So, you have had enough. The fight was awful. You are fed up of him, he is selfish and lazy, the days of him buying flowers and caressing the back of your neck are long gone. It’s been swirling round your head for a bit, you haven’t been brave enough to say it, but this fight has pushed you over the edge. It’s time to start saying the D word. You are ready to call in the lawyers. You are ready to move on with your life, but then a nagging thought creeps in, are you sure you want this. How can you be sure?
There are not a lot of statistics in the UK but in the USA, 87% of those who file for divorce obtain a divorce while 13% reconcile. This does not include the relationships that have not actually filed for divorce, but contemplated it before after reconciling. As a family mediator, one of the first issues one checks is that the couple are in the right place, that they actually want to get divorced. Sometimes this is clear and apparent in a matter of minutes, but occasionally it is more complicated. So how do you know if your marriage is beyond saving or one that has just gone through a bad patch and is in need of some serious resuscitation?
Release the Anger
The first step is to release the anger. Anger does not always manifest itself through shouting and outward actions, but can be a quiet seething that stays deep inside. It is important to be aware of how anger is expressed within yourself and to acknowledge it. Anger is an emotion that causes two differing reactions within the human brain, that of fight or flight. In fight mode all our adrenalin is focused on proving that we are in the right and this stops us from seeing any other viewpoint that will contradict our stance. In flight mode we can either physically flee, leave the situation or, more commonly, disconnect from the issue and the person causing the conflict. In either of these situations thinking clearly about your decision is nearly impossible. So it is important to distance yourself from that anger. Anger is usually based on another emotion such as pain. Trying to locate where the anger is coming from will make it easier to distance yourself from the anger whilst making a decision. The important part is to acknowledge that your anger is separate from the facts on the ground. Once you have found a calmer space you can look at the situation more clearly; why, when you once loved this person enough to marry them, have you decided that there is no future? Sometimes it may take a long time for the anger to die down. The anger stems from our most primeval emotions and is impossible to totally dispel. But, if the hot rage can be quelled and the anger is acknowledged, progress can be made.
Do take advice, but be careful who you take it from. The best person to take it from is an objective person who has no personal interest in your marriage, someone who has the skills to help you. This may be a professional or someone you see as a mentor who isn’t involved in your daily life. Most people will start by asking advice from their friends or family. Whilst it seems natural to take advice from friends and family, it can be dangerous to do so when you have not worked out what it is you want to do. Friends and family may raise issues that you had never thought about, such as “I never thought he was good for you, he drinks too much” or, “I always thought he was a bit of a control freak” and this may influence your decision. Friends and family are usually supportive of your decisions without giving full thought to whether they believe those decisions are good for you. Confiding in friends and family may influence you to make decisions to their timescales and, if you do at any time decide to retract your decision, (e.g. to go back to the marriage when you have discussed divorcing your partner with friends and family) it may then be hard to back down from your position. Discussing this decision with friends and family may mean that you have divulged details that if you do reconcile you don’t particularly want other people to know about. It is near to inevitable that you will seek the advice of family members and friends, but try not to take a straw poll from everybody. Limit these people to as few as possible.
Sarah had been having marital problems with Dave, her husband of 3 years, and generally only discussed her marriage with her sister. However, on a girls night out, after a couple of drinks, she confided in her best friends. Her friends all rallied round, brought her drinks, swapped stories of relationship break up and told her she was strong and brave. One friend, Tamara, offered Sarah her lawyer’s number and told her she would make the connection for her. That night, after a long discussion of why a divorce was the answer, and feeling supported by her friends Sarah was confident in her decision to divorce.. The next day Sarah was not so sure about her decision which seemed so clear the night before. Throughout the day she received texts from her friends bolstering her decision to divorce, including one from Tamara saying she had spoken to her lawyer who was awaiting Sarah’s call. All these texts of support inserted an element of acute embarrassment at her apparent fickleness in her decision making. Only once she spoke again to her sister who told her it was fine to be indecisive about one of the most major decisions in her life, did Sarah decide to tell her friends that she was going to wait a month and see how she felt after this period.
Keep On Running.
Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. In any marathon the runner will face ‘the wall’. The wall is a point where your body is telling you that it cannot go on, it is your body telling you to give up. It is hard to know what is real and what is not in that moment. Can you make it through or not? Most runners will say that you have to run on autopilot to break through the wall and at the time of hitting the wall the key is to just keep going. The only way you will know if this is a blip in the run or the time to bow out is if you keep it going for a little longer. A marriage is very similar. It’s hard to know in the moment if this is a bad patch or the end of the road. If you can hold on for a bit and it gets better you have hit your wall and come through. If there is no improvement from the low than you know it is time to bow out of this particular race.
There are two ways to look forward. The first is to try to project an idea of what your marriage would look like if you had a magic wand which granted three wishes to change your marriage. Which bits of it would you change? Are those in the realm of achievable aims or just complete fantasies? If realistically you can see (with a lot of hard work) that some changes are achievable perhaps it is an idea to try to and have a go at making those changes to your marriage. The second way to look forward is to ask yourself, what am I looking for in the future, what am I hoping for. We all kind of know the answer most of us would be looking for that perfect relationship. But what if that is not whats waiting on the other side if I never find anyone else, would I be happier single than in this marriage, for most people the reason they are contemplating divorce is that the answer is yes? Divorce is usually precipitated by the idea that a better relationship is out there waiting for you, and it may be. But, before jumping into the uncertain, make sure you are not ditching the known on account of something that is an unquantifiable risk. This question requires a lot of soul searching.
Acknowledge Divorce for what it is
Divorce can do one thing, it can free you to step forward without your current partner to the future. It cannot make all your problems disappear. Divorce is not a means to make another person pay for their mistakes. It cannot right wrongs and it is certainly not a vehicle for revenge. As the famous quote states “revenge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. Pursuing divorce in the hope of the other person being punished or realising their wrongs nearly always causes a lot of pain to the instigator. So ask yourself why do you want this divorce? Is it so you can move forward, or to make your partner regret their actions. Divorce is hard and there is a lot of fallout in many areas; to the people involved, such as your partner or children and extended family, to your standard of living and to the concept of facing the world on your own. If when you look at all the hardships that divorce can bring and can acknowledge them, but despite those hardships you want to continue, you may be ready to divorce.
If not now? When?
People who are thinking of divorce believe, as is natural that once a decision is made or thought about the best thing to do is to act straight away, tear off the band aid and get the pain over with. With divorce, tearing off the band aid may not always be such a good idea. If you have decided, or semi decided, that divorce is a good idea for you, it may be helpful to slow the process down a little and think through the consequences of your decision. This is not to change your decision, but to work out how to manage it. Thinking issues through such as how to tell your partner and how you would like the divorce to progress may save a lot of time and heartache later down the line.
Karen had been married to Mike for 7 years and they had one daughter Millie who was 4. Karen had been according to her words “bored in the marriage to Mike and wanted out of the marriage while she was young enough to find someone new”. Karen said that Mike was a nice reliable guy but she was just craving more. Although Karen was adamant that she wanted a divorce, she did take the time to work out how to tell Mike and envisage how she would manage on a reduced budget and coping by herself. This gave her some space to work out how to approach the situation with kindness towards Mike which helped the divorce proceedings.
Divorce is a complicated business and most people who go through it have gone through a lot of soul searching along the way. Whilst it is hard to let the head take control when matters of the heart are at stake, if you can allow your head to control some emotions you may find that you are in a much better position whatever you decide to do. One final piece of advice, if you haven’t tried counselling, try it. There is very little to lose and a lot to gain, even if that is just to have complete clarity and confidence in your decision to divorce.