Nine Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got A Divorce
What follows is an open letter to anyone contemplating divorce.
Our imaginary couple is Jack and Jill SlippingHope.
They dated for a year and a half before marrying and were deeply, madly, happily in love.
Ten years have passed. Two children later, Jack Jr. is seven, and Jackie is five. They say they tried counseling because one of them saw a counselor one time.
Dear Jack and Jill,
As I watch from the sidelines, I can tell life is extremely hard for you and has been for a long time. Am I right?
I pray you’ll read through more than once.
I pray you’ll ask God for His mercy, help, faith, and the hope needed to save your marriage.
I believe your marriage is worth saving.
May I share some things I believe twelve years after my divorce?
When my 30-year marriage was ending, no one gave me any hope. Twelve years later, I’ve shed truckloads of tears, grieved, recognized, and confessed my contributions to the end of our marriage, asked for forgiveness and forgiven her.
And there was so much I didn’t know.
First Four Insights
- Both of us saw the other as The Enemy! I frequently said, “If you would just… we wouldn’t have all these problems! It’s ALL YOUR FAULT! I HATE WHAT YOU’VE DONE! I HATE YOU!”
- We exhausted every strategy to try and make our marriage work. We were good people who got up every day and did the very best we could. We tried everything we knew, but nothing made a lasting change for the better. I believe both of you are good people, doing the best you can.
- We lived in secrecy. Maybe you’ve heard, “It’s our secrets that keep us sick.” We were so ashamed of how far down into the abyss our marriage had gone that we rejected the idea of anyone knowing. The pain intensified until it overwhelmed any anticipated cost of coming clean with family and friends. I had no friends, but I did have her family who loved me, and I loved them. The day I started to recover is the day I began sharing with her family a more accurate picture of the sad and angry place we had created. Our secrets kept us sick.
- We were both deeply entrenched in negative patterns of relating to each other. We couldn’t make sense of what was happening. We brought preconceived ideas of what a marriage should look like and went from there. Our fights created new neural pathways in our brains. In effect, we programmed our minds for relationship war. The more we fought, the deeper the programming. We become experts at war, but not experts at peace. We knew what the Bible says about not letting the sun go down on our anger, yet ignored this command and many others like it (Ephesians 4:26 NIV). Deeply entrenched and stuck.
Three More Insights
- I was a part of the problem, and so was she. The more I ___________, the more she _________. As she ______________ in response to me, the more I ______________ in response to her. Then the same Dance occurred in reverse. The more she __________, the more I _____________. It is possible for one person to make changes that heal a marriage, but it is much more effective if both partners begin to own their negative behaviors and work on themselves. For more on what just one partner can do to heal a marriage see the book Divorce-Busting by Michelle Weiner-Davis.
Don’t let #5 become an excuse for abuse of any kind. If you are not safe, call 911, or call me to discuss your options or check out https://www.thehotline.org/
Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. Users of web browser Microsoft Edge will be redirected to Google when clicking the “X” or “Escape” button.
- Our constant fighting over critical issues destroyed our marriage. We wanted to be heard. We had opinions about what should be the next right decision. We hated the division the fighting caused, but we wanted our way. We were both protesting The Disconnect we profoundly felt. And it hurt like hell.
Constant fighting destroyed our marriage.
- Using contempt, criticism, defensiveness or stonewalling as a form of communication over a long period kills any relationship. Want to destroy a relationship? Start and continue using Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the [Relationship] Apocalypse. Contempt is the most toxic and fastest acting. In the final years of our relationship, I was a professional at practicing all four of these relationship destroyers.
Near Guaranteed Relationship Destruction: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Two More Insights
- Relationship destruction has a predictable path: Protesting morphs into despair. Despair eventually morphs into Detachment unless the relationship learns how to repair. The first stage is protest! Protest feels like fighting. Partners protest what is not working in the relationship. The protests can become explosive or feel like frigid silence; both are protests that something is desperately wrong. People in a relationship can only protest (fight) for so long. How long? I do not know. But unrepaired protesting gives way to despair; despair that the relationship will never get better. Both individuals eventually try every strategy they know. Nothing works long term. By now, most people’s friends are hearing how horrible the partner is. Friends say things like, “Life is too short for that s***. Get out while you can!” Makes sense, right? Did you know we can only hold despair in our hearts for so long? At some point, we naturally detach from the other person out of self-preservation. These ideas come from John Bowlby.
Predictable Relationship Destruction in 3 Stages: Protesting > Despair > Detachment
- Once frequent or constant unresolvable protesting (fighting) is the norm, asking for help becomes more difficult. Why? I believe there are several reasons. 1) Since we have tried everything we know, there is nothing left to do but end the misery. But this is unrealistic. People learn new ways of doing and being every day. 2) When a couple stays in deep distress too long, not only do they have to learn how to repair the seemingly unrepairable, they also have the added burden of repairing wounds they have caused each other.
You can learn new ways of being that could help this relationship.
One Last Insight
- I believed a professional counselor could help us. My first wife didn’t. Every counselor is different in that they have their life experiences and their training. Some therapists see The Problem as the problem to be solved. Other therapists, including me, believe The Problem causes difficulties, but it may not be The Problem. More often, The Problem may be underneath the problems and therefore solvable by helping the couple experience each other differently. When the couple can solve what is going on underneath The Problem, the couple can many times resolve what was previously unresolvable.
I’ve seen the unreconcilable, reconciled. I pray you do, too.
Present and Future Hope
I made a significant investment of time, energy, and dollars so I could become a professional counselor.
I offer hope and help to couples who have little hope and need help – you need hope right now!
You need help, but not forever. I say “not forever” because couples can learn how to repair when their relationship breaks down, without a therapist.
Why I am Writing to You
What I hope in writing you is to give you some things you might not have considered. I’m hoping to create space for you to hope that your relationship may be repairable.
Why does repairing your relationship matter?
If you have children, you will always be in some form of relationship. Each of you has a part to play in what your relationship looks like today and in the future. Help and hope are available. It is not too late!
Before you read the following, I’m not saying you must stay married. I’m asking you to consider, for your sake and any children’s sake, that the two of you find a sustainable level of reconciliation.
Seeking healthy reconciliation is very important to your well-being and could also save your marriage. I don’t know if reconciliation will save your marriage, but I do believe it is worth the effort.
Let’s say you divorce. What will characterize your regular interactions with each other and with the kids?
Imagine six years from now. What will Jackie’s 11th birthday be like for her? Jack Jr., will be 13. What will their 16th birthday be like?
What about two high school graduations, sports, recitals, plays, and all the holidays? What about when they get married and have children?
What happens when you marry someone else? Will your new partner have families of their own? What if they have ex-spouses and their children. What will your relationship look like, then? How will you feel about your former partner?
Consider what Jack Jr. and Jackie will feel and experience.
I know the relationship must change.
Change is inevitable. But what will the change be?
You determine and oversee what happens next.
How will the two of you navigate the above?
The two of you reconciling to some degree could make a major difference in helping precious, innocent Jack Jr. and Jackie mature into an emotionally healthy young people.
What about your peace and serenity?
More About Reconciliation
In 2006, I attended a 13-week DivorceCare group where I heard about three levels of reconciliation – here they are in my words:
- Lowest Level of Reconciliation: All blaming, and bad-mouthing of the partner has ended. Partners accept each other as they are. No more dagger-eyes shooting at each other. The two of you can be in the same location, without condemnation. You can talk about your children’s care, but that’s about it. You can’t laugh together, but you can be together; which is not a pipedream.
- Mid-Level Reconciliation: You’ve reconciled the damages and forgiven each other. You care about each other, but you will never marry them again. You are both happy for the other person’s new relationship and wish it well. You can laugh and even have fun together; this is not a pipedream. Neither is it easy.
- Reconciled. The two of you come to the place of relationship repair. You still have relationship difficulties, but not like before. The difference is you repair when relationship breaks occur. And they will occur! You have asked for and offered forgiveness to the other. You decide you are better together than apart. You either stay married or remarry. And this is not a pipedream!
If you and your Partner want help, I can help you figure out what is best for YOU. Call me. Do not wait.