Marriage isn’t always easy and most, if not all, marriages go through ups and downs. The loss of a job, mourning the loss of a friend or parent or an illness can significantly impact a marriage. In some marriages, neither spouse ever considers divorce. But sometimes one or both spouses may think about divorce.
Thinking about divorce is very different from deciding you want a divorce. When you’re just thinking about divorce, you’re not ready to take that step. You may be very angry at your spouse or feel very hurt. You may realize that the stresses that you’re dealing with right now will not last forever. When you spend a night out with your spouse you may get along well and feel hopeful that things will get better. And many times things do get better.
In general, unless you’re seriously thinking about divorce, you probably shouldn’t mention it to your spouse. Threats of divorce or leaving a relationship can be damaging to a relationship. If there’s a discussion about divorce every time there is a fight, that can make the relationship emotionally unsafe. Divorce is a loaded word and shouldn’t be overused. Once you say it, you can’t take it back.
Most people who are seriously considering divorce have thought about it for a long time. But when do you talk about it with your spouse? It depends on a lot of factors. Is there abuse in the relationship? Are you concerned that your spouse may do something extreme if you have that discussion? Do you have children? Does your spouse react rationally to stressful situations? All of these things must be considered before you make the decision to talk to your spouse about getting a divorce.
One way of navigating this process is to work with a professional – a therapist who can provide a safe place where you can discuss your feelings with your spouse. Ideally you can come to the decision together whether or not to get divorced. Although that’s not always possible, if you’re working with a therapist, you’ll have guidance about how to work together respectfully. You can avoid some post-divorce anger and misunderstanding. This is especially important if there are children involved because children are significantly impacted by their parents’ relationship.
Sometimes you may feel your relationship is going well and other times you may be worried about the strength of your relationship. It can help to take a step back and see what’s working and what’s not. Here are some areas to look at:
These five areas are important when assessing the strength of your relationship. If you’re doing most or all of these, you’re probably doing pretty well. If you need work on one or more of these areas, don’t be discouraged. These skills can be learned. You can improve the strength of your relationship yourselves or you can always try couples counseling.
According to John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain healthy relationships, the greatest predictor of divorce is contempt. Contempt means attacking your partner’s sense of self with an insult and includes sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, rolling the eyes, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Some examples:
These statements are destructive to the relationship and make your partner feel defeated. Avoid these responses at all times. If you’ve said things like this to your partner, you can apologize and start working on eliminating them.
People communicate contempt to their partners because of several reasons:
What do you do when there is contempt when you communicate with your partner? Build respect and appreciation in your relationship. Regularly express the following:
Five or more positive interactions can counteract one negative interaction. There are simple ways to add positive interactions into your day which has shown to decrease conflict and improve intimacy in couples. Remind yourself of your partners positive qualities. Why did you start dating him or her? What was it about your partner that you fell in love with? If you can keep these things in mind and eliminate contempt, you will be able to have a happier relationship and avoid the path of divorce.
Jill Barnett Kaufman is a Divorce Coach, Therapist, Parent Educator and Divorce Mediator. She is an experienced professional who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges when considering divorce, starting the process of divorce or are already divorced.