All marriages have difficult times that at times can seem overwhelming and confusing. We all ask the question about whether or not it is worth the efforts to stay married. The question of, “Should I stay or should I go” weighs heavily on us. Sometimes, we end up stuck with the conflicting thought that our partner is too good to leave, but too bad to stay.
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When we go through rough times, everything about the other person bothers us. It almost does not matter what the other person does, we tend to find fault with it. In the past we may have ignored certain issues. However, under stress, we find ourselves annoyed and irritated by what the other person does or does not do. In fact, there is no way that the other person could ever do anything right because we tend to be looking for the one thing that justifies our rage and upset with them!
When things are going wrong, we start to dwell on the faults of the other person. In fact, what initially attracted us to the person now seems not to be that cute anymore. So we go on obsessing, thinking, and building up a case for why we cannot be with this person any more. We lose our trust in them; become irritated by each thing they say and do, and resent that we are stuck with them.
At the same time, we start to fantasize about what it is that we could have. We wonder if we have been wasting our time when something better might be out there for us. We look at our age and think that we made a mistake because we were either (1) too young; (2) too trusting; (3) too insecure to take chances; (4) too whatever. We then think that we have little time left to become fully happy in life and we should not waste it on the present situation. So we continue to fantasize and fantasize about what could be, how it could be, and think about how to find that other person out there for us. Sometimes, we let our fantasies run wild even before the divorce and start to look for someone else to fill that role so that we are safe before we leave. This is when divorce affairs happen because we want to play it safe by having someone there for us before we end the present relationship. However, research shows that these relationships rarely work out for the long-term (one of the reasons for the high divorce rate in second marriages). The real reality is that after a divorce it takes months, if not years, to meet someone else. It also takes a lot of work and effort; more than what it would take to work on the present marriage.
Unless your marriage is hopeless, abusive, controlling, etc., or the other person is unwilling, and strongly opposed, to work on the relationship, assume you’re just going through the “grass is greener” syndrome. Step back and think why you feel so upset and threatened. Many times it is not just what the other person is doing. It is something about you that you need to work on, to conquer, to resolve. Take a deep breath and step back for a second, or longer, for the emotions to pass. Don’t make a life-long decision in the midst of a huff or to prove yourself in some manner. Let go of your ego and slow down. Know that struggles are a normal part of any relationship. Know that the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is that there is a willingness to work on things and solve things by one and not the other. Strong people have problems. The difference is that they admit it and then go to finding solutions.
Maybe you are both just stressed out. Has other commitments, such as work, kids, friends, etc., gotten in the way of your spending the time you should with your mate. Have you avoided having time for a good vacation away together to just relax and not feel the pressures of everyday life. Have you really tried everything? Understand that each of us goes through periods of struggles in which neither of us are good mates to the other. We are usually more tolerant of our personal struggles than we are of the ones faced by our mates.
Stop and think why you first married the other person. Think of when you first met. Make a list of the good qualities of the other person and start to focus on them. Many times it is simply a matter of changing your attitude, not the marriage, that is the key to making things better. Some changes will take time and effort for a longer period of time than you would like. However, if it is something that both of you are willing to work on then it might be worth it. Everything is a risk in life. Trust is a risk in life. Nothing is perfect and no one is perfect. We each need to grow and change in better ways. However, we grow through our struggles. Running from what we fear is not the way to grow and mature beyond our old fears and problems. Facing them, solving them, and finding new ways of being are the keys to maturity and growth.
How Do I Come to Terms with my Divorce?
If you do end up getting divorced, the loss of this relationship will be a very difficult time for all concerned. It brings out many emotions, causes much confusion, and affects children, adults, parents, and the community. Relationships are important to our lives and it is difficult for us to experience the loss of them. As we experience the changes of divorce, it is important that we understand what has happened. Divorce happens for many reasons:
- Because the relationship was not right from the beginning.
- Because the other person refused to grow in the relationship, did not do their part, was more dependent on their spouse, and not focused in developing personally or vocationally, etc..
- Because it was a one sided relationship where one did all the work and growth and the other withdrew (a Co-Dependent relationship).
- Because one member becomes too controlling.
- Because one member was defensive, blaming, and condemning.
- Because one member was not available emotionally.
- Because one member was abusive, emotionally/verbally,/physically to the spouse or others.
- Because one member was spoiled and wanted it their way.
- Because the partners were immature and not ready for a relationship.
- Because of affairs or other excessive, and addictive, behaviors.
- Because both, or either one, would not work on the marriage.
- Because of one’s own self-centered needs, lack of patience to work it out, and desire for a quick exit.
- Because of Chemical Abuse issues that distorts the relationship.
- For many other reasons.
What Can be Learned From Divorce
Fear is a key feature that causes problems in the world–we run from things we fear. Aloneness is another fear that pushes us into relationships too fast, or stops us from leaving bad relationships. Don’t rush into another relationship right away. It is critical that one learn to experience the full four seasons of the year separate from a relationship to grow, experience, know, and feel what it is like to start over again and find yourself. Rushing this will cause problems for the new relationship and for you. New relationships should not start until one year AFTER the final divorce decree–not before. Second marriages fail more frequently than first ones because they are usually rushed into too soon because people are afraid of being alone and need a security blanket in order to make the transition out of fear.
Intimacy, or connecting to another human, is something we need yet we also fear it. Being alone is the most important thing that we can learn to do so we can connect to others from a place of love and not from a place of need. To love we first need to learn to be alone with ourselves! Reaching Out to Others is hard to do because of shyness, fears, etc, but it is a necessary quality of growing into a healthy human being. I Count is an important statement to make even if one is not in a relationship.
Learning to Live Day by Day is important. We do not always have to have something happening. We need to know how to get up, work, come home, have fun, relate to people–not focused on aloneness. Learn from Practice People how to relate to others. Everyone you meet is a practice person. Don’t date to marry. Date and relate to practice and to get to know others–many others so you know what you want and feel comfortable with in life. You can make choices later.
Anger and Being a Victim are normal for brief periods, but it is important to refocus yourself on how can I use this experience to grow. Don’t get stuck in being upset, angry, and feeling sorry for yourself. Let go of being angry, feeling sorry for yourself, and asking the stupid question of WHY! This is just the way it is. Accept it and focus on moving on with your life! Otherwise, you will always be stuck, incompetent, and lost!
I can handle it should be your favorite phrase. Believe that no matter what happens you can handle it. Change is a Process that happens over time–Give it time. Don’t panic or rush to solve it. See it as a process. There may be the excitement of a new relationship and the desire to have it cover the hurt of the lost relationship. However, this covering will explode later. We have to feel in order to heal, even though such feelings can be painful.
Remember, the children still need parents. They need structure more at the point that things are falling apart. They act out more to see if the parent can help provide the structure. When in a crisis we tend to think of surviving and forget others. Don’t do this to your kids—no matter where they are living. Children need both parents. Don’t play the kids by having them take sides, tell you things about your ex-mate, etc.. Respect the child’s need for needing to maintain the relationship with both parents. Don’t take your anger out on the children! We get upset that they are not behaving well and so over-react. Everyone is in a crisis. Slow down. Be the adult. Don’t blame or get mad at others. Step back and think what needs to be done as the parent to help stabilize the situation for all concerned.
Most importantly, take care of yourself! Keep up some structure, go to work, take care of business, shower, shave, get out of the house, and function. If you stop doing things, do dumb things like taking drugs or alcohol, stop going into work, and give up then you will keep falling down further and further and no one can help you. You have to help yourself!
The Emotions Of Divorce
The emotional resolution after a breakup requires years of challenging recovery work.The rift of divorce creates a psychological sense of dislocation for all parties–for spouses & children. A marriage is an extremely emotionally close relationship that is part of one’s identity as a person.With a divorce, part of one’s identity is ripped away in an emotionally painful way.
All of this requires a process of grief and loss feelings that take time to work through over and over again. Negative, problem, reactions to the separation, such as jealousy, fights, or even suicide attempts, crimes, etc., represent attempts to alleviate this ripping dislocation of the self by remaining enmeshed, even in negative ways, emotionally with the other person. It is critical to examine one’s reactions in order to make positive and realistic adjustments at this difficult time.
Watch out for your needs pushing you to do dumb things. When in a crisis we want quick solutions. We look for quick comforts and get into bad relationships and situations just to feel better. Don’t let this happen to you! Slow down. It is okay to feel scared, lonely and unsure for a while. It will get better!
Avoid becoming a dependent, helpless person, who is not able to do anything without having to rely on other people to bail one out because one is so helpless or unable to do for themselves. Focus on doing one thing at a time; putting one foot in front of you at a time. Don’t let the whole picture of what needs to be done overwhelm you. Start with one thing, one area, one pile of stuff, at a time and do it! Remember, we only respect those people who take care of themselves and are responsible for themselves. We avoid complaining, helpless ones, who feel sorry for themselves!
How Divorce Affects Children
Divorce is difficult for all concerned. The adults are hurt, defensive, confused, frightened, and respond by a desire to for revenge and defensiveness. Children are confused and uncertain about what to do or where they belong. Understanding a few factors is critical to everyone’s continuing healthy development.
Remember: Children Are Not Adults
Children as not little adults who understand things the same as real adults do. Children tend to interpret what is happening to them in terms of their immediate lives. Children have little understanding of the future and tend to live in the present. They tend to hold magical beliefs that influence their thinking and behaviors. They also believe that their are either the cause, or that they can influence, the factors that can resolve the divorce situation. Children frequently will only tell their parents what the parent wants to hear. Children can be influence by how the parents handle the divorce situation.
Stern Wisdom for Divorcing Parents
Ann Landers presented a column about what Judge Michael Hass of Cass County, Minnesota told divorcing parents:
“Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault. No matter what you think of the other party, or what your family thinks of the other party, these children are one half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an ‘idiot’ his father is, or what a ‘fool’ his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are tell the child that half of him is bad […] That is unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions […] I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves. And make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer.”
Anger and Divorce
One major problem in parents being able to deal with their children is related to their continuing anger at the other parent. There is a sense of upset about the fact that the marriage did not work. There is a tendency to blame one or the other parent for the fact that things did not work out. One parent feels rejected and the other feels that the other is incompetent. Both feel angry over what has happened.
Though there is always an element in truth in all the statements about the other person, it is important to remember that both individuals contributed to the problem in some manner. What has to happen is that the parents have to step back from their upset and sense of rejection in order to focus on what is important now in life.
What both parents will always share is their child. The focus needs to be on helping the child. Parents should never question children about the other parent. Nor should they find fault with the other parent while in front of the children. Parents should always honor the other parent to the child. Parents need to remember that the child will always be loyal to both parents and this is the way it should be.
The child needs both parents and the parents working together even if the parents are not together any more. Step-parents should also examine their own attitudes toward the child and the other parent in order to not cause problems for the child. The parents need to examine their attitudes toward the step-parent in order to not hurt their child. When there is a divorce there will be other people involved with the child.
All adults should work together to help the child grow into the persons they were meant to be in life. The adults need to know that the child may act out their emotions in different ways with the different adults that they are with at any minute. The focus should be on helping the child to contain their emotions in positive ways so that appropriate boundaries and limits are established.
The child needs to know that they can be upset, grieve the loss, talk of the changes, and be able to share their emotions in appropriate ways. The child needs to know that the adults are there to help the child in managing the situation in appropriate and healthy ways. Spoiling the child, helping them to take sides, feeling sorry for them, pumping them for information, etc., will only hurt the child in the long run. The focus should be on helping the child learn to be part of a full family even though it has changed, separated, expanded with new members, or whatever.
Clarify the Issues First
Many of the tensions of a divorce can be resolved if the parents would clarify ahead of time the manner and ways in which they will interact around the children. It takes time to talk out these issues together, each giving a little, to insure that they can work together. This should not be who is right, or who has the right, but more focused on how things can work so that there are no misunderstandings later.
How you work this out should not be done from the standpoint of punishing the other person for the failure of the relationship. It should be worked out so that each clearly knows how they will interact with the children after the divorce. Have these issues spelled out in the divorce decree so it is clear. Find ways that these issues can be flexible so that one does not have to rigidly hold to a certain way of doing things because that is the way it just is. The focus should not be on who is right but on what is best for the children.
Understand that children can split parents and play one against the other in ways that are not helpful to them. Know that children need parents to be united when it comes to working with the kids. Find ways that you can both support each other in some manner. If you spell things out ahead of time things will be better for all concerned. Even if a couple cannot remain married, they can remain adult and friendly because they do share the children in common and the goal should be to give the children the best for life, not which parent is the best!
Let go of anger, bitterness, and resentment. Let go of your own unresolved issues from your own childhood and parents that may influence how you respond in the present. Focus instead on issues of growth and insure that the children have two mature parents who will be the parents the children realistically need. Help to focus on how to help the children remain children and not have to be little adults to the parents or younger siblings. Let go of who is right.
Establish ways of resolving conflicts and differences ahead of time so that there are ways of working them out later when tensions, misunderstandings, and confusions arise. If possible, take a parenting class to find a way to have a common language in which to discuss the children together. What works best for any family is when the parents are united even when they are separated physically. Know that this will not always be easy. However, know that you focus on what is right for the children; not using the children to focus on what the adults feel.
Use “Crisis Theory”
Crisis theory says that when we are in a crisis we tend to regress to previous levels of dysfunction and functioning. As a result, it is important at the time of the crisis to not focus on all the other issues that are involved. What is important is to put one foot in front of another, focusing on one day at a time. What do you need to do now. What do you need to do tomorrow. You can later work on the other issues. The focus needs to be on stabilizing the situation first.
When in a crisis we start to think of all of the problems and all that needs to be solved. All this does is to overwhelm the situation and confuse the situation. Focus instead on the concrete things that need to happen now. Write down steps and what needs to be accomplished each day. Know that some things will take time to resolve. Don’t try to solve everything now or to rush decisions that seem to be taking too long.
Avoid complicating your decisions. Stay away from chemicals such as alcohol and drugs which offer quick solutions and make one feel better for the moment. Don’t start fights to release pressures held inside just to feel better. That only causes more fighting and bitterness. Slow things down, focus on what you can control, let go of what you cannot control, and do what it is that you need to do for the moment. Let go of your being embarrassed, feeling vulnerable, and accept where things are at right now.
How Will I Know When I am Ready to Date Again?
After a painful divorce or if a relationship falls apart, it is important that we take a honest look and understand why the relationship fell apart to ensure that we are whole and ready before we can be a good partner to someone else.
Getting involved in a new relationship or getting re-married because you are bored or lonely will only ensure the same disaster and heartache that you have already experienced. We do this to avoid struggling, growing and learning to live as a whole person. Before you start a new relationship, make certain to ask yourself these important questions:
- Have I forgiven my former spouse as well as myself?
- Have I experienced being successfully single for all the seasons of the year?
- Am I still playing get even games with my former spouse?
- When someone asks me about my divorce, do I have a hard time recalling events and situations?
- Do I think of myself as a divorced person?
- Has my self-esteem grown measurably over the past year?
- Do I enjoy my work?
- Do people tell me they can’t believe how well I am doing?
- Am I always looking for a potential mate?
- Am I comfortable doing things by myself?
- Am I haunted by loneliness?
- Do I enjoy making my own decisions?
- Am I okay with coming home at the end of the day and spending the evening by myself?
- Do I resent the word single?
- Am I envious when I see happily married people?
- Can I measure my growth since I became single?
- Am I looking for someone to take care of me?
- Am I looking to take care of someone?
- Do I enjoy hearing other people’s divorce war stories?
- Do I believe I can be a good wife or husband for someone?
- Do I still largely fear marriage?
- Do I feel comfortable with my singleness?
- Am I excited about possible career advancements or changes?
- Do I usually wait for someone to tell me what to do?
- Am I angry that I am single at this point in my journey through life?
- Am I still bitter about my divorce?
- Do I feel good about my personal growth and accomplishments?
- Do I make plans and work towards goals in my life?
- Do I think that all men/woman have a hidden agenda in remarriage?
- Do I believe I am lovable?
- Do I believe I can contribute to the happiness of another person?
- Am I a happy person?
- Have I forgiven myself for my contributions to my divorce, regardless of what other people think?
- Is my lifestyle mergeable with another?
If children are involved, the issue becomes more complicated. Children of divorce tend to show more emotional and aggressive problems. There are ways of developing preventive programs that parents and others can use to help children cope with a major disruption in their feelings of security, trust and consistency when divorce happens. In fact, children are good actors in that they pretend that everything is normal, even though they tend to continue having poorer adjustments even into adulthood compared to their peers. Some of the problem may be related to the fact that the parents are modeling ineffective coping techniques themselves which provides a poor example for their children.
These are important questions to consider as you walk towards new relationships. It’s helpful to talk these over with a counselor or therapist in order to look at the areas that you need to work on and consider. Remember, it is okay to be single. Many people in a relationship can still end up being lonely. A relationship does not cure or make you whole; you must be whole before you are a worthwhile partner to someone else.
What Makes a Relationship Last?
Psychologists have studied couples for years in order to find out what makes for a lasting relationship. However, predicting what is going to work “before” the marriage is more difficult. Ted Huston, Ph.D. found that marriages fall into four distinct groups: Married and happy; married and unhappy; divorced early, within seven years, or divorced later, after seven years. Ultimately, the distinguishing factor between those who divorced and those who remained married was noted in the amount of change in the fist two years of the marriage.
These people were as happy and “in love” as newlyweds. They had less mixed feelings, and expressed negative feelings less often than others. They viewed their mates more positively than other couples. Most importantly, these feelings remained stable over time.
These couples were less affectionate toward each other. They became less loving, more negative, and more critical of their spouse. The loss of the initial levels of love and affection, rather than conflict, was the most important predictor of distress and divorce. This loss sets the downward spiral which leads to increasing bickering and fighting.
What Does This Mean?
The loss of intimacy early on in the relationship is the most critical factor. When people are first close, they feel much validation from each other. It feels like their partner is the only one who sees things the way they do. When this feeling fades, it takes a heavy and fatal toll on the marriage. This then becomes the “disillusionment stage.”
Lovers initially put their best foot forward, ignoring shortcomings of the other and the relationship. However, after the marriage, “hidden” personality traits come out and the idealized images give way to reality. When this happens there is much disappointment, loss of love, distress and divorce. This is especially important for couples who “stop” doing much to “work on the relationship” after they “have it,” expecting that things will just move along fine without any work on their part, which is a big mistake.
Most importantly, the research showed that marriages that started out “less Hollywood Romance types” usually had a more promising future. This is because when we “expect perfect romance” we are frequently disappointed because reality sets in. In whirlwind ( and short) romances, it is easy to be unrealistic and paint rosy pictures of the relationship that cannot be sustained. Another danger sign for a relationship is a courtship filled with drama, crises and driven by external circumstances and stressors.
First, be aware that divorce is associated with increased feelings of disillusionment, regardless of the cause.
Happy marriages are characterized by the “enduring dynamics model.” In this model, the partners establish patterns of behaviors early and maintain them over time. They focus on things that help to stabilize the relationship. They have “lower levels of expectations” across the board. In other words, their discontent does not “spill over” into other areas of their marriage.
The happy couples understand that the euphoria of the honeymoon will not last and that there is a natural transition from the “romantic” to the “working partnership. When conflict does arise, they defuse it in positive and constructive ways. They were good friends, enjoyed doing things with each other, and found ways to share time in activities that helped the “relationship grow.” They also enjoy talking to each other.
The indicators of a bad marriage are usually present before the wedding if only people will pay attention to the “patterns” instead of ignoring them. If one feels that they have to “force it” then something is not right.
Our culture puts forth the “story book romances filled with passion.” This is unrealistic and puts couples under such pressure that they become unhappy at trying to maintain this unrealistic, unsustainable “Hollywood” passion. No one can control the other one. All we can do is be realistic, and learn how to deal with real daily problems, because they will come!