This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Bruce Derman.
Should I stay or should I go?
If your marriage is on the line and you’re considering divorcing your spouse, you may have had some of the following thoughts:
I feel like I need to end this so-called marriage. Yet, how can I be sure? / Some days I feel more confident of my decision than others / A part of me still loves and/or cares for him. / I don’t think I am in love with him but what if I make a mistake? / Many people will be affected by my decision. / Maybe I’m being too hasty. / If only he would just change his behavior …
Or, maybe your spouse wants a divorce. In that case, you’ve probably had some of the following thoughts:
Divorce? Where did that come from? Two weeks ago, we were talking about going on a vacation! / I had no idea our marriage was this awful./ I am shocked and devastated./ I have to find a way to stop this. / Maybe this is all a dream and when I wake up things will be back to normal.
Many books and articles assume that once a couple says they want a divorce, they are truly ready for it. However, that’s often not the case. In fact, usually, when couples begin the divorce process, either one or both partners are not really ready at all.
Divorce professionals including therapists, mediators, and attorneys often take statements like, “I’ve had it with him,” or “My feelings for her have died,” as indications that the marriage is already over. Attorneys mistakenly equate being hired with an indication that the couple is ready to divorce. But most couples who begin divorce proceedings are unprepared, causing marriages to end prematurely and divorces to deteriorate into competitive contests.
Underlying these hasty decisions is the assumption that the sooner you get out of a stressful situation, the better. There is a natural tendency for people in difficult marriages to get the divorce over with as quickly as possible in order to move on with their lives. Family and friends often encourage this as well, subscribing to the myth that the quicker the divorce is over, the sooner everything will return to normal. Unfortunately, in most cases, just the opposite occurs.
Couples who rush to leave their marriages have not had enough time to evaluate their feelings, thoughts, or options. As a result, they are unprepared for the roller coaster of emotions, the complicated legal system, and the many life-changing decisions that they will need to make. Quite often, they make agreements which they cannot sustain and, instead of the situation improving,it stays the same or gets worse. They often get tangled up in lengthy court cases and the very thing they hoped for — a quick divorce — takes years.
A dilemma implies that being torn between two choices, each of which has some undesirable elements. This article outlines what couples need to do to face the numerous dilemmas associated with divorce. But first, they must identify their unique dilemma. Couples facing the possibility of a divorce face one of these three dilemmas:
- I want the divorce but I am not sure if it is the right decision. Since going through a divorce impacts the lives of your children as well as your lifestyle, economics, and marital investment, the pressure to make the “perfectly correct” decision is enormous. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. The best case scenario is to make a decision that is not emotionally based or driven by your ego.
- I do not want the divorce but my spouse does. Being in this reactive place will leave you feeling out of control and helpless. You will experience intense emotional devastation as your life will be changing before your eyes without you having any say in the outcome. In addressing this dilemma, you need to ask yourself if you are clinging to familiar, safe ground and to a marriage based on illusions. It is not easy to acknowledge and confront the problems in a marriage, especially when you are feeling so hurt by your partner.
- I only want this divorce because my marriage is not working. If this is your dilemma, then you will want to avoid responsibility at all costs by blaming your partner for the demise of the marriage. There will be tremendous preoccupation and anger about how your partner caused you to make this decision. The amount of noise generated from this blaming will be in direct proportion to your unwillingness to risk expressing any of your own fears and sadness. If this doesn’t occur, the divorce proceedings to follow will be riddled with tension and conflict as well as a continuation of the blaming.
The common element in all three dilemmas is fear. Victims of the first dilemma fear making a mistake. Victims of the second dilemma fear their own attachment to the familiar. The third group of victims fear accountability and softness. All three result in divorces that are combative and drag on and on, sometimes for years on end.