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.