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Deciding Whether or Not to Divorce

01st December 2010
By Johanna Nauraine in Divorce
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Divorce represents both the emotional and legal dissolution of a marriage. But divorce is not just a decision – it’s a process that occurs over time.

The reasons for divorce are many (see, Why I Got Divorced) but the process of divorce often follows a predictable pattern. Typically, emotional divorce occurs long before the legal divorce process begins. The emotional divorce begins as disappointments accumulate. The emotional bond begins to break down as a result of these disappointments and one or both partners become emotionally detached.

The quality of the bond or attachment between two people impacts the way they ‘uncouple.’ If the relationship has been a passionate one, the process of disentangling from one another may be characterized by fiery explosions followed by passionate reconciliations. This cycle of break-up and make-up can continue for years. These marriages often an end reactively – when one or both spouses gets angry enough to break up for good.

When children are involved, divorce is complicated. Couples often worry that divorce will hurt their children. For this reason, many couples remain together until their children have left home. In these types of marriages, the spouses often reach a détente in which each demands little of the other. The marriage is an arrangement whose primary focus is the children. Once the children are gone, one or both partners may decide to pursue a legal divorce.

Long marriages, in which spouses have shared much of their adulthood and have raised a family together, may take a long time to dissolve. The decision to divorce is fraught with turmoil and ambivalence because each person’s life is so intertwined with the other. Partners in long term marriages often have difficulty adjusting to being single again.

It’s not unusual for one partner in a marriage to be less happy than the other. Studies have shown that women are more often unhappy in marriage then men. The spouse that’s most dissatisfied often goes through a back and forth seesaw of emotions about whether to leave or to stay. They may discuss their discontent with their partner or they may not. Obviously it’s preferable for them to voice their unhappiness as there’s a much greater likelihood of being able to save the relationship.

Some times the unhappy partner makes multiple attempts to repair or save their marriage. This may include counseling. Their spouse may or may not cooperate or be responsive to these efforts. However, even with marriage counseling, some couples are unable to repair their relationship. This is especially true if one person has an addiction and refuses to address it, or when there are problems with infidelity.

If the unhappy spouse is married to someone who is not motivated for change, the unhappy spouse may begin to withdraw. It’s not uncommon for them to become resigned about the state of the relationship, at which point they usually begin to detach emotionally. This is the beginning of the emotional divorce.

Sometimes spouses make reactive decisions to divorce. These types of decisions are often made in the heat of emotional upset and they may or may not stick. Reactive decisions occur because one spouse has injured the other to such an extent that the injured spouse may want to retaliate in the most powerful way they know how – by getting a divorce.

Divorce -- like marriage-- is life altering. It represents the severing of emotional and legal bonds between two people. Regardless of the disappointments – most marriages have some degree of meaning for the two people involved. It’s best not to make a major decision in the midst of emotional turmoil. The decision to divorce is one that deserves time, careful consideration and reason. This is not to say that feelings don’t play an important role in the decision-making process – they do. But decisions that are driven by intense emotion are often meant to punish and lash out at a spouse for what they’ve said or done. Regret and second guessing or failure to follow-through, tends to accompany reactive decisions. Like emotional eating – a reactive decision may feel good in the moment, but once a person has calmed down, they may come up with better alternatives.

If you are considering divorce, you need to ask yourself a number of important questions. First of all – why are you doing this? The reasons for divorce should be good ones – based on an assessment of what’s best for you and your children, both immediately and long term.

Questions related to finance are also important. How will you support youself? What type of maintenance and child support will you be eligible for? Will this be enough to live on? What kind of childcare is available to you? What kind of support system do you have? Who are the friends and family members you’ll be able to count on for support during this difficult time?

Most of us enter marriage with hopes, dreams and expectations. Divorce often marks the death of this dream. Even if you are the one who wants the divorce, chances are you feel reluctant about it. You may wish you didn’t have to go through with it. But the anticipation of remaining in the relationship may feel more disturbing. Perhaps you are divorcing to protect yourself and your children.

Each person confronts the question of staying in a marriage or leaving it with their own set of concerns, relationship history, hopes, disappointments and degree of confidence in themselves. Because it is such a life altering decision – not only for you but for your children – I strongly recommend seeking divorce counseling. Counseling will provide you with an opportunity to examine your options. It will give you a chance to make a good decision based on your needs and those of your children.
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About the Author
Occupation: Psychotherapist
Johanna Nauraine is a psychotherapist in private practice. She specializes in premarital, marital and divorce therapy, infertility, addictions and career coaching.
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