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Don't Divorce Before Doing These Five Things

If you don't take these actions, you may have serious regrets.

Claudia Wolff Unsplash
Source: Claudia Wolff Unsplash

One of the worst feelings my clients have following their divorce is a nagging thought that there was more they could have—and should have—done to repair their relationship. It's as if they have a hole in their heart that can't be repaired and I've seen this kind of ache prolong their grief for months.

The stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Bargaining is the stage where people often wonder if they did the right thing (if they were the leaver) or wrack their brain for what they did that made their spouse fall out of love or leave them for another. The thought that there was more they could have done to save the marriage brings "shoulda, woulda coulda" to new levels. That's because marriage is often the foundation of a person's life. Every aspect of life is tied to the coupledom: family, home, neighbors, social, financial, and parenting.

If you have been left by someone who has already made up their mind that the relationship is over, you know that there's not a whole lot you can do to preserve the relationship.

This is a very unfortunate situation and, in many cases, the person leaving doesn't give their spouse a chance to make things right because they never tell their spouse that anything is wrong (these people are conflict-avoidant, but it's important to know that these people lack important skills adults need to be in healthy relationships).

This brings me to the first action anyone who is considering ending their marriage should take prior to cutting ties.

1. Get adult tools for relationships. Stop using childish coping skills. We learn our skills for relationships between the ages of 5-7. Remember what the "skills" of a 7-year-old are? Many arguments and points of contention between partners have a similar root: "It's not fair!" "But I want it now!"

We don't get new skills or tools unless we get some education around this. There are far too many people out there who don't have a clue how to express what they need (some don't even know that they have needs) or feel. They either shut down their feelings or shut out their mate when something upsets them. This might take them out of the bad feelings for the moment, but it doesn't resolve anything; problems just fester and grow until one day, the person says, "I'm out of here."

2. Change how you communicate. (This is a big reason relationships don't feel good.) Other immature coping behaviors in a relationship have to do with the way you express your emotions. These methods can include screaming, name-calling, lying, manipulating, deflecting blame, shaming, gaslighting, and not taking responsibility for one's actions. This is not a comprehensive list but certainly, if you see a behavior you're guilty of listed here, do everything you can to change your ways and grow up.

You can end this relationship and tell yourself that your partner is the problem but you will take you with you. It may not show up immediately, but the same patterns will eventually emerge. This time, you won't have your ex-spouse to blame.

If you don't know how to communicate what you need or feel, you will likely be in an unhappy or unfulfilled state a good amount. Your partner, who can't read your mind, doesn't even have a chance to meet you halfway or try to help you feel better.

3. Do your own inner work. Get into therapy, take courses, hire a coach, go talk to clergy, get a mentor, read books, watch videos on YouTube by John Bradshaw, Esther Perel and use many other wonderful resources. There's really no excuse not to do your own emotional work.

Have you ever heard this saying? "You spot it, you got it." What that means is if you're upset with your mate, neighbor, or friend about something, ask yourself where you might be doing the same behavior. An example I can think of in my life is that I absolutely hate inconsiderate drivers (you know, the people who never put on their left turn signal, who drive way too slow or fast). But here's the truth about it: I'm the one who's being inconsiderate. The person in the other car might have a disability or have an emergency going on. It is inconsiderate of me to see them as getting in my way, when, in fact, they might be suffering terribly and I just can't see it. We all project. But, by doing some inner work, you'll be able to own your side of the street and make the changes you need to make.*

*A word of caution: Those with what we call character disorders have a much harder time looking at themselves and making changes such as the ones I've outlined here. It's not impossible, but it is very difficult for these folks to change.

X-Ventures Unsplash
Source: X-Ventures Unsplash

4. Couples work. Attending a workshop, or a therapy or coaching session with your spouse when things start to go off the rails can determine the difference between making it or not.

Renowned therapists like Sue Johnson, Terry Real, or John Gottman have wonderful books and programs for couples. There is no shortage of couples advice out there and it's important to find a neutral space to have an outsider help you and your mate settle differences.

5. Look in the mirror. Be the change you want to see. Like "you spot it, you got it," you have more power than you know to make things right. When you feel good about yourself, you will treat others better and if someone mistreats you, it will roll off your back more easily.

Many of us keep waiting for something outside of ourselves to make us feel better, not knowing that we have the power to be our own best advocate, tell our truth, and most of all, change our perspective.

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