Are you really ready for a Divorce?
By Bruce Derman, Ph.D. and Wendy Gregson, MS, LMFT
Your marriage is in question and you're facing a real dilemma.
You may be the one who is deciding should you stay or should
"I feel like I need to get a divorce and 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 him or
at least I care for him. I don't think I am in love with him,
but what if I make a mistake. A lot of people will be affected
by what I decide. Maybe I should not rush ahead with this. That's
amusing since I have been thinking about it for three years.
This whole thing wouldn't even be an issue and I could forget
about this divorce, if he would just change his behavior."
Or you may be the one who has just heard that your spouse wants
"Divorce? Where did that come from? Two weeks ago we were
talking about a vacation in the mountains. I had no idea our
marriage was this awful? I am shocked and devastated. I have
got to find a way to put a stop to this. Maybe this is all a
dream and when I wake up things will be back to normal."
Most books and articles on divorce are written based on the
assumption that once a couple says they want a divorce that
they are ready for divorce. It is our experience as therapists
and divorce coaches, who have helped many people through this
process that this is in fact not the case. Usually when couples
begin the divorce process, either one but more often than not,
both, are not really ready for the divorce.
Divorce professionals such as therapists, mediators and attorneys
often believe that statements such as, "I've had it with
him." or "My feelings have died for her," are
indicators that the marriage is over. Attorney's often equate
being hired for their services as an indicator that the couple
is ready to divorce. This is not so.
Most couples who begin a divorce are unprepared and are often
not even on the same page when they begin. It is this lack of
preparedness and readiness for a divorce that either causes
marriages to end prematurely or divorces to deteriorate into
The decision to obtain a divorce is one of the most crucial
decisions a person can make with consequences that last for
years or a lifetime. A decision this important requires much
greater attention than it is usually given by both couples and
professionals. It is a process in and of itself. Once a couple
is prepared and ready, they will sooner be able to begin their
divorce by both being on the same page and this will eliminate
most of the emotional and financial struggles that cause divorces
to become adversarial and ruthless.
The reason many people do not even think about getting ready
for a divorce is because they operate under the assumption that
the sooner you can get out of a stressful situation the better.
So there is a natural tendency for people who are in difficult
marriages to want 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. They hurt for the family and so
also prescribe to the myth that the quicker the divorce is over,
the sooner everything will return to normal. But unfortunately
in most cases just the opposite happens. Couples who make rushed
decisions to leave the marriage have had no 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 need to make.
Quite often they make agreements which they cannot sustain,
and instead of the situation getting better, they often find
that they have just traded one set of problems for another.
So it is no wonder that they often get tangled up in lengthy
court cases and the very thing they hoped for, a quick divorce,
often takes years.
This article outlines what couples need to do in order to face
the numerous dilemmas that are inherent in divorce. A dilemma
implies that you are torn between two choices, each of which
have undesirable fearful elements. If people have not resolved
their dilemmas before the divorce, they go through the process
trying to manage their fear in different ways by hiding their
doubt, responsibility; vulnerability, or dependency . Whether
a couple is starting the divorce process or even just contemplating
a divorce, they need to first identify with the following divorce
The Three Divorce Dilemmas
Couples who are facing the possibility of a divorce face one
of three dilemmas:
ONE: 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, nor driven by your ego.
TWO: I do not want the divorce, my spouse
does. Being in this reactive place will leave you feeling out
of control and a helpless victim. 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
staying on familiar, safe ground and to a marriage based on
illusions. It is not easy to acknowledge and confront the problems
in a marriage, when you are feeling so hurt by your partner.
THREE: 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 seeing your partner
to blame 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, and a continuation of the blaming.
The common element in all three dilemmas is fear. In the first
group there is a fear of making a mistake and being incorrect,
the second will hide from it by denying that there are any problems
or admitting their attachment to the familiar and the third
group will fear any accountability and softness. The result
in all three circumstances will be dragging, combative, and
back and forth divorces.
For divorce to be a collaborative and respectful process, the
couple must be prepared and ready to separate their lives on
all levels; legally, practically and emotionally. To do this
each person must face their divorce dilemma by answering the
following eight questions.
The Eight Questions
1. Do you still have feelings for your partner?
Many people who say they want a divorce still have strong feelings
for their partner, but due to an ongoing power struggle in the
relationship there is a lack of intimacy and closeness. If this
is you, it is best that you work on your relationship prior
to deciding to divorce otherwise your feelings of loss will
overwhelm you and you may find yourself worse off after the
divorce than you are now.
2. Were you ever really married?
To be really married, a couple must have created a relationship
that included an "us" or a "we." Many people
who are considering a divorce have never had a marriage that
was anything more than two individuals meeting their own needs.
They may have raised children and shared a home but they participated
in those activities from a competitive rather than unified position.
They would ask -- "Do I want to do this or that",
rather than ask "Is this good for us?" If you have
not developed a genuine "we" in your relationship
this would be the time to either commit to learning how to do
that or to admit that you have never really had a marriage.
3. Are you truly ready for divorce or are you just
Divorce is often threatened, especially in heated marital arguments
for the following reasons: