8 Questions to Ask Before Divorce

8 Questions to Ask Before Divorce

Nobody wants divorce. What we want is relief. We want an end to the pain.

As a therapist, I’ve seen a lot of couples on the brink of divorce over the years. What I’ve found is that our problem-solving ability gets very limited when we are unhappy in our marriage, especially if that unhappiness is prolonged over months or years.

We become convinced that our spouse is the reason for our unhappiness. And of course we all know that we can’t change someone else, so we feel hopeless and our misery increases.

We feel trapped.

There is nothing like feeling trapped. It creates an intense desire for escape, and I often see marriages ending because the person is almost desperate to leave behind the pain.

They’re like a racehorse straining to bolt at the starting gate. They just want release from their perceived captivity. They think divorce will free them from the pain.

The problem with this mindset is that divorce rarely provides an end to pain.

I often tell couples thinking about divorce that they are going to have a hard year no matter which decision they make. You can get a divorce or rebuild your marriage. Neither provides an easy or quick solution.

And I’ve been doing this long enough that I see these same people come back later and regret their decision to divorce. But I can’t remember one person who regretted the decision to work on the marriage.

I work with a lot of struggling marriages. It is shocking how little prepared many are for the reality of divorce.

So if you’re like a horse ready to bolt, first realize what you’re getting yourself into. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before contacting a divorce attorney.

1. Have I really done everything I can to fix this marriage?

I wish I had a dollar for every time a person came into my office and told me they had tried everything to save the marriage and nothing worked.

Did you really try everything?

When I ask what exactly they have tried, the usual answer is a blank stare. Then they tell me they’ve talked with a friend, read a book, told their partner they are unhappy. Twice. Over two years.

If you haven’t tried marriage counseling with a seasoned professional who specializes in relationships, you haven’t tried everything. And if you haven’t found the right one, try again. I tried four before I found one who helped me save my marriage.

2. Have I made any changes to my own behavior?

You can’t change other people, and you might be living with someone who is really difficult.

But you can change how you respond to them. That can make a huge difference.

Most of the time, we enable people to continue their bad behavior because we don’t set proper limits and boundaries. Or we are in the habit of reacting strongly to something instead of calming ourselves down and responding in a constructive way.

So you can’t change your partner, but you can change the situation by changing how you act and respond. How can you make the situation better by changing your own behavior? And have you done it?

3. Have I truly communicated why I’m unhappy and specifically asked my spouse to change anything?

I just had a conversation with a man who is frustrated with his wife’s 80 lb. weight gain. Her weight has caused sexual issues for the couple, and he isn’t even trying to share how he feels any longer because he said she always gets mad.

So he has resigned himself to a sexless marriage.

This is crazy to me. Do not assume your spouse knows how unhappy you are because you tried telling them once or twice.

Raise the flags.

Get his or her attention!

We have a whole system at The Marriage Place for teaching clients how to set limits and get what they need from their partner. The first step is asking for what you want.

4. Have I really considered what life will be like once I’m divorced?

Divorce may sound like the easiest solution when you feel trapped, but things get complicated quickly.

Especially if you have kids.

Think your spouse is controlling right now? Wait until you have to negotiate visitation schedules and holidays. Wait until you have very little say when the kids are in your spouse’s care. This includes medical decisions and vacations.

Adding step-parents creates a whole other issue, too. It is painful to watch your kids interact as a family while you are excluded.

Many people also get a rude wake-up call when they realize the day-to-day chores their spouse used to do now rest entirely on them alone.

5. Am I prepared for the financial changes?

I once had a financial advisor tell me that the most important thing to do for building wealth is never getting divorced.

It’s very difficult to recover from losing 50 percent of all your assets. Not to mention the cost of divorce itself: attorney fees, lost work time, unexpected expenses as a result of splitting time with kids. The list goes on.

Divorce may require you to work an extra job or take on longer hours. And it still may be impossible to live the same lifestyle even with those extra hours.

Are you ready for that?

6. How will divorce affect my kids?

Divorce isn’t fun for anyone, but it really unravels your children’s world. There are all kinds of studies and research that show divorce is childhood trauma.

All childhood trauma has lasting effects.

It lowers their life expectancy.

It increases their risk for addiction, depression and anxiety.

It creates physical health problems, such as an increased risk for heart disease.

This is not to make you feel horribly guilty if you do get a divorce. But you should go into divorce knowing it will be hell for your kids.

7. Is there anything my spouse can do/say/change that would make me feel better about being in this marriage?

Sometimes there is a single event that has been dogging a couple for years or decades. Just as often, there is an accumulation of hurts, disappointments and unmet expectations.

If you have a list of things, then it is not about the things anymore. It is about the process.

I’m not feeling heard.

Or I’m not being heard.

Or I’m not valued in this relationship the way I want to be.

Is there anything your partner could do or say that would make you want to stay with them?

I often tell clients to quit the marriage but not the partner. If your marriage isn’t working, don’t walk away from the person. Walk away from the marriage and build a new marriage with your partner.

8. Are your expectations for marriage reasonable?

Marriages don’t end because people fall out of love. They end because expectations aren’t met.

But some of us have unreasonable expectations.

I have worked with many clients over the years who think marriage shouldn’t be hard.

Sorry. Fighting, compromising and negotiating are all part of living with another person.

If you are unhappy in your marriage because you feel things should be easier or “better,” you could be falling victim to the myth that marriage should be easy.

Before you start something that’s going to cause you and your family lots of pain and suffering, take a hard look at your expectations and see if you’re looking for the Easy Button when it doesn’t exist.

Divorce is one answer to marital problems, but it often is not the best answer. So if you’re feeling hopeless about your marriage, contact us online or make an appointment today for a consultation before you call that divorce attorney.

Fixing a marriage can be hard, but divorce almost always is much harder.

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How to Save the Marriage When Your Partner Checks Out

How to Save the Marriage When Your Partner Checks Out

One of the most common issues I see as a marriage counselor is the spouse who comes in feeling completely hopeless because their partner has given up emotionally and is no longer even trying to work on the marriage.

This is a tough one. MindBodyGreen interviewed me recently for a story on the five biggest reasons relationships end, and my answer was emotional abandonment.

Fighting to save your marriage when your partner wants out is the hardest thing you’ll do.

The first step to getting your partner to re-engage is to understand why they dis-engaged.  The question you need to answer is why your partner wants out. When someone comes to me about emotional abandonment, as a therapist I start to look for why that person shut down. But as a partner, if I’m experiencing it, I want to confront it.

If my husband has abandoned me emotionally, I want to share my pain and blame him for it. I want to tell him our marriage is dying and it is all his fault.

This is a trap! Don’t give in to that temptation.

Instead, first understand why he or she has closed down.

What makes leaving better than being here?

Once you get an idea of what alienated your spouse, you stop the damage…whether you agree with the fact that this is damaging or not.  This isn’t the time to argue about intentions or who is right and who is wrong.  You will never get a checked out spouse to re-engage this way.  You have to show them a different behavior.

No one leaves a relationship unless they think there is something better to go towards. What are you doing that’s making it so awful for them to stay?

The answer may be that you want to talk about the relationship all the time.

It may be that your spouse views you as critical and negative.

It may be that you’re not thinking about the relationship enough; you’re too self-absorbed, you’re too into your work or you’re too into other people.

There’s a particular “Save Your Marriage” program out there where it is all about leaving little love notes every day, buying your partner gifts every night. That may work for 25 percent of those I see.

If your partner is turned off and tuned out because you’ve been neglectful, that’s great. But if they feel like you’ve been smothering, and you write notes every day, its over. So you can’t just use a one-size-fits-all approach.

For some clients, this may mean completely backing off. It may mean stop talking about the relationship.  Stop asking your partner how they feel all the time and give them space to breathe. For another client; you may need to get more engaged. You may need to start paying more attention to your partner.  You can’t fix the problem until you understand what your partner is needing so they want to get close again.

That doesn’t mean it is your fault that he or she wants out.

It also doesn’t mean your spouse is the full problem.

Emotional abandonment just means that whatever is going on right now, in that dynamic, is pushing your partner farther away from you. And that is the place you have to start if you want to have a chance at getting to the deeper issues.  The goal is to get your partner checked back in so they will be willing to work on the relationship.

Okay, so how do you address emotional abandonment?

You approach the discovery of the real issue with curiosity and vulnerability, not defensiveness or blame.

Where I see many couples go wrong is some form of the following:

We want to understand what our partner is thinking and feeling, and so we ask.

And our spouse may timidly or forcefully tell us. But the first thing we do is justify, minimize and deny.

Well, I only do that because you…

Or That’s not what I meant.

Or That’s not how I remember it.

Or we say it wasn’t that bad instead of hearing that our partner is in a place of pain.

We asked the question but we’re not open to the answer.

So you’ve got to be vulnerable and have empathy. And cool your jets. You’ve got to be able to just listen to what they are saying without trying to fix it.

You have to listen without trying to make it okay or just brush it off as something they’ve made up.

Remember, until they are ready to work on the relationship, you are not going to be able to change their perception. You’re not going to be able to fix the problem.

But you can make yourself more inviting, more approachable, more understanding. You can draw them in with questions and curiosity.

So if my partner really did believe all those things about me and I did not see it, I’d feel sad that he really experienced that. And that’s what I’d want to share with him.

Honey, I’m so sorry.

After empathy and vulnerability, then it changes.

I’m telling you, more times than not your partner will be open to your perspective when you listen and are not defensive or blaming them.

Spend a significant amount of time hearing them and showing them your remorse about their experience.

Don’t show remorse for something you don’t believe you did, show it for what they’ve experienced. This is painful for them! That’s why they pulled away.

Once you show that empathy, they will soften.

So are you open to a different perspective on that maybe?

 And most times they’re like, Okay, sure.

Now you’ve got some dialogue happening.

And if they don’t listen?

 I’ve had clients where emotional abandonment turns around in one session. It just takes giving that partner hope that something really can change.

But I’ve also seen it take months. It varies widely. If there’s a lot of anger, if there is a lot of defensiveness, it is going to take much longer.

That’s when it helps to get an objective, third-party view on the relationship. It helps you make sure you’re not missing something.

What we do at The Marriage Place is really get in there, do a forensic evaluation, start looking at how the problem began, help make an action plan, and monitor it along the way. If the approach doesn’t work, we try something else until we get the results we want.

Having a partner who has given up is incredibly hard. So if you’re in that situation, get help! Give us a call or contact us online to make an appointment today.

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