re willing to go to counseling, be very specific about the purpose. “I’ll go to counseling to attempt to save the marriage,” is very different than, “I’ll go to counseling to work on our post-divorce co-parenting relationship.” If you are sure that you won’t change your mind, you must state that fact as clearly and compassionately as possible. “I know that I have hurt you very much, and I hope some day you will find a way to forgive me. I am not going to change my mind about the divorce.”
A spouse who wants to save a marriage will interpret everything you say and do in a way that supports his or her belief that there is hope for the marriage to remain in tact. When those hopes are dashed, the whole process of angry lashing out will begin all over. Be careful about using pet names, sharing inside jokes, and acting as if everything is normal. You may begin to feel that it is not safe for you to be nice to your spouse because it continues the cycle of hope and disappointment. As difficult as it might be, you might need to say, “I want to be able to be nice to you without causing you to think that we’re getting back together.” That may not be tolerable to your spouse until he or she moves closer to accepting the fact that the divorce will happen. Respect his or her wishes and limit contact to businesslike interactions until tensions subside if this is the case.
You may also be tempted to make statements that are subject to interpretation. “I will always take care of you and the kids,” might create unrealistic expectations in a wife who just learned that she will be a single mom and is anxious about her financial future.
You might want to reassure your spouse that you have everything already figured out and here’s how your property can be divided and when he or she will see the kids. Do not fall into this trap, even if your spouse asks to talk about a settlement. Settlement discussions are not productive – and in fact, they are likely to set you back – if they’re not held at a time when you and your spouse have collected all the information you each need to make an informed decision and at a time when both of you have regained your emotional equilibrium. Discuss only immediate arrangements (I’ll go to my friend’s house for the night and give you some space, then I’ll be back tomorrow and we can talk about what makes sense for short-term arrangements.”) and agree that longer-term plans will be discussed at a later time. Assure your spouse that you intend to be fair and you are confident that the two of you will work out a reasonable agreement. But now is not the time to do it. Reassure him or her that you empathize with his or her feelings and that you two will work together to make decisions when the time is right.
Negotiating the terms of your own divorce is very different from negotiating the price of a car or the terms of a rental agreement. A car purchase is generally going to be a business transaction without much emotional overlay, but your divorce is…
Direct negotiation with your spouse about your divorce will probably never be simple or straightforward – it’s too easy for one word, or a sideways glance, or the tone of one spouse’s voice to trigger an angry outburst in the other. It is helpful, however, if you and your spouse can come to some agreements on your own, even if it’s only on small details like dividing the Christmas tree ornaments or the family photos. The key is to follow some simple rules that will give you the best possible chance to reach an agreement.
A successful negotiation requires that both spouses be emotionally ready to deal with the reality of their situation. A useful tool for assessing readiness is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, which were outlined in her book On Death and Dyinging 1969 and revised in On Grief and Grieving in 2007. Although this model was originally created for people facing death, they are equally applicable to those facing the death of their marriage:
Although it does happen (especially if the couple has been working with a therapist on marital issues for some time), it is rare for spouses to begin the divorce process when both are at the “acceptance” stage of grieving the loss of their marriage. If a husband has been considering separation and thinking about life after divorce for a long time while his wife has just learned of her husband’s intention to end the marriage, it’s unrealistic to think that both will be in the same emotional place. The wife (in denial) will perceive a different reality from her husband (in acceptance), and she will need time to process the earth-shattering news before being able to tend to the business decisions that need to be made. Add to this the mistrust that comes with such a surprise, and it becomes clear why settlement talks at this time will not be productive. In fact, pushing someone to negotiate before he or she is ready can make matters worse.
This does not mean that the husband in our example must wait indefinitely to move forward with a divorce – counselors and lawyers can help the wife begin to deal with the reality of her situation – but it does mean that, until the wife moves in the direction of acceptance, direct negotiation between the spouses is not a good model for settling on the terms of the divorce.
Successful negotiation follows a specific five-step process:
If you try to jump ahead and discuss a specific settlement before you go through the other steps, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and here’s why:
You may know everything you need to know to make a decision on a specific issue and be ready to make a very good offer, but if your spouse does not also have the information needed to evaluate the offer, he or she can’t accept it. Imagine that you’re trying to negotiate the purchase of a used car. The moment you start walking toward that sweet little late-model Jaguar, the salesman says, “I’ll let you have it for $15,000. That’s the best deal you’ll ever get, and it’s only good for the next 15 minutes. You can’t look under the hood or drive the car before you decide.” If the car’s in good shape and has low mileage, it certainlyisa great deal. But if it has a blown transmission or a cracked engine block, it’s certainly not. How do you feel about the salesman? Suspicious, right? Why does he want to cram this down your throat right now? What’s he trying to hide? Since you have only $15,000 to spend, you can’t afford to make a mistake, so you have to say no.
The same is true when you negotiate with your spouse. Wait until your spouse has all the information he or she needs to make an informed decision. If you don’t, your spouse will be suspicious of you and you’ll be offended that he or she turned down “the best deal you’ll ever get.” If you’re willing to make a great offer, do yourself a favor and wait until it’s likely to be appreciated and accepted – and that’safteryour spouse has enough information to make an educated decision.
If you follow these simple steps, you will give yourself and your spouse the best chance to come to agreements about issues relating to your divorce:
So a conversation between spouses using this formula might go something like this:
Wife: Is there a time on Thursday that you could meet me at the corner coffee shop for an hour to talk about a schedule for the kids over the holidays? I just need to be finished by 3:00 so I can pick up the kids from school.
Husband: I could meet you at 1:30. Can you also bring me the dimensions of the dining table? We need to decide whether to sell it or move it to my new place.
Wife: No problem – I’ll see you then.
Talking to children about separation and divorce can be one of the most challenging parts of splitting up. No one wants to see children be upset, disappointed, or heartbroken, and when that heartbreak is the result…
Preparation. A conversation with your children about divorce requires planning. It should not be an afterthought mentioned on the ride home from soccer practice or spewed in anger on the heels of a fight. If you have a counselor, ask for advice and guidance. Make a detailed script for who will discuss what topics. Even if you can’t stick to it completely, a script will help you maintain your emotional balance during this difficult time and will give you a place to get back on your intended path if you find yourself going off course.
Plan not only what you will say, but also talk about the tone of the discussions. Be prepared to step in and take over if your spouse falters or breaks down. There is nothing wrong with showing your emotions, as long as your feelings are about your relationship with the children, not what is wrong with your spouse.
Put yourself in the place of your children. If you were receiving unsettling news from people you depend on for your survival, how would you feel? What would make you feel better? What questions would you have? Use this information to build your script.
Content. The level of detail children need will depend on your children’s ages, but the overriding message is still the same: “We love you, and that will never end.” Focus on all the things that will stay the same for the children, but avoid painting an unrealistic picture about how life will be after the divorce. Your children have been watching you their entire lives, and they know when you are telling them something that’s just not quite right or that you don’t necessarily believe. Children are also intuitive, and, if they are of school age, they probably have friends whose parents are divorced. They will have their own ideas about what will and will not happen next.
Include the following ideas in your plan:
Leave the following ideas out of your plan:
For things that are not yet decided, tell the children that they are not in charge of taking care of things like when they will be with each parent or how much money will be available to run the household. Tell the children that the parents are committed to working these arrangements out, and they will be told everything they need to know as soon as that happens.
Anticipate the following questions (which may vary depending on the age of the child):
Timing. Parents are not always in charge of when conversations with children about divorce occur. If a parent has moved out abruptly or just doesn’t come home after a business trip, something will have to be said to the children. Often, though, some thought can be given to when to tell children about an impending divorce.
The age and maturity of a child will factor into when to talk to him or her about a divorce. Older children typically need more time than younger ones to adjust to a new situation. Younger children might become anxious and fearful if they have too much notice about a coming change. With infants and toddlers, your focus might be on when they will see Mommy or Daddy next rather than why Mommy or Daddy is not here now.
Here are some other factors to consider when planning the timing of this difficult discussion:
If you have more than one child, consider whether to talk to them together or separately based on their ages and how close they are. If you tell the children as a group, do your best to see each child privately, as well, to hear the thoughts they might not share with their siblings. If older children are already out of the house, call on them to check in with younger children and give them some reassuring attention.
Leave the door open. Talking to your children about divorce cannot be something that is checked off your “to do” list and put behind you. Done properly, the conversation about divorce will be an opening for you and your children to talk more about the things that are important to each of you. It will provide an opportunity to grow closer and develop empathy for each other as you discover the joys and challenges that the future holds for all of you.
1. Make sure you’re physically safe. Courts can issue restraining orders and protective orders, but they’re just pieces of paper. If you feel that you or your children are not safe, call the authorities.
2. Take care of yourself physically. Eat healthy food. Find a way to release stress, move your body, and clear your mind. Yoga, exercise and meditation are excellent tools. Over-using alcohol and drugs that aren’t prescribed for…
3. Find an attorney who fits your style and personality. Remember that you’re the boss. Your attorney should help you understand your options, explain the consequences and costs of each strategy, then let you decide what to do next.
4. Move toward financial autonomy. If you need education, find out where to get it, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. If you need to change jobs or get a job, do it before you’re desperate for money.
5. Learn as much as you can about your finances before you separate. Make copies of records, create a list of assets and liabilities, and consult your accountant.
6. Remember that resolving the financial aspects of your divorce is a business decision. Make these decisions with your head, not your emotions. Cut your losses and maximize your gains.
7. Join or create a support group. Therapists, religious organizations and other professionals often run divorce support groups. Family, friends, members of your religious community, colleagues and neighbors are also good choices. In fact, you can use anyone for support except your children. Find a group for your children, as well. Many school counselors run ongoing groups for students whose parents are divorced or divorcing.
8. Look at the big picture. It’s easy to get caught up in small matters that are irritating now but that won’t make much difference to your life in the long run. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
9. Foster a good relationship between your children and their other parent. When they go to his or her house, tell them to have a good time. Don’t say negative things to the children, or in front of the children, about their other parent.
10. Avoid doing anything that you don’t want your spouse to know about. Chances are, he or she will find out one way or another.
1. Take care of yourself physically. Find a way to release stress, move your body, and clear your mind. Yoga, exercise…
2. Remember that “fair” is a matter of perspective. What seems fair to you may not seem fair to your spouse or children. No one is objectively right or wrong about what is or is not fair.
3. Accept your circumstances. Wishing things or people were not the way they are is a huge waste of time and energy. Focus instead on changing what you can change.
4. For things to change, first you must change. Do something differently, even if you can only change the way that you relate to some piece of information.
5. Your life and your divorce are unique. Your divorce will be different from your friend’s or your brother’s or your parents’ divorce. What worked for them may or may not work for you. Take their well-meaning advice as information only.
6. When you forgive people, you’re helping yourself more than you’re helping them. Harboring resentments is like taking poison and expecting it to cause someone else to die.
7. Acknowledge and work through your feelings. Your emotions are your body’s way of moving energy. The more you push emotions away, the more powerful and overwhelming they become.
8. The only thing we know for sure is that things will change. When things are the way you want them, be grateful, because they will change. When things are not the way you want them, be grateful, because that will also change.
9. Treat yourself kindly and accept kindness from others. Allow others to do for you what you would do for them if the situation were reversed.
10. Live up to your own standards. The right thing to do is still the right thing to do, regardless of now anyone else behaves.