Divorce: Part 1 Surviving the Decision

It was a simple, yet elegant wedding in a small church in central Phoenix. Xandi was the first child in our group of friends to get married, and both she and her groom appeared to be filled with hope. But honestly, aren’t most weddings like that… hopeful, even the quick ones in Las Vegas? When people get married, the last thing on their minds is divorce (except maybe Darva Conger).

According to people who analyze this sort of thing, 80% of us who have managed to stay married have seriously contemplated divorce at one time or another, and 65% to 70% of all new marriages today will fail. (Good luck Xandi!) That wasn’t always the case, as early as the 1980’s, only 50% of the marriages failed, (did I say only?) and in the 1920’s, a roaring six of seven marriages succeeded!

It’s hard to make marriage work! Deep in our heart of hearts most of us truly believe that once we have said the vows we will live “happily ever after.” Not true. Those of us who have been married for more than two years know that the “romantic love” that makes us feel so connected in the beginning, just doesn’t last.

Once the hard work of marriage hits, it’s tempting to give up. We fantasize that our partner simply can’t change, we have made a bad choice, or “the perfect mate” is out there somewhere. The last thing couples considering divorce want to hear is that problems are going to occur in the next relationship, but it’s true. The Cinderella story is a big fat lie. “Happily ever after” doesn’t happen easily.

I have to admit that in some cases divorce is actually the best thing. If one spouse is abusing drugs or alcohol and can’t stop, or if any family member is being verbally, physically or emotionally abused, I think getting out is healthy. In his Internet book, Psychological Self-Help, Dr. Clayton Tucker-Ladd suggests couples contemplating divorce consider several factors before giving up on marriage counseling and seeking a divorce.

  1. Are you sure the awfulness of your marriage is not a product of your own thinking and attitudes? or a justification for your anger and urge to leave? If so, the same process is likely to reoccur in 4-7 years with another spouse.
  2. Are you pretty sure you can and will select a better partner for you next time? Might you be attracted to a person with the same traits? Might you need new communication skills (with your old partner or a new one)?
  3. What are the consequences to others, especially the children?
  4. Are you staying in the marriage because you are dependent and afraid to change? Women usually wait far too long to “get rid of him.”

If divorce is being considered, he has five more recommendations:

  1. Get Counseling. Most of us by ourselves can not rationally handle the complex and emotional questions involved in divorce. Even friends are often supportive of whatever they think we want to hear. We need to be told things we don’t want to hear.
  2. Read. There are many helpful books about divorce, and books were second only to “friends” as a good source of help. The better recent books encourage you to try for a healthy divorce which reduces the harm to the children.
  3. Mediate. If the divorce involves emotional conflicts over marital property or children, consider using mediation rather than lawyers in court. The procedure of “letting the lawyers fight it out” is often unfair, very traumatic, and results in increased, lasting hostility . Besides, lawyers are costly and courts aren’t always thorough. Most couples, who aren’t crazy with rage, can find a good mediator and together work out a fair, considerate agreement (acceptable to any court) within five to eight hours, say for $500 to $1000 or considerably less than going through a nasty divorce. (Mediators are trained professionals, not your Aunt Alice. Your marriage counselor can help you find a mediator.)
  4. Protect Children. Children should have equal representation in a divorce (in an ideal world). The children must be reassured that they aren’t being divorced. They have a birthright to two parents, their time, love, and resources. The children will remain “sons” and “daughters” forever with the parents, even though the divorced parents will have no relationship with each other. The most vital decisions in a divorce are about how to continue and enrich each parent-child relationship, not who gets the house and pays the bills.” (I’ll talk more about this next time.)
  5. Help Yourself. Use self-help methods to reduce your emotionality and irrationality. Try to relax and reduce the sense of loss, stop your crazy-making and angry or self-critical thoughts, pore yourself into something–work, school, exercise, friends, helping others, etc., build your communication skills and self-esteem, work on being independent and tough, vent your feelings openly–but not repeatedly–to a trusted friend, avoid subtly smearing or openly berating your “ex” in front of the children, recognize when you are “reliving” old hurts over and over which only magnifies the current stress, and start planning, after learning from your mistakes, how to carry on with life.”

Perhaps he was at a wedding like Xandi’s when George Bernard Shaw said,

“When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

That’s a big pledge.