When contemplating divorce, its is likely one or both of the partners have made definite conclusions about their marriage and their partner. It has likely been a long and winding road (thanks Paul!) to the point of choosing divorce. Months and years may have passed, and the once small and seemingly insignificant things are now the elephant in the room. These aches, pains and resentments have piled up to the point of critical mass. As a friend used to say: its the little “stuff” that gets you (he used a different word).
As a divorce coach, I observe the reality of today’s society and marriage. There are no longer defined “roles” in a relationship. Everything is up for negotiation. This can affect how our partner “shows up” in the relationship. Can he/she show up today, after 20 years of marriage, as they did in the first 6 months of the relationship…their authentic self? Also, people are living longer with far more options and choices. People no longer face a choice between an unhappy marriage or a life of poverty and loneliness for the next 20-30 years. The world is vastly different and offers far more options for the last half of our lives.
At some point, the partner(s) arrive at what they perceive to be one of three “truths” about their situation.
- We are not in love anymore, so divorce is inevitable.
- We are not happy, fulfilled, excited anymore, but rather depressed, disillusioned and dissatisfied, so divorce is the only remedy.
- Because we are in constant disagreement and conflict, we are not compatible, we are with the wrong person, so divorce is the solution.
Dr. Jackie Black has identified these as myths instead of truths, as they are cognitive constructs rather than a complete reality. Dr. Black is an author, speaker and long-time relationship educator and marriage coach. She works with individuals and couples grappling with the prospect of divorce.
Instead, she says the partners might be stuck in one of the 3 stages of personal development. The first stage is individuation, as we develop into an autonomous person. The second stage is symbiosis, romantic love with another person. The third is differentiation – separate individuals that stay in a relationship. Dr. Black thinks couples that seek to divorce are stuck in the symbiosis stage of personal development. They are, she says, still in the power struggle of the relationship.
What can be done, then, to move the couple beyond this struggle and the inevitability of divorce? Dr. Black points out many relationships are also lived from the hind and mid brains. The hind brain, AKA the reptilian brain, is concerned with survival. The mid brain is the mammalian brain, where emotions such a as “mad, glad, sad, afraid and guilty” reside. This allows the past to commingle with the present, keeping the relationship stuck. Instead, the couple should engage from the new brain, the front or cortex, where rationality, conscious action, purpose and intentionality reside.
Couples can learn to make value based decisions rather than emotional ones. Society constantly calls to partners to be highly aware of our needs and wants, but rarely calls upon anyone to fully explore those at a deep level. This makes it difficult for a partner to communicate, or the other partner to understand, those. Couples can understand self-care in a relationship and self-responsibility in communicating and understanding the needs of each other. They can also learn to take care of many needs themselves within the relationship.
What is most likely inevitable is that conflict, disappointment and absence of love are common to ALL relationships – the one you are in, or the one that is next. It may be your thinking, and not your partner, that is the source of discontent.