When divorce is an option…

Before beginning my journey as a trainee therapist and seeing clients, the only marriage issues that I was openly presented with was that of my parents, a few friends, and my very own relationship. Every now and then I would see the glimmer of personal struggles shared by couples around me, but as most of us do, our masks are quickly readjusted to try our best to maintain public perception.

When I think back to those final months before marriage, now on the way to our 5-year anniversary, one thing I do remember is my optimism. I didn’t know what life had planned for us both, but I believed that we would be just fine as long as we had each other! We were a team after all, and the success of the team is defined by the attitude of its members. For me, choosing to get married was confirmation of both of our commitment to one another, and to our team. If someone had sat me down during that time and asked me whether I had seriously considered what divorce would mean for us both, I would have come up with a diplomatic response before repeating five words to myself:

Divorce is not an option…

Rewind to our premarital counselling, which is part of the preparation for couples during engagement that is encouraged by our church, and I remember when we were both asked to consider what it would mean if God made it plain to us that marriage in fact wasn’t the appropriate next step. I had never thought about this, but answered in a matter of fact way at that time – I would have to listen.

In truth, when you commit to join a relationship to begin with prior to engagement or marriage, you are already connecting your life to someone else’s in a way that differentiates from every other relationship in your life. Speaking from experience, it’s hard enough to separate from someone who you have invested part of your life into forming a connection with even if you aren’t married! I know I’m not the only one…

As humans, we are wired for connection. Connection means survival. This is a biological need, and something that is entirely out of our control.

Any form of relationship is a basic need (as long as we have a connection e.g., parents, family, friends, colleagues, social groups), but when we connect with someone else romantically, our brain responds in a way that gives us the very best chance of connection – and long-term connection at that! Have you ever felt like “you can’t get that person off your mind?” or “they are the perfect person for you?” – that’s all down to biology. In short, the more your brain focuses on the positives and locks into that person to build the initial bond, the greater your chance of long-term connection, safety and ultimately survival.

Now considering this in the context of separation, you can see why it is a lot harder said than done when telling a person to “just leave” or that “he/she is no good for you and you need to move on”. We are going against the force of our innate need for connection when we do.

For myself, growing up in a home where my parents ultimately divorced, I have always maintained that this was the best decision they made for the sake of one another, myself and siblings. I know that as a result of that decision, they were both subject to criticism – especially where church and perspectives on divorce are concerned, but no one else could form a valid opinion based on the lived experience of our family. Day in and day out, that was my reality and continues to live out as my trauma, and I know that my parents remaining within the marriage for the sake of us as children (which is a common trap couples fall into) would have in fact been highly destructive for us all.

My own experience, understandably, created such a fear of divorce. The fear of finding the “wrong” person. The fear of “failing”. The fear of ending up just like my parents…

This fear played out in every aspect of my life without me even realising. From the way I would approach potential relationships to my own experience within relationships – my underlying fear fed into the person I was. That is until my own journey as a client attending therapy, and being able to discover this connection and understand my behaviour. This happened at a time when myself and my husband were facing our own marriage struggles (we all have them!), and facing this head on led to such moments of healing for me that enabled me to move forward without that fear I had carried from my parents’ experiences of divorce.

I always believed that divorce was not an option, until it was. Until I saw myself faced with the reality of what divorce means, and why it happens.

No one gets married with the intention to get divorced, but when issues are consistently avoided and cracks within the marriage are left unresolved, a breakdown is inevitable. In truth, many people are living separate lives while “married” on paper. The saying, “you never know what happens behind closed doors” comes to mind. Unless you have the experience of living behind those doors with them, please don’t be fooled into thinking that you truly know the reality of a couple’s marriage otherwise.

I have sat through many experiences when couples who state that they have been married for many years are asked “what is your secret?”, as though the number of years defines the quality of the marriage. The more I understand the reality of marriage, the more this misconception makes me uncomfortable.

The quality of marriage is not defined by the number of years that have passed since your wedding day, but by the people that you have become since that day.

Many of us are hanging onto our marriages for the sake of our children, for fear of what others would say about us, or maybe our own trauma connected to perceptions about divorce, but this always comes at the expense of our own wellbeing.

Facing my own fears about divorce has taught me that separation is just as much an important consideration as the marriage itself, and instead of causing me to feel less committed in any way, it has instead freed me to commit to my marriage in ways I couldn’t appreciate before. Now I see even more vividly how the decision for both of us to show up and be present in this marriage is a personal choice.

Every moment of every day presents us with a choice, and by choosing and actively desiring to be a part of the team, you strengthen the bond.

Someone who feels like they have to be part of a team will show up very differently to someone who desires to be there…

When you can face your fears surrounding divorce and separation, you open yourself up to the potential to build from where you are in your existing marriage.

Talking about divorce doesn’t lead to divorce unless the conversations are consistently weaponised and used in a threatening way.

Healing can come from these conversations – especially if your own parents have walked this road. Awareness can come from these conversations – confronting the issues that you are currently facing in your marriage and seeking help where required. Compassion can come from these conversations – extending greater appreciation to those around you who have gone through a divorce, and being able to listen without judgement. This has been true for me, and I believe that unpacking this taboo topic can result in truth for you too.

YOUR THOUGHTS

What is your attitude towards divorce? This is likely to be an area that you may be challenged by, or you might be actively trying to avoid thinking about. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to explore this topic further and begin confronting any fears of your own:

  1. What comes to mind when you think about your own definition of divorce?
  2. How have your own parents’ experience, or experiences of those close to you, impacted your view of divorce? How?
  3. Why do you think it is so hard to have conversations about divorce?
  4. What fears do you have about divorce that may be impacting your marriage?
  5. When was the last time you had a conversation with your partner about both of your perspectives on divorce?

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