Thinking about a divorce? Don't move forward with a divorce until you are informed about the emotional aspects of divorce. It's emotions that bring out the worst in use during divorce and set us up for failure after a divorce.
You can find copious amounts of information and advice on what is and isn’t a good marriage but no one can tell you whether your marriage is viable or “good enough.” That is a decision you must make yourself.
Society's historical answer to maintaining marriages that are less than blissful has been to force women through a variety of emotional, economic, legal, and social measures to get into and then stay in marriages, i.e. to make alternatives to marriage either extremely undesirable or largely unavailable.
In the day and age of no-fault divorce laws, the alternatives are no longer unavailable, although there are other issues to consider when deciding whether or not to divorce. In this article, I will discuss the emotional aspects of divorce because to make an informed decision to divorce is imperative due to the life altering nature of divorce.
You are reading this article because you are experiencing a transition in your attitude toward your marriage. I want to welcome you and acknowledge how difficult it was to take this first step toward deciding what route to take where your marriage is concerned.
Having gone through my own divorce, I understand all of your emotions, fears and the sadness that comes along with the decision you are trying to make. It will take much thought and preparation to move toward either divorce or a renewed commitment to your marriage.
Let’s start this exploration by talking about the emotional aspects of divorce or, what you will face emotionally should you decide to divorce.
The Emotional Aspect of Divorce
“Love, the quest; marriage, the conquest; divorce, the inquest.” Helen Rowland
I know few who have experienced divorce and not done a comprehensive “inquest” or investigation into every aspect of their life. There are a few who can’t face taking an internal evaluation of themselves but for the most part, people will take the time to look back and evaluate their role in the relationship and demise of the marriage.
Divorce is a choice we make or a situation we are thrown into that requires deep self-examination if we are to come out the other side unscathed and prepared to rebuild and live a rewarding life.
That is what this article is for, to help you navigate this “inquest” so you will be properly armed before stepping into the emotional, legal and financial world of divorce.
You are thinking about taking a step that will have long-term consequences for you, your children if you have any and your spouse. Being aware of the psychological and emotional aspects of your decision to divorce will help you understand yourself and if done correctly, help you grow.
Your first question is, “do I want to end my marriage?” You should do a thorough self-examination about how you are feeling, where those feelings are coming from and share any and all feelings and thoughts with your spouse. You don’t need your spouse’s permission to divorce but, you do owe your spouse the consideration of sharing your feelings about the marriage.
I encourage anyone considering divorce to not make a final decision without first seeking outside help from a therapist, clergy, marriage educator or coach. Some marital problems that seem insurmountable may be solved if you are willing to address them and seek help from a third party who is not invested in the situation.
You haven’t done yourself, your spouse or your marriage justice if you don’t first attempt to save your marriage. Only after all resources have been used should you take that final step toward divorce.
Your hard work attempting to save the marriage will arm you with lessons you can take into your new life should you divorce. The time spent understanding yourself and the dynamics of your marriage will make the divorce process go more smoothly. It will also help keep you from taking negative behaviors and skewed beliefs into any future relationships.
In every way, it is important to become attuned to the emotional aspect of divorce, painful as it may be. Divorce, like marriage, presents unique opportunities for self-understanding and healing.
Below is a checklist I will use to help you evaluate your desire for a divorce. I will discuss each individually in an attempt to help you set future goals and attain personal growth…whether that growth happens inside your marriage or outside.
Pay attention to each question and how you feel when answering them. Those feelings will help you gauge whether it is a divorce you want.
- I have accepted that my marriage is over.
- I am better off without my spouse.
- I am ready to leave my marriage
- I fully understand the reasons my marriage is over and the role I played.
- I am ready to invest emotionally and financially into becoming the person I would like to be.
- I understand the importance of becoming fulfilled as a single person before committing to a new relationship.
- I am emotionally strong enough to deal with any conflict that may occur between my spouse and I due to my decision to divorce.
I have accepted that my marriage is over.
Acceptance comes when you are at the “point of no return.” Of course, the decision to divorce is a personal one, only you know when you’ve reached the point when putting work into the marriage is simply not in the cards for you. If you answer yes to the following questions it might be time to let go and accept that you’ve done all you can, your marriage is over.
Am I better off without my spouse?
Am I better off without my spouse? That is the singular most important question you can ask yourself when trying to decide whether or not to divorce. When answering the question remember, the answer is not only about how you feel about your spouse or your spouse feels about you but how your total life will be different should you end the marriage.
There may not be a clear-cut answer to the above question, no automatic formula you can use when deciding whether or not to divorce. There are situations in which divorce is often the best solution, in which you will actually be better off without your spouse.
A divorce may be the best answer to marital problems if those problems are caused by a spouse who is abusive or has a drug, alcohol or gambling addiction. If you’ve found yourself in such a situation with a spouse who refuses to seek professional help for their abusive or addictive behavior there really isn’t a relationship worth saving.
Your own well-being can be an indication of whether or not you need to make changes via a divorce. If you are chronically sad, have trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing on day-to-day tasks you could possibly be suffering from depression.
Likewise, if you have developed problems with anxiety about things that never bothered you before or, you are constantly battling physical illnesses these are signs of trouble. The stress you feel due to marital problems may well be making you emotionally and physically ill.
For many who are contemplating divorce, there is not a single or dramatic incident or circumstance that leads to thoughts of divorce. For them, the problems in the marriage do not include abuse, addiction or stress related illnesses.
Instead, there may be a growing dissatisfaction or sense that the marriage just isn’t working and that the relationship is taking more out of them that it is giving back.
Barry Lubetkin and Elena Oumano wrote a book on the psychological aspects of divorce called Bailing Out. Early in the book they comment, “Bailing out when you know your relationship is no longer viable can be one of the most affirmative, liberating acts of one’s life. Bailing out can be a wonderful growth experience if you use this period of your life as a time to explore, discover, and evaluate beliefs that have determined your behavior. The irrefutable fact is that staying with someone in a miserable or indifferent relationship, whether in a marriage or a live-in situation, erodes your self-esteem.”
If you are able to honestly say to yourself that you would be better off without your spouse, advance planning before taking the step to divorce is to your advantage. It has been proven that the length of time between the decision to divorce and marital separation is associated with the ability to emotionally adjust to divorce.
In other words, the longer the period between the decision to divorce and separation, the better the emotional adjustment after the divorce.
In the end, do what you need to do to protect your ability to live a full and rewarding life. Seek your happiness at a reasonable pace, though. Don’t be in too much of a hurry or you may find divorce becomes a daily companion that holds you back instead of frees you up to move on.
Am I ready to leave?
Does every situation, no matter how seemingly trivial, evolve into a fight?
Do you or your spouse continually refer to hurtful events in the past?
Is all the respect gone from your relationship? Do you feel it is impossible to bring that respect back?
Have your goals and directions changed but spouses have stayed the same?
Is your spouse no longer encouraging your independence and individual growth?
Have you and your spouse both changed so much that you no longer share moral, ethical, or lifestyle values?
Have you and your spouse lost the art of compromise? When you disagree, are you unable to create a path together that is acceptable to both?
Do you and your spouse have a basic sexual incompatibility?
Do you feel completely unattracted to your spouse?
Despite help from a professional therapist, marriage educator or coach have you stopped making love, continued to argue and seen no change in the dynamics between the two of you?
The above questions focus on the negative aspects of the marriage. You can’t say for sure that you are ready for divorce without first taking into consideration any positive aspects. Conflict and frustration due to marital problems can skew our view of the benefits of marriage, especially when compared to some of the negative aspects of divorce.
Have you considered the following and come to terms with the changes divorce will mean in each situation?
If you have a child have you taken into consideration the possibility of becoming the primary caregiver on a day to day basis? For the custodial parent, divorce means parenting on your on for the majority of the time. It is an intense responsibility; truly single parenting is the hardest job one can do so think carefully before voluntarily taking on that responsibility.
On the other hand, if you are to become the non-custodial parent have you considered the pain to both you and your child of no longer being part of their daily life? For non-custodial parents, divorce means a part-time, every other weekend relationship with children. This should be your most important consideration before taking any steps toward divorce.
Divorce doesn’t only end the marriage; it changes relationships that were established due to the marriage.
Will you miss your in-laws and neighbors if you have to move, and any friends who could be considered his /her friends?
Finally, have you given any thought to the solitude and loneliness that come along with being newly single? It takes time to rebuild a life, in the beginning, there will be more solitude and time to yourself. If you are someone who doesn’t like time alone make sure you have a good support system of friends and family in place before moving on to divorce.
If you can honestly say that you’ve taken all the above into consideration and are sure you are ready for the next step then, you are at a point of acceptance, will be better off without your spouse and it's time to leave.
Did I play a role in the marital problems?
It takes two to make a marriage and two to break-up a marriage. Unless you are a victim of domestic abuse, you’ve played a role in the demise of your marriage. Take a look at your role in why the marriage is ending and own it. Don’t point fingers and blame your ex for all the problems.
Nothing is more unattractive than someone who plays the victim and nothing can hinder your ability to live a rewarding life than playing the role of a victim. Divorces are the result of hundreds of emotional wounds, loads of lying by omission and commission and the failure to nurture the relationship between husband and wife. Marriages don’t end abruptly, they erode over time. And although one or the other spouse may play a larger role in the demise of the marriage, both play a party to the situation.
It is common for people to hold onto one or two actions by the other spouse or some character flaw and use it against them to justify their desire for a divorce. Few are willing to accept responsibility for the role they played in the failure of the marriage. It is more comfortable if the failure was caused by the other spouse, it minimizes guilt, especially if you are the spouse asking for the divorce.
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Divorce is about taking apart something that was once precious to you. Do it with respect for all involved, respect for yourself and you will be able to move on with an open heart and no negative baggage.
Can I invest emotionally and financially?
The emotional and financial effects of “breaking up” can extend, 2, 4, 8 years into the future. How long your recovery takes depends on what stage of the emotional process you are in when the decision to divorce is made. Since divorce is not normally a decision both spouses come to, together it makes since that one spouse will be further along in the emotional process than the other. You may both go through the legal process of divorce at the same time but how you are feeling emotionally will vary.
It only makes sense that the spouse choosing to divorce will have a better chance of recovering more quickly both emotionally and financially.
Below is a look at what each gender may experience during and after a divorce.
- Women initiate divorce twice as often as men
- 90% of divorced mothers have custody of their children (even if they did not receive it in court)
- 60% of people under poverty guidelines are divorced women and children
- Single mothers support up to four children on an average after-tax annual income of $12,200
- 65% divorced mothers receive no child support (figure based on all children who could be eligible, including never-married parents, when fathers have custody, and parents without court orders); 75% receive court-ordered child support (and rising since inception of uniform child support guidelines, mandatory garnishment, and license renewal suspension)
- After divorce, women experience less stress and better adjustment in general than do men. The reasons for this are that (1) women are more likely to notice marital problems and to feel relief when such problems end, (2) women are more likely than men to rely on social support systems and help from others, and (3) women are more likely to experience an increase in self-esteem when they divorce and add new roles to their lives.
- Women who work and place their children in child care experience a greater stigma than men in the same position. Men in the same position often attract support and compassion.
- Men are usually confronted with greater emotional adjustment problems than women. The reasons for this are related to the loss of intimacy, the loss of social connection, reduced finances, and the common interruption of the parental role.
- Men remarry more quickly than women.
- Men are initially more negative about divorce than women and devote more energy in attempting to salvage the marriage.
- The positive effect of divorce on men’s finances is so significant that divorce can even lift them out of poverty, while women are far more likely to be plunged into destitution. When a father separates from the mother of his children his available income increases by around one third. Women, in contrast, suffer severe financial penalties
My suggestion, women, although your decision to divorce is most likely based on how you feel emotionally do not fail to take into consideration the financial implications of a decision to divorce. There is a myth floating around out there that women get alimony; the assets are split equitably and that an ex will be held responsible. Nothing could be further from the truth; once you are divorced an ex-husband is no longer responsible for your financial welfare.
Men, if you are thinking about divorce please consider the ramifications to your relationship with your children and the studies that have proven that marriage is far more beneficial to men than women. If you’ve made the decision to divorce seek 50/50 custody because quality time with your children can make the emotional adjustment easier to navigate.
Can I handle being alone?
When working with divorced clients I encourage them to not begin dating or thinking about a new relationship until they have recovered from the old relationship…the one they have just extracted themselves from.
Recovering from divorce takes time, however, it is important to know that you will recover and you will move on. Whether you move on to a better and more rewarding relationship is completely up to you.
The emotional upheaval you feel during and after divorce is an opportunity to grow as a person. Consider the first year after your divorce a time-out that offers you the opportunity to sow the seeds of your self-development. A time in which you give yourself the opportunity to emerge from the experience of divorce knowing yourself better and feeling stronger and more enthusiastic about what the future holds.
In order to fully recover from a divorce and move on with your life, you need to understand what went wrong in your marriage, acknowledge the role you played and change negative behaviors that could interfere with future relationships.
It is imperative that you fully accept and understand that you made choices in your marriage that had a negative effect on the marriage. You made mistakes; learning from those mistakes is the best way to not repeat them in future relationships.
Some questions to ask yourself before even thinking about dating or a new relationship:
- Step back and look at the big picture. How did you contribute to the problems of the relationship?
- Do you tend to repeat the same mistakes or choose the wrong person in relationship after relationship?
- Think about how you react to stress and deal with conflict and insecurities. Could you act in a more constructive way?
- Consider whether you accept other people the way they are, not the way you think they should be.
- Examine your negative feelings as a starting point for change. Are you in control of your feelings, or are they in control of you? Do you respond to circumstances based on emotions or logic?
I’m not suggesting you beat yourself up for mistakes you made or negative behavior traits but I do suggest you take an honest inventory and make constructive changes. The post-divorce healing process gives you an opportunity to learn more about yourself, how you relate to others, and the problems you need to work on.
If you can objectively examine your own choices and behaviors, including the reasons why you chose your ex, you’ll be able to see where you went wrong and make better choices in future relationships.
Can I handle conflict with my ex?
Divorce does not put an end to conflict. If you are leaving a marriage that is full of conflict, that conflict will follow you into your post-divorce life. You may no longer live in the same home but you can bet, if you were married to someone with anger management issues, you will continue to be the recipient of their anger. In some cases divorce can exacerbate the anger so for your sake it pays to have a plan for dealing with the conflict to come.
Even if you are lucky enough to have a civil relationship with your ex, there will be times when you don’t see eye to eye on issues such as child visitation, holiday schedules and such. Arming yourself with coping skills to use during periods of conflict is essential for those of you who have children and will be attempting to co-parent with your ex.
The following tips can help you keep conflict to a minimum and in some cases, resolve it all together.
- Try and respect your ex-spouse and his/her household. Find ways of being respectful rather than resentful. Do not personally criticize them, but don’t make excuses for their behavior either.
- Live by the divorce agreement reached between the two of you or, handed down by a Judge that addressed financial arrangements such as child support, spousal support or division of property. Do not let your attitude towards it, after the fact; taint your relationship with your ex or your children. If you came to an agreement with your ex, live up to that agreement. If you have a court order, follow that order. No amount of anger over financial issues is worth contaminating your relationship with your ex or your children.
- Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason you and your ex engage in conflict with one another. Do your part by in keeping down conflict by letting go of the past and living in the present.
- The two of you can make your children’s best interest common ground. If you are both focused on doing what is best for the children, there is less room for conflict.
- Try seeing stressful situations from your ex’s perspective. Every situation will require some give and take and it is easier to give a little if you can view the situation from the other person’s point of view.
- Always put your children’s needs before your own. You may not like you ex, may not want to be around him/her BUT your children love their other parent and it fills their hearts to see each parent get along with the other. Parents who manage to put their children’s needs first during and after divorce help minimize the negative effects of their divorce on the children.
- If all your efforts at having a civil relationship fails and you become afraid for your safety don’t hesitate to take out a restraining order or contact the domestic abuse hotline at 1−800−799-72533.
There is no shame in setting hard, cold boundaries and legally removing yourself from the vicinity of someone who is hell-bent on making your life miserable.
Effort on your part to build a new and productive relationship with your ex will help all involved in the healing process and to move forward with their lives. If your effort is thwarted, you should accept the reality of the situation…you do not have an ex that is interested in anything other than being angry. Move on, cut ties, do not engage when your buttons are pushed and send him/her a clear and loud message…if you can’t behave reasonably, I will have nothing to do with you.
The decision to divorce is usually an emotional decision
More often than not, those who divorce do so because their emotions are driving that decision. I personally feel that those emotions should be explored with eyes wide open. Divorce doesn’t rid us of negative emotions. If anything, divorce can heap more negativity on top of the emotions we are already experiencing.
I hope this article has helped you understand that even though divorce may seem like a good option, it can and does bring with it, a certain amount of heartache. I encourage anyone reading this to not move forward with a divorce until they are emotionally equipped to deal with the negative emotional aspects of getting a divorce.