Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Should I Divorce?

Should I get a divorce? Many people come to therapy in part to try to answer this question. Not knowing how to proceed in your marriage can painful and confusing. Along with providing support and helping clients cope with painful emotions, I try to help my clients process their responses to certain questions. Fully engaging the following questions should engage your heart, head, and an intuitive sense of what feels true about yourself, your spouse, about your marriage:

1) Is everyone in the home safe? If you and/or your children are not safe emotionally, physically or sexually, divorce may be the best option. However, there may be obstacles to leaving your spouse and pursuing a divorce. Support from others, including a therapist and/or other resources, can be critical when there are safety issues.

2) Is your spouse aware of how s/he contributes to the marital problems? If so, has s/he taken responsibility for making any needed changes? Or, instead, does s/he deny the existence of problems or blame you for causing any unhappiness in the relationship? If the answer to the final question is yes, you should think about the future with the assumption that things are unlikely to get better.

3) Are you aware of any ways you contribute to the problems in the marriage? Have you taken steps to make any needed changes? If the answer is yes and the problems remain, you should think about the future with the assumption that things are unlikely to get better. Note: If you have not told your spouse why you are unhappy, your silence may be contributing to your marital problems. If you find it difficult to communicate honestly with your spouse, couples counseling could be useful.

4) Are you able to think about the good and bad parts of the relationship at the same time? Or, instead, do you hate the relationship on some days and love the relationship or simply not mind the problems on other days? Until you can look honestly at BOTH the good and the bad feelings you have toward your spouse at same time, it will be difficult to make a decision with any staying power.

5) What do your friends and family think of your marriage and your spouse? If your close friends and family members are concerned about you, your spouse, and/or the marriage, this usually means there are problems to address. (Note: Your family may be unsupportive of you and your spouse or marriage because of their own biases, beliefs, and/or emotional issues. For example, same-sex couples can face a lack of familial support because their spouse is the same sex.) If you are not sure whether your family and/or friends have legitimate concerns, this may be a good time to seek out therapy and/or additional counsel of some kind.

6) Does anyone else know about your marital problems? Holding everything inside can make it difficult to see your marriage clearly. Talking to a close friend, family member and/or a therapist might be a helpful next step. If you can't confide in anyone you know, finding a therapist might be a crucial next step.

7) Are you having an affair? If so, it is unlikely you can sustain both relationships indefinitely. If you want to keep open the option of staying in your marriage, it is time to stop the affair as soon as possible and address any marital difficulties. If you do not want to end the affair or work to improve your marriage, it might be time to be honest with yourself and your spouse about your desire for a divorce.

8) Is your spouse having an affair? If so, do they appear to genuinely regret their actions? Have they taken steps to end the relationship? Can you imagine reconciling with your spouse? What are you willing to accept? Finding out your spouse is having an affair is extremely painful and many people find it is a process to work through these questions and decide how to proceed.

9) What are your values? If divorce is against your religious/spiritual beliefs or personal values, it is important to take your convictions seriously as you weigh whether or not divorce the the best choice. Making decisions that explicitly conflict with your values tends to cause inner conflict and stress.

10) What makes you want to stay? In a healthy marriage, at least some of the reasons to stay married will have to do with your connection to your spouse. In order words, there are at least moments you feel genuine affection, you admire and respect your spouse, you are a good team, and you want to connect and communicate. In an unhealthy marriage, people stay for other reasons--e.g. you don't want to hurt your spouse, you don't want to lose the financial support and/or pay alimony, you are afraid of your spouse,  you fear consequences in your social circle, and/or you are worried about the impact of your children. If you are staying in your marriage for the second set of reasons, divorce could be the right decision. However, you will need to address your reservations. For example, many people are legitimately concerned about finances and the potential emotional impact of a divorce on their children.