It’s difficult to get an accurate picture of the divorce rate these days. Some reports show the rate has declined in the last 20 years but those same reports show the marriage rate has also declined. Other reports show the divorce rate continues to be on the rise but at a slower pace than in the past 15 years. No matter what the statistics are, divorce can be a painful process and should be carefully and fully considered before steps are taken.
Why Couples Divorce
Why do couples that once married out of love divorce? The most commonly cited reasons are: finances, frequent arguments, differences in sexual needs, in-laws, differences in child rearing beliefs, and growing apart.
Other reasons for divorce might include:
Communication, or lack thereof. Different communication styles are very often at the root of marital discord. Perhaps she likes to talk things out while he prefers to ignore problems. Perhaps she wants to discuss feelings and he’d rather show his feelings with action. Or maybe he wants to come to a resolution at the end of every disagreement while she wants to forget about the issue and move on.
Power Struggles: Who’s in charge? Do you divide responsibilities such as taking care of finances, the house, social activities, or making decisions about the kids? Or do you both participate in each and every decision?
Arguing: Learning how to argue “productively” is crucial. Do you fight “dirty”, i.e., attack, call names, reference parents? Couples who attack each other or fight dirty are often unable to resolve their differences and end up with a bitter divorce.
Differing Expectations: Couples who don’t discuss their expectations for marriage are sometimes surprised and disappointed. It’s important to plan for and agree on important issues such as whether or not to have children, what religion will be reflected at home, financial expectations, and lifestyle.
Change: Marrying someone with the expectation that you will change them is never a good idea. While people can and do change, they must be 100% on board and committed to change. It is much more prudent to marry with the understanding of “what I see is what I’ll get”.
Lack of Options: Unhappy couples who feel they have run out of options may turn to divorce believing it to be the only way to become happy again.
Marital Counseling or Divorce Counseling?
Unfortunately, many couples wait until they feel life with their spouse is unbearable before they seek help. Sometimes they have waited until resentments are too strong, anger too intense, and the division between them too wide to repair. Try not to think of marital counseling as a “last ditch effort” but rather a “first aid” approach. The earlier a couple comes in for counseling, the more effective it can be.
Benefits of Marriage Counseling
When I see a couple for marriage counseling, the first thing I do is to make sure both parties want to work on the marriage. Nothing can be more heartbreaking than to go to counseling with your spouse, work on the marriage, and then learn your spouses’ reason for therapy is to help you when they leave. Be honest with the therapist, if you have one foot out the door and are intent on leaving, let the therapist know.
Resolve: Once the willingness to work on the marriage has been established, the therapist can help you resolve your problems by teaching you to develop better communication styles, sharpen relationship skills to strengthen the marriage, and increase activities to bridge the divide.
Clarify: The therapist can help you to clarify your goals and understand and respect those of your partner. He/she will work on prioritizing those goals so you and your spouse become closer aligned and more supportive of the other’s goals.
Your participation: Your therapist will help you understand the part each of you plays in the marital difficulties. The therapist will not blame you, but rather help you to modify some of your behaviors. It’s only natural to focus on your spouses’ failings when there are problems but it’s more important to look at what you can do to improve things. Remember, we only have control over ourselves, not out partner.
Alternatives: Explore alternatives to divorce such as negotiation and compromise in the marriage. All marriages take work and need continued negotiation and compromising as life changes and different circumstances arise. The need to work on a marriage is not a sign of dysfunction but rather a sign of growth.
If one or both of you believe divorce to be the only option, getting therapy as an individual or couple can be extremely helpful and constructive. It can:
Help parents: It can help you explain to your children the why’s of divorce and what it is they can expect in the future. This is crucial to lessen the children’s anxieties.
Accept: It can be difficult to accept divorce, even if you are the one initiating it. A therapist can help you adjust to and accept the changes that are about to take place.
Cope: People describe going through a divorce like an “emotional roller coaster”, with emotions changing from fear to anger to sadness to anxiety to excitement many times a day. A therapist can help you cope with this changing, and sometimes frightening, emotions.
Whatever you and your spouse decide to do, think carefully, go slowly, and examine all options before moving on.