This question popped into my head twice recently. The first time was with a former client who reconnected after several years. He recognizes that getting a divorce means he won’t be with his children everyday—an outcome he really doesn’t want. The challenge is that he isn’t sure he wants to be married either.
The second time it cropped up was when a potential client called to cancel his consultation appointment because his wife decided that morning that she was done with the marriage. Interestingly, she was the one who had initially contacted me.
I need to be clear. “Do you want to be divorced?” is not the same questions as, “Are you happy with your marriage?” Unfortunately, too many people don’t see the difference.
In our black/white, yes/no, zero/one world, many couples can only see two options—stay in a less than satisfying marriage or end it. Because they rightly want to end the pain they are in, they opt out of the marriage.
Like all decisions, it is based in emotion and then “logical” reasons are created to justify it:
- We never really loved each other
- The children will be better off if each parent is finally happy
- Everyone says I should just leave
- We’ve (or I’ve) tried everything
This last one is almost always untrue. Talking to your friends or family members about the awful or annoying things your partner does is not the same as finding a solution that leads to repairing your marriage. Reading self-help books is good but it’s rarely possible to implement real change on your own. Going to a professional a couple of times before throwing in the towel also doesn’t count because magic wands are in short supply.
In the Divorce Fantasy World, spouses “consciously uncouple” and lovingly co-parent with no lasting ill-effects. But in the real world, almost all divorces are initiated by one person. Their partner, and any children, don’t get a say. They just have to accept it and move on as if their lives had not just been blown apart.
The alternative requires the person initiating the divorce to accept responsibility for the collateral damage. This has no place in the Harm-Free Divorce Script. And don’t look too closely at the façade of the “good divorce”. This is much rarer than we want to believe. (See above for one partner not wanting a divorce at all.)
I have stated over and over that I don’t believe ‘miserable’ and ‘marriage’ should be used in the same sentence. I also have repeatedly acknowledged that all marriages cannot and should not be saved. But the first is not synonymous with the second.
The potential to improve most marriages is there. The earlier productive action is taken, the greater the chance for a successful outcome. If you aren’t taking specific, consistent steps to keep your marriage healthy and happy, it will deteriorate. Nothing thrives on neglect.
There are simple steps you can start taking today to turn your marriage around. The good news is that the sooner you begin, the easier they are. The better news is that you don’t even need your partner on board. You just need to take action.
The first step is to ask the right question: Do you want to be divorced? Or, do you just want a better marriage?
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