Guest blog by Cora Hietpas, LMFT
The dreaded “D” word. Many couples that come to see me have threatened, considered, or seriously discussed getting a divorce with their spouse. This makes perfect sense since the divorce rate continues to hover around 40-50%. I’ve witnessed divorces that are devastating, time consuming, and downright messy. On the other hand, I’ve also seen several couples make a clean break and continue a positive relationship post-divorce. For couples and individuals who are considering divorce as an option to their marriage issues, I have created a list of a few things to consider when examining the options. This is by no means an all-encompassing list. There are many more factors that can go into making a decision. These are just some considerations I talk through with the couples I work with to help them arrive at a conclusion they feel comfortable with.
1. It takes two to tango
If you’re waiting on your spouse to change so the marriage can stay afloat, you might be waiting awhile. If one person isn’t willing to work on the marriage while the other is, progress can often remain at a standstill. Similarly, if one person isn’t happy, the relationship cannot thrive. Ask yourself, “Are we still working as a team? Or have we already separated our thoughts of having a joint effort to make the marriage work?” It’s also difficult for therapy to be effective at the stage when one partner has their foot out the door and the other is willing to do whatever it takes to save the marriage. Couples are then working toward contradictory goals. It takes two people to make a marriage work. Be sure to keep this idea in mind when considering divorce.
2. Have you tried everything?
Be sure to ask yourself if you’ve tried everything you’re willing to do to save the marriage. This can include individual counseling, couples counseling, talking to your support system, and even mediation. If marriage therapy is an option you and your partner are willing to consider, make sure it is consistent and with a good, trusted therapist. Just because the first therapist you might see isn’t a good fit, does not mean you should throw the towel in. You don’t want to think back after the divorce and regret trying other options. It’s not a great feeling to be asking yourself “Could our marriage have worked if we would have tried___.”
3. Think about the children
If you have children, it’s important to think about how they will be affected if you stay in the marriage as well as if you were to get a divorce. Consider what your children would see and pick up on if you stayed in the marriage. Would they witness a lot of arguing or maybe a loveless marriage? Would it be setting the example you want for them? If you decide on getting a divorce, what extra resources or support might the children need? Figuring out how to share time with children when each parent is in a different home can be difficult. When will they be with dad? When will they be with mom? How will holidays and birthdays be celebrated? Custody of the children during a divorce is one area that can cause chaos due to the high level of emotions involved. Consider how you will decide these things. Will you drag the children through a custody battle or can both parents agree to resolve differences in a less adversarial legal process like collaborative divorce proceedings?
4. Are you willing to deal with the after effects?
There’s no doubt that your life will change after a divorce. The transition can often be difficult. Some say it feels like dealing with a death. It can involve grieving, sadness, anger, and loneliness. It’s important to ensure you have a good support system to be able to cope with ending a marriage. Also consider how the divorce will affect your friendships and family members.
5. What’s your reason?
It’s important to evaluate the reason for wanting a divorce. Some people decide to divorce to achieve a certain goal while others do it to avoid painful feelings or to get back at their spouse for something. Divorce doesn’t mend hurt feelings, it only ends a marriage. Negative feelings and coping with the divorce will still have to be sorted out and processed. Ask yourself “Is this an emotionally reactive response or a sincere, thought out decision?” If you still have romantic, loving feelings toward your spouse, think about if they are worth fighting for. But also know that some people still love their spouse and are certain that the damage done cannot be repaired. Consider the difference between an unhappy marriage versus one that cannot be restored.
6. Research your options.
If you decide to get a divorce, make sure to explore all the different legal angles and options. Many people think they need to go to court and hire litigation lawyers to get a divorce. That’s usually how the process is portrayed to us in the media. The instinct to hire a lawyer to get revenge or to make your spouse pay is almost always a self-defeating, costly reflex. Know that there are alternative options. Collaborative divorce is designed to reduce conflict and settle things out of the courtroom, while still giving you strong legal representation and protecting your rights and interests.
In the end, it’s important to keep in mind what will be best for you and your family. Divorce is a big decision with lasting consequences which can be positive and negative. Be sure to weigh all the options, think it through, and discuss it with people who support you. If you have questions or want to learn more about deciding to divorce, you can visit my website www.growthandwellness.org
Cora Hietpas is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of North Carolina. She is the owner of Carolina Growth and Wellness, PLLC located in Raleigh, NC. Carolina Growth and Wellness specializes in relationship repair, marriage therapy, and deciding to divorce.