This post is an excerpt from the book “Considering Divorce? Critical Things You Need To Know” By Melinda Eitzen, Joanna Jadlow and Brenda Lee Roberts.

Chapter 1:  Making the Decision to Divorce

Deciding to Divorce:  Not a Quick or Easy Decision

The decision to begin the divorce process can be frightening and the unknown overwhelming.  In working with couples in divorce situations, it has been our experience that either one or both of them have known that the marriage was over for some time.  The decision to follow through with the divorce is usually avoided for a multitude of reasons such as “staying in it for the children”, “financially it’s not a good time”, “maybe they’ll change” and/or “I’d rather be in a terrible marriage than be single again”.  Whatever the reason, people tend to stay too long.  The idea in our society that people divorce rashly or on a whim has not been our experience.  We see quite the opposite.

Sometimes, when a person has been in a marriage for a long time or has never been in a “good” romantic relationship, they become used to the situation and have trouble recognizing that this is not what marriage is supposed to be.  A spouse may become accustomed to criticism, belittlement, screaming, being ignored, never knowing where their spouse is, infidelity, having little or no access to marital funds, and numerous other unhealthy behaviors.  It can be very difficult to recognize the problems and address them.

Before moving forward with divorce, people often want to make sure that they are making the right decision.  It is not uncommon for a Family Law attorney to refer their client to a marriage therapist or individual therapist prior to filing for divorce in order to help their client gain clarity as to whether or not to move forward with the divorce process.

Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling has the potential to help you avoid separation and divorce.  It may help to relight the spark that went out, sometimes years ago.  It can help improve communication, defuse anger, provide a new sense of hope, settle the panic, heal resentments, teach a new way of resolving conflict, renew trust, reduce conflict, increase intimacy, balance expectations, minimize defensiveness and teach you how to disagree without destroying the marriage.  For those who truly haven’t made up their mind, marriage counseling can provide the platform for a couple to reconnect, recover from an affair, redefine expectations, identify new dreams, rekindle old dreams, build/rebuild communication skills, and allow for concrete changes to be made.

However, just scheduling the appointment and going to counseling does not save your marriage.  It requires time and the commitment to doing an extensive amount of emotional work.  Going just for the sake of going will not work.  Marriage counseling only helps couples who want to help themselves.  Just one person going to counseling can affect the marital relationship, but it won’t fix it.  It takes both partners to work on the wholeness of their relationship. 

There are some issues that marriage counseling cannot fix.  Honesty is imperative; it cannot work if both of you are not honest about your relationship histories and current marriage.  There are many counselors who will not work with a couple if there is an active affair occurring.  Marriage counseling cannot address addictions and the issues behind them.  It cannot fix domestic violence problems.  These are things have to be addressed by participating in individual counseling and perhaps inpatient or outpatient treatment.

There are many people that do not begin marriage counseling until they have already decided to divorce.  According to marriage and relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, “the average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems.  Keeping in mind the fact that half of all marriages fail in the first seven years, the average couple lives for far too long with unhappiness.”  When people have already made up their minds to divorce before going  to marriage counseling, they are often waiting for the opportunity or support that marriage counseling offers to deliver the message that they want to divorce.

Counseling is rarely  a quick fix.  Deep seated issues and long standing habits of dysfunctional communication in your marriage cannot be fixed overnight.  It is hard work.  Very rarely are the problems all one person’s fault; therefore, you both have to be willing to make changes.  Sometimes additional work outside of marriage counseling may be needed, such as individual therapy. 

Individual Counseling / Therapy

There are times when only one person in the marriage decides to go to therapy, either because their significant other won’t join them or because they need to see a therapist on their own to work through their questions about the marriage.  Even when only one person in the marriage goes to therapy, it can affect the relationship.  It has the potential to change the marriage positively or it may offer clarity to the individual on whether or not to stay in the marriage.

Individual therapy can also help with other issues that are impacting the marriage.  It offers those with addictions the opportunity to find new ways of coping other than turning to alcohol, drugs, food, pornography or other destructive behaviors.  It can provide support for victims of domestic violence.  It may also be appropriate for batterers as it can help them work on anger management, stress relief and safe communication tools.  For those needing additional support, therapists may also provide references  to outside groups, such as addiction programs and batterer intervention programs.

Key Point:  You do have choices.  You can choose to stay in the relationship going forward without expectation of change, which means asking yourself, “Can I stay in this relationship if it doesn’t change?”  “If things stay exactly the way they are right now, can I be happy in this relationship?

You can also choose to stay in the relationship with the expectation that it must change, which means asking yourself, “Can I stay in this relationship if things improve within a certain period of time?”  “How long am I willing to give this relationship a chance to work and to see if things really do change?”  

Your final choice might be, “I cannot stay in this relationship anymore.  I have given it time to change and it has not.  I have waited to see if it would work and it is not.  I can no longer stay in this relationship.

Alternatives to Counseling

If you find that counseling is not something you want to participate in because you do not like it or do not believe in it, there are other ways to help you gain clarity about your marriage. 

Pros and Cons

One way is to make a list of pros and cons about the marriage.  Ask yourself:

  • What are the good things about my marriage? 
  • In what areas of my marriage am I happy? 
  • What are the not so good things about my marriage? 
  • In what areas of my marriage am I unhappy? 
  • What are the things I would like to keep the same about my marriage? 
  • What are the things I would like to change about my marriage?  

List as many things as you can, set it aside for a few hours or days, come back to it and see if there are any other things you can add.

Example:

Positive Things

About My Marriage

Negative Things

About My Marriage

1.  We like to laugh

1.  We fight almost daily

2.  We enjoy going on spontaneous trips

2.  I feel like my feelings and opinions don’t matter

3.  We have two beautiful children

3.  His / her family knows too much personal stuff

4.  We have great sex

4.  I’m certain he / she is having an affair

5.  We have a great home

5.  We’re not best friends anymore

What Needs to Change

Another option is to make a list of what each of you would need to do to save the marriage.  Start by identifying what you know you need to work on first.  What am I doing to contribute to the failure of this marriage?  Work through a list of changes you know you need to make.  Then, after you have looked at yourself, think about what you need your spouse to do or change in order for you to stay in the marriage.

Example:

How I Could

Change

What I Need Him / Her

to Do or Change

1.  Let go of the small stuff

1.  Not go out with co-workers so often

2.  Be more spontaneous

2.  Help with the children more

3.  Not react negatively

3.  Help with dinner/dishes

4.  Talk about what is bothering me

4.  Really listen when I am talking

5.  Not share so much with his / her family

5.  Show me love more often

Be honest with yourself and be as detailed as you need to be.  Are the expectations that you have for yourself and your spouse reasonable?  If the things you are wanting from your spouse do not happen, are you willing to continue in the relationship as it currently is?  How long will you stay in the relationship if it does not change? 

Mind Mapping

Another tool for working through decisions is called Mind Mapping.  Mind Mapping can be a therapeutic, visual way of helping one make decisions based on every available thought about a specific situation.

Wikipedia defines Mind Mapping as:

 “A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.” 

The process of mind mapping when considering divorce might include writing the word “marriage” or “divorce” in the center of the page and then beginning to throw out all of your important thoughts about marriage or divorce such as “money”, “children”, “career”, “where I would live”, “how family views it”, “religious beliefs”, “sad”, “disappointed”, “afraid”, “their anger” and then off of those topics start generating thoughts about each one.  The goal is to exhaust your mind of ALL of the thoughts associated with each topic. Once you have finished, identify the things you can control by circling those items and identifying the things you can’t control by marking through those items. 

Once you have identified the things that you can control, begin looking at how you might solve or work through the items you believe you do have control over.  The things you can’t control are the items that should get the least amount of focus going forward.

Circling those things that you have control over and marking through those things that you do not have control over may very well help you figure out if the issues are solvable, which can help lead you to the decision of whether or not to stay in the marriage.  Should you come to the decision to no longer stay in the marriage, it is very important to be aware of what you will experience next. 

Decision Tree

For those of you that have a more analytic mindset, another tool is called a Decision Tree. 

Wikipedia defines a Decision Tree as:

A decision tree is a decision support tool that uses a tree-like graph or model of decisions and their possible consequences, including chance event outcomes, resource costs, and utility. It is one way to display an algorithm. Decision trees are commonly used in operations research, specifically in decision analysis, to help identify a strategy most likely to reach a goal. Another use of decision trees is as a descriptive means for calculating conditional probabilities.”

A Decision Tree is very similar to the process of Mind Mapping; however, it differs because it is a more structured, “if / then” process.

 

Tomorrow we will be talking about what to do if you decide you want a divorce. Have questions? Take a look at our FAQ section or post them in the comments below.