Nothing can destroy a marriage like unrealistic expectations. So, one of the things we do here at The Marriage Place is help a couple set realistic expectations about what marriage really is and what makes a marriage “good”. We prepare them for the time and work it will take to rebuild their marriage. And, for those questioning whether they want to stay married, we advise them on what to anticipate should they decide on divorce.
Why divorce can look like an attractive option
From the vantage point of a troubled marriage, divorce can look like a lot of things.
It can look like a fresh start. A clean slate. I’m reminded of how most of us view New Year’s resolutions – another opportunity to lose weight, eat healthier, exercise or read more. The list goes on.
For some, divorce can look like a chance to finally be happy (more on this in a minute). Or to find a soul mate or the “right” person.
It can also look like a way to end the misery or escape the pain and betrayal you feel in your marriage.
And for some, divorce seems like the next step in the potentially never-ending quest to find – or, be the best version of – yourself.
The reality of divorce
But here’s what you really get with a divorce.
Regrets – Studies have shown that 75% of the time, at least one spouse regrets the decision to divorce. Now a disclaimer here: Regrets don’t necessarily mean it was the wrong decision. A spouse who leaves an abusive marriage may still regret having to do so. But the potential for regret is something to fully consider before you make the decision to divorce. Chances are one or both of you will, at some point, regret it.
Long-lasting consequences for the kids – Even in the most amicable ones, a divorce ruptures the family structure where the children grow and develop. This creates emotional scarring that lingers even into adulthood, impacting how your kids will view and experience relationships, including their own marriages. Psychologist Judith Wallerstein tracked children of divorce for almost 3 decades and found that even 25 years after the divorce, these children still experienced fear of failure, change, loss and conflict related to the divorce of their parents. Let that sink in for a minute. I’m not sharing this with you to encourage feelings of guilt or shame, but to make you fully aware of the lasting impact the decision to divorce can have on the kids.
Financial Loss – Most couples tend to focus on the upfront costs of divorce – supporting two households, attorney and therapist fees, splitting up of the assets and the if there are kids, ongoing child support. These are valid costs, but the financial impact of a divorce goes well beyond these. Most studies indicate women tend to fare worse financially over time than men. Restarting careers after staying at home with children and potentially less earning power have been looked at as reasons for this. The message for both spouses here though is divorces are costly.
Loss of control over how the kids are raised – If you didn’t like the way your spouse parented while you were married, imagine what it will look and feel like when you aren’t there to influence it. Assuming joint-custody, expect to have little control or say over how the kids are raised the 50% of the time they are with your ex.
Lost Friends – No matter how much it’s discussed, this is the one that always seems to catch clients by surprise. When you divorce, you almost always lose friends. Even some good ones. Why? Because it’s awkward for the friends. You get excluded from the fun couples’ parties and events, and the ones that knew both of you either don’t know what to say to you or feel the need to pick sides. Or, they may pull back completely in an attempt to stay neutral.
Complicated family dynamics – If your marriage was complicated, imagine adding significant others, new spouses, and ex-spouses of new spouses to the mix. Imagine adding stepmoms and dads and having your kids potentially call someone else “mom” or “dad”. Adding people makes everything stickier and messier. Think about having to jockey for time at the holidays and what it’ll be like at special events such as kids’ weddings with everyone together.
Reframing marital conflict
Clients choose divorce because it feels like the best or, even only, option they have to end their pain and find happiness. But as I’ve said before, the lure of divorce is a happiness mirage. It isn’t going to fix anything, and it isn’t going to bring you happiness. But for that matter, you shouldn’t expect your marriage to be the source of your happiness either. I love this article by Brianna Wiest. In it she says, “The less you expect marriage to make you happy, the more it will.”
Clearly divorce comes with significant, long-term consequences and considerations. But staying in a tough marriage is also difficult. What can you do when you are miserable in your marriage and divorce seems like the most viable option?
Jalen Hurts, the former University of Alabama quarterback recently said, “This isn’t something you’re stuck in, I’d tell myself. This is something you’re going through. And one thing I can promise you is that I’m better off for having gone through it.” Jalen was clearly talking about football, but his words resonate beyond the context of the football field. What if we look at marital conflict in this light? What if it’s not something you are stuck in? What if it’s something you are going through? Something that can teach us about ourselves?
There is research to back this up. Studies have shown that marital satisfaction increases over time if you can just stick it out when things seem rough. This doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone though.
If you find yourself neck deep in marital discord and wondering whether there is hope for your marriage, contact us before making long-term decisions. Our counselors and coaches can help you fully explore your marriage…how you got here and what paths you have to move forward…so you are fully informed and can make the best possible decisions for you and your family. For those of you not located near us, we can help you and your relationship too. Our coaches work with clients all over the country. Contact us to learn more.