Divorce — 20 January 2008
Alternatives to divorce exist

This article follows a previous column of mine titled Downsides to Divorce, published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on December 12, 2007 and is also available on my website: relationshipmatters.com
under Articles, section F. Divorce

Divorce is a choice born out of hopelessness about the viability of the relationship and the possibility for change. With the exception of abuse, untreated addiction or repeated infidelity, relationships in distress can be helped. Though it is reasonable to feel discouraged and frustrated about your relationship, at times, to conclude that not knowing how to proceed means quitting – is illogical. No one abandons the car at a T intersection when one is unsure of where to turn. Help is available.

To achieve pain relief one needs to assess the source of the discomfort and seek healing remedies. Start with getting information: read books, access the Internet and seek the wisdom of mentors whom you both respect.

Children are better off with unhappy, (but not vigorously feuding parents), than they are with parents who are divorced. Accepting being a part-time mom or dad is an irretrievable loss that creates long-lasting grief for both parents and children. The most loving thing you can do for your children’s well being is to rehabilitate yourself and your marriage.

Families are never severed; they only change their constellation. It is much harder to deal with the former spouse than it is to repair the first marriage. Do what is counter-intuitive; tell your partner, from whom you feel estranged, that you love him/her and will do anything to make your mate happier. Even when you doubt your ability or your mate’s ability to change, stating a sincere interest can be a first step toward resolution.

Since you may think that your partner is difficult and/or blemished, try to imagine what it is like living with you, when you are not at your best. Can you feel your mate’s frustration? Should he/she give up on you – or help you learn how to better please him/her? Whatever label you assign to your mate, that trait is also within you. If your partner chose to leave you for these reasons, could you see yourself able to modify your ways? If you can do it – so can your mate.

If you believe that you have done everything possible to resolve the dissonance with your mate. Sit down and write in details what you have done, in how many ways and for how long. You will soon discover that it feels like you did everything possible, but the reality is that you suffered in silence and kept harboring greater and greater resentments. Return to your list and rewrite realistic, loving and caring ways in which you can change yourself, not your mate, to improve your marriage. Practice it for a year. When you can truly tell yourself that you have been the best partner you can be every day for a year and your mate has not responded (which is very unlikely), then you need external help.

Couple counseling is a good option at times of confusion and loss. The presenting issue to a couple’s therapist should be: “ I am discouraged, lost and confused about how to recapture our marriage.” This honest statement does not doom the relationship, but rather opens the door for change and rebuilding.

If you chose to have an affair to soothe yourself and prove to yourself that your marriage is doomed, you have just figured out the cause of that doom. No relationship triad is ever successful. You cannot be “in love” with another person while sincerely trying to evaluate your marriage. It is destructive and will cause you lifelong repercussions. Do things in their correct order. Deal with your committed relationship in earnest first.

The losses of divorce become more pronounced after it occurs. Beyond the status of being part of a fractured unit, which is repeatedly frustrating and painful, the practical losses of assets, change of identity, location, housing, community, friends and former close family members, are devastating losses. You become a sadder and profoundly uprooted person. Even your new partner’s love cannot restore your lost identity. Have a heart-to-heart discussion with trusted divorced people and ask them if knowing what they know now would they have made the choice to divorce. You may be surprised to hear their answers.

The ecstasy and satisfaction of couples who repaired their relationship is unmatched. Consider that possibility for yourself. Take the above steps first and only then make your well-weighed choice.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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