As a marriage counselor, I’m asked if couples are really helped by therapy. The truth in my practice is that I don’t know. I have not performed outcome studies. My perception of the outcome is skewed because couples who seek my help are motivated. Couples who have predetermined they want a divorce don’t often present themselves in my office. I’ve seen marriages that appeared emotionally dead, spring to life. I’ve also seen marriages that appeared quite healthy, choose to divorce. I cannot predict with certainty which couples will buckle down and adopt suggested changes or practice the assigned techniques. I’d like to believe that the majority of couples I’ve counseled improve their skills and stay together, but I don’t know what happens after they stop sessions.
I had written a column in May of 2015 titled “Is It Time to Move On?” In it I laid out indications that it is time to move on from an unsatisfying job or marriage. Bottom line reasons follow:
When the situation consistently causes more pain than joy.
When you feel angry and resentful more days than not.
When you have made yourself small to accommodate an intolerable situation.
When the situation is killing your spirit – causing depression, anxiety or medical illness.
When you act against your core values and lose respect for yourself.
When you have tried everything to fix the situation, and there are no options left.
When you have exhausted your options and turn to irresponsible activities like the use of alcohol or drugs to numb yourself.
When you feel abused by the situation.
If the answer to one of these is resoundingly yes, you would likely be happier if you divorce. If you determine that you should move on, you may still lack the emotional where-with-all to do so.
Divorce is a traumatic event. Some traumas do not heal with time. It has been said, “Time heals all wounds.” Rose Kennedy does not agree. “The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue, and the pain lessens. But it is never gone”. The truth is that some things that happen to us will never heal. Relational brokenness is no less significant than physical brokenness. We may never be quite the same.
It is unfortunate that we are forced to make significant life decisions when in our most vulnerable state. Friends may recommend you find an aggressive attorney, your family may determine that your once loved partner and valued in-law is an abusive person. Your friends take sides, some leaving you alone and lonely. Divorce can be ugly for couples who fight over children or finances. If the soured relationship isn’t enough cause for depression, a long and protracted divorce could cause PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms in which you are left embittered and seething with revenge.
So here’s what I recommend to people in this vulnerable state. Start with your values and make your desired outcomes secondary. Reflect on what is important to you and how you want to carry yourself through the process. For example, you may aspire to be fair, to be kind, to be brave, and to seek the benefit of all involved. Meditate on these qualities frequently so that when you make difficult decisions in a settlement, you can be proud of your choices and the manner in which you carried yourself. Let the details take shape around your aspirations.