I have often wondered about the impact of bringing up the subject of divorce, and if once spoken, whether it makes consideration of breaking up more imaginable. Haven’t you thought about this? Haven’t you heard couples hurl the word back and forth like a poisonous barb?
Is it an empty threat?
Is it an attempt to punish?
Is it a means, psychologically speaking, to begin processing the concept?
The word “divorce” was never uttered during the course of my marriage, to the best of my recollection. For me, divorce was unthinkable, and I was under the impression that my spouse felt the same. I was convinced when we married that anything – anything at all – that would pose differences or challenges would be faced squarely by the two of us.
My expectations of our ability to communicate were far from the reality of our situation. We were equally unskilled and unaware in this area.
My expectations of family responsibilities and career, what we now refer to as work-life balance, couldn’t have been more off; use of the euphemistic “discordant expectations in marriage” hardly seems sufficient.
And still, for more than a decade, I was sure that nothing would break up our family.
Obviously, as I am divorced, I was wrong.
Is Divorce Contagious?
When divorce was occasionally mentioned, it was in the context of others we knew who were splitting up. Like most married couples, our social circle was comprised of other twosomes, and specifically, other parents with children of similar age.
However, my closest friends included women who had never married and two divorced moms. I was never concerned that divorce was “contagious” and nor did I envy their so-called freedom. Rather, I was clear on the burdens they carried financially, and in terms of juggling kids and jobs.
I say as much because often I was the backup when their childcare arrangements fell through. I was able to manage that assist because I worked from a home office. My own children, even when I was married, were accustomed to a schedule that involved me getting them to school, coming home to work, picking them up, then returning home to my office as they played through the afternoon. The resulting “Don’t Disturb Mom Unless There’s Blood” Rule was always firmly followed.
Mentioning Divorce: Bad Idea?
As for bringing up divorce, I never did and nor did my spouse.
Psychology Today weighs in on the topic with this:
“Don’t bring up divorce as an attempt to punish, shape up, or shake up the other person. And don’t feel compelled to mention divorce simply because it passes through your head now and then.”
The article goes on to suggest that many fantasize about separation or divorce, but that doesn’t mean they really want it.
Psychology Today also tells us that if you’re seriously considering it “you owe your partner honesty.” In an ideal world, I would agree. But we all know there are many circumstances in which that isn’t advisable as a matter of protecting oneself and one’s children physically, emotionally, and financially.
Tiptoeing Around Troubles
When it comes to the troubles in my marriage, I tended to tiptoe around the issues, wary of confrontation. That included his years of traveling, which meant considerable time apart. While I felt the growing distance between us, I was certain we would eventually sort it out.
I admit that any potentially rock-the-boat conversation could be painfully uncomfortable. My ex is a “my way or the highway” sort of guy, and fierce when it comes to debate or disagreement. So I must fess up to avoiding confrontation as a result. Expressing that I felt I was making the majority of compromises – to the detriment of my personal finances, my career, my personal goals, even my health – was something I was afraid to broach.
I may have wondered about how much sacrifice was “normal” in marriage, but I set those thoughts aside and I surely never considered divorce. I told myself I had made my bed, and consequently, I would lie in it.
The Dangers in the D-Word
As for the D-word, I’ve watched with interest over the years in the “real world” and on television, as couples pull divorce into conversation in anger, which I can only think means that somehow, somewhere, in some way, it is bubbling up in their psyches whether they admit to it or not.
Perhaps it finds its way to the surface as a precursor to discussing it in more serious ways. Perhaps it makes the idea of it more palatable. But why bring up divorce when you would never carry through? As for me, if I had done so and years before we began to crumble, would that have been a wake-up call to either one of us that we had problems we had to deal with? If I had brought it up or even said the word aloud, might it have prepared me psychologically for the painful years that followed?