PART 1: Contemplating divorce

What should you consider?

Divorce (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
In the US, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce; in Israel, about 25 percent of married couples divorce.
These figures show there are many people who have gone through a divorce – and if you are one of them, you certainly are not alone.
In fact, for many, divorce is the right thing to do; though for many others, it may not be the case. So what should you consider if you are contemplating a divorce?
• Expectations:
People contemplating divorce are usually very unhappy about their partner; they have had enough. Many people see walking out of their marriage as a magic elixir that will solve their immediate problem with their partner, and pave the way to a better life.
For some this is true, but one has to weigh the decision carefully rather than idealizing the days after divorce. Most people who have undergone a divorce say it was one of the most difficult things they ever experienced. Loneliness, financial pressures and, if children are involved, being a single parent and custody issues, are some of the most common problems.
In other words, being single doesn’t assure that your life will be better or easier.
In the short run, it may in fact be a lot more difficult. Yet for many people who divorce for the right reasons, the split up can offer a new opportunity – it just doesn’t guarantee it.
Motivation: Take time to ensure you understand why you are getting divorced.
Sometimes divorce may end up being a permanent solution to a potentially fixable problem in the marriage. After all, most marriages – if not all – have crisis points where one spouse or both have thought about ending the union.
The truth is, most couples do not divorce. Some couples stay with the marriage and try to identify what the problems are in the relationship and work on them – whether communication-related disagreements, fighting over money, lifestyle choices, sexual matters and family issues.
These individuals are not ready to jump off the roller- coaster ride of marriage.
Other people stay in a dysfunctional marriage, but don’t attempt to fix it. Their primary goal is survival, and they often employ maladaptive behaviors that can lead to more trouble; examples include psychosomatic complaints such as migraines or stomach ulcers; food addictions; dependency on drugs, both licit and illicit; and alcohol dependence.
Some individuals use their job as an escape and stay many hours at the workplace to avoid seeing their spouse.
Others are unfaithful and seek sex and/or attention from others.
• Outside influences to divorce: Another source of motivation to divorce may come from outside influences like movies that romanticize divorce, or intrusive parents and/or friends who encourage one to get divorced.
Whatever influences a person to divorce, the ultimate responsibility and decision belongs to that person.
• Is your reason for divorce the result of feelings for someone else? I have seen many instances where one partner wants to get divorced because they say they are in love with someone else, reporting they do not love their partner any longer. But you must ask yourself honestly: Why? This is especially important if in fact you once did love this person.
What has changed? What is the outside person giving you that you are not getting in the marriage? Is it attention, sex, appreciation, support, privacy from parents? In almost all cases, these problems, once identified, can be worked on by the couple with good communication and acknowledgment of your spouse’s feelings.
• What is your role in the marital problem?
It’s always easier to feel like the victim in a problematic marriage than a contributor to the problem – it’s called the blame game.
Our narcissistic defenses protect us from looking honestly at ourselves; neither side sees his or her part in the issue. I have seen couples who are angry at each other and instead of identifying what they are upset about and sharing it with their spouse, they punish their partner by pulling away.
But everyone who looks at their marital problems candidly needs to own up to their part in creating and maintaining these problems.
• Don’t forget about the children:
Children are always the innocent victims of family breakups. There is actually some very good research that has been done on children of divorce. I plan to write about this in my next article, but people contemplating divorce need to consider not only the impact it will have on themselves, but also on their kids and extended family. This alone is often one of the reasons unhappily married couples stay together.
It’s quite common that they wait until the kids are grown, then seek a divorce. A more optimistic view would be to try to work out issues to forge a better relationship.
Remember, all marriages have good and bad times, as well as relationship crises. I am not for or against divorce; sometimes it’s a necessity. But I do believe that when you think of how much you have invested in the relationship, why run for the door when you may be able to fix what’s broken?
This is the first of a three-part series on the emotional side of divorce. Part 2 will appear on March 20.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana; he also provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy.;