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Maybe You Should Get A Divorce

July 26, 2013

…said no marriage counselor ever. But why not? Why make the default assumption that each and every relationship must be preserved in its current form no matter what? Maybe transitioning into greater autonomy is the best thing for the individuals involved. Making a relationship work can be a tremendous growth experience, but so can reclaiming one’s independent identity. The important question to ask is “Is keeping this relationship in its present form serving you?” If the answer is “no” (hint – if it is making you miserable, or isn’t helping you grow, then it probably isn’t), then that is sufficient reason for it to change, and not living together or not having sex are just as worthy of being brought to the table as any other option.

Separating one’s affairs is often construed as “just giving up” and the “easy way out”; but holding onto a relationship that is not moving you where you want to go in life may mean “giving up” on your hopes and dreams, or, even worse, your values; and letting go of a relationship that you have come to rely on is not at all an easy thing to do. On the contrary, transitioning a relationship to which one is very attached is one of the hardest things a person can do; compromising to “make things work” is often easy by comparison, and this is often why people do it – because they are afraid of the hard work of reclaiming their independent identity. But learning how to navigate life on your own terms is also some of the most important and rewarding self-growth work that many people will never do because they are so attached to the idea that they must be in a relationship.

It is typical to think of a divorce as a tragic event and as an ending, but what’s really tragic is a relationship arrangement that hinders personal and spiritual growth. A divorce, when it is called for, is as much of a beginning as it is an ending, and allows for a situation that doesn’t serve you to be replaced by one that does. It also doesn’t have to be adversarial, and doesn’t have to mean cutting all ties; it can just as easily be a mutual decision, a cooperative learning process, and a transition into a different phase of your relationship that allows you to meet your needs in the best way while still relating in the ways that are right for you.  Once someone has touched your soul in a profound way, their life will always be connected to yours in some fashion, and letting go of the form of the relationship doesn’t have to mean letting go of the connection.  It can be that two people love each other very deeply, but are not suited to be married to each other, though this does not mean that they have no further role to play in one another’s lives.

Due to the combination of relationship duress and the substantial legal, financial, social, and emotional barriers to dissolution, at any given time a significant number of couples feel stuck in marriages that they would prefer to not be in. A recent Huffington Post article described a survey of married couples where 20% of respondents reported feeling “trapped in their relationship”, while 29% said they would “advise younger generations not to get married at all”.  The article also listed the top ten reasons why people reported putting off divorce. The reasons reported are listed below, along with suggestions about dealing with each of these obstacles.

“I’m Worried About Being Lonely”

Could it be that your marriage is actually restricting your social life? After getting married people often begin to rely on their spouse to meet all of their emotional needs, including social needs, or they will actually limit their own or each other’s social contact. Whatever the case, if your social circle outside your marriage is small or nonexistent, or you aren’t confident about your ability to meet people and get your social needs met, this is a sign that your marriage is hindering this aspect of your development, and the only solution is to take responsibility for developing your own social skills and connections. If it seems hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, it is rather all the more reason you should.

“I’m Scared To Be On My Own”

Marriage is supposed to be based on love, but a marriage that is based on avoiding fear cannot fulfill the need for intimacy and connection. Also, if you are scared of the responsibilities of being a free and autonomous adult, the only way to overcome those fears is to face them. The ability to handle the responsibility of caring for yourself will serve you for the rest of your life, and can only contribute to improving any future relationships you might have.

“I Would Feel Guilty Leaving Them”

Guilt is also not an emotion that constitutes a healthy basis for relating. A relationship that is held together by guilt cannot meet either partner’s need for trust, understanding, or intimacy. It helps to realize that neither your guilt nor the actions motivated by it actually serve the person it is directed towards. If guilt is your motivation, you are not serving yourself or your partner. Also, leaving your marriage doesn’t mean that you have to leave your family, it just means finding an arrangement that is more in alignment with what both partners need.

“I’m Too Old To Walk Away Now”

You are never too old to learn the lesson of how to feel safe and secure as yourself and by yourself, and in fact, the older you get the more important these lessons become. It is not about finding better companionship to complete you (which a loveless marriage can’t do anyway), it’s about realizing that you are enough by yourself. Incidentally, this does not mean you will always be by yourself, as love and connection can be found at any age, but this is not what you should focus on as you try to reclaim your identity; at any stage of life, the lesson of separation is to learn how to live as a free and responsible independent person as an end in itself, not as a means to being in a new relationship.

“I Wouldn’t Want To Leave My Home Or Have To Sell The Family House”

A house cannot make you happy; only loving connection coupled with the ability to meet your own emotional needs can do that. As with any motivation other than love, material possessions are incapable of making a marriage worthwhile. A house is as much an anchor as it is an asset, and releasing your attachment to it, as well as to the marriage itself, can open your life and create much needed room for growth.

“I Wouldn’t Be Able To Sustain Myself Financially”

Rising to this challenge is one of the best things you can do to improve yourself and create a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. A relationship that keeps you from developing financial independence is an immense obstacle to self-liberation. Put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life and take hold of the wheel. The solution to this problem is not necessarily easy, but it is simple: do whatever it takes.

“It Would Have Too Big An Impact On The Family/We Need To Stay Together For The Kids”

What makes for happy, healthy kids is happy, healthy parents, regardless of whether they live together or separately. Having miserable, spiteful, disempowered parents has far more negative impact on children than having parents who lead separate lives but get along, communicate well, and set good examples. The only thing children should motivate you to do is make your communication as compassionate and cooperative as possible, not resign yourself to a relationship that doesn’t sustain your well being.

“I’m Hoping Things Will Improve”

This is the only reason listed in the article that is potentially valid. The way to judge whether it is valid in your case is to ask two questions: “Is it mutual?”, and “Is it happening?” Hope is valid if you can see a clear path to realizing it and you are, in fact, on that path. But improvement can’t happen without shared goals supported by mutual commitment. If you desire to communicate about the issue but your partner doesn’t, or won’t acknowledge that it even exists, chances are slim of creating agreement. And if your partner doesn’t share your agenda, you are better off undertaking a life improvement plan that does not require their direct participation.

“I Might Regret It”

The question to ask yourself is “Is this relationship in its present form serving my highest good?” Regret is much more likely to come from missed opportunities and needlessly endured suffering than from challenges attempted and overcome. If a relationship is keeping you from taking your life where you want it to go, you are much more likely to regret not taking action, and the longer you endure the more opportunity this regret will have to build up.

“Not Sure I Have The Courage”

Requiring courage is a hallmark of any important decision, but it is not so much a matter of having the courage as it is of finding it within yourself. What you focus on expands, so if you focus on your fear it will dominate your perception. Instead focus on the positive vision you have for your life and let that inspire you to take courageous steps.

  1. Very well stated! Thank you.

  2. Hi Dane! It’s Sarah from the forum. I was checking out your blog. I really liked this article. I’ve noticed all of the “reasons” you mention and respond to that keep people in unfulfilling relationships because of fear. I would like to add that we actually do explore the option of breaking up or divorce quite often in couples’ therapy and sometimes encourage it. Sometimes part of the work is helping couples to part ways gracefully and with intention.

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