Your marriage is in question and you’re facing a real dilemma. You may be the one who is deciding should you stay or should you go.
“I feel like I need to get a divorce and end this so called marriage. Yet how can I be sure? Some days I feel more confident of my decision than others. A part of me still loves him or at least I care for him. I don’t think I am in love with him, but what if I make a mistake. A lot of people will be affected by what I decide. Maybe I should not rush ahead with this. That’s amusing since I have been thinking about it for three years. This whole thing wouldn’t even be an issue and I could forget about this divorce, if he would just change his behavior.”
Or you may be the one who has just heard that your spouse wants a divorce.
“Divorce? Where did that come from? Two weeks ago we were talking about a vacation in the mountains. I had no idea our marriage was this awful? I am shocked and devastated. I have got to find a way to put a stop to this. Maybe this is all a dream and when I wake up things will be back to normal.”
Most books and articles on divorce are written based on the assumption that once a couple says they want a divorce that they are ready for divorce. It is our experience as therapists and divorce coaches, who have helped many people through this process that this is in fact not the case. Usually when couples begin the divorce process, either one but more often than not, both, are not really ready for the divorce.
Divorce professionals such as therapists, mediators and attorneys often believe that statements such as, “I’ve had it with him.” or “My feelings have died for her,” are indicators that the marriage is over. Attorney’s often equate being hired for their services as an indicator that the couple is ready to divorce. This is not so.
Most couples who begin a divorce are unprepared and are often not even on the same page when they begin. It is this lack of preparedness and readiness for a divorce that either causes marriages to end prematurely or divorces to deteriorate into competitive contests. The decision to obtain a divorce is one of the most crucial decisions a person can make with consequences that last for years or a lifetime. A decision this important requires much greater attention than it is usually given by both couples and professionals. It is a process in and of itself. Once a couple is prepared and ready, they will sooner be able to begin their divorce by both being on the same page and this will eliminate most of the emotional and financial struggles that cause divorces to become adversarial and ruthless.
The reason many people do not even think about getting ready for a divorce is because they operate under the assumption that the sooner you can get out of a stressful situation the better. So there is a natural tendency for people who are in difficult marriages to want to get the divorce over with as quickly as possible in order to move on with their lives. Family and friends often encourage this as well. They hurt for the family and so also prescribe to the myth that the quicker the divorce is over, the sooner everything will return to normal. But unfortunately in most cases just the opposite happens. Couples who make rushed decisions to leave the marriage have had no time to evaluate their feelings, thoughts or options. As a result they are unprepared for the roller coaster of emotions, the complicated legal system and the many life changing decisions that they need to make. Quite often they make agreements which they cannot sustain, and instead of the situation getting better, they often find that they have just traded one set of problems for another. So it is no wonder that they often get tangled up in lengthy court cases and the very thing they hoped for, a quick divorce, often takes years.
This article outlines what couples need to do in order to face the numerous dilemmas that are inherent in divorce. A dilemma implies that you are torn between two choices, each of which have undesirable fearful elements. If people have not resolved their dilemmas before the divorce, they go through the process trying to manage their fear in different ways by hiding their doubt, responsibility; vulnerability, or dependency.
Whether a couple is starting the divorce process or even just contemplating a divorce, they need to first identify with the following divorce dilemmas.
The Three Divorce Dilemmas
Couples who are facing the possibility of a divorce face one of three dilemmas:
1. I want the divorce, but I am not sure if it is the right decision. Since going through a divorce impacts the lives of your children, as well as your lifestyle, economics, and marital investment, the pressure to make the “perfectly correct” decision is enormous. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. The best case scenario is to make a decision that is not emotionally based, nor driven by your ego.
2. I do not want the divorce, my spouse does. Being in this reactive place will leave you feeling out of control and a helpless victim. You will experience intense emotional devastation, as your life will be changing before your eyes without you having any say in the outcome. In addressing this dilemma you need to ask yourself if you are clinging to staying on familiar, safe ground and to a marriage based on illusions. It is not easy to acknowledge and confront the problems in a marriage, when you are feeling so hurt by your partner.
3. I only want this divorce because my marriage is not working. If this is your dilemma, then you will want to avoid responsibility at all costs by seeing your partner to blame for the demise of the marriage. There will be tremendous preoccupation and anger about how your partner caused you to make this decision. The amount of noise generated from this blaming will be in direct proportion to your unwillingness to risk expressing any of your own fears and sadness. If this doesn’t occur, the divorce proceedings to follow will be riddled with tension and conflict, and a continuation of the blaming.
The common element in all three dilemmas is fear. In the first group there is a fear of making a mistake and being incorrect, the second will hide from it by denying that there are any problems or admitting their attachment to the familiar and the third group will fear any accountability and softness. The result in all three circumstances will be dragging, combative, and back and forth divorces.
For divorce to be a collaborative and respectful process, the couple must be prepared and ready to separate their lives on all levels; legally, practically and emotionally. To do this each person must face their divorce dilemma by answering the following 8 questions.