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Divorce No More?

Sometimes separating is the right move for staying together.

Marriage doesn’t always move in a straight line, and as many people know, there are likely to be bumps in the road—even what might look like a dead end Calling it quits may seem like the only choice at one time or another, but couples might stumble over another way to go, even choosing to stay together.

Take the case of actress Jennie Garth, whose husband Dave Abrams withdrew their divorce petition more than a year after they separated. Sometimes people have a change of heart once time has passed. The initial choice to end a marriage is beyond difficult; how can people know whether reversing that decision is the right way to go when they are having second thoughts?

Did the initial instinct reflect a line in the sand never to be crossed? Did the time away from each other provide what was needed for a second go at it? Deciding to be apart can sometimes be a good thing for a marriage. It can allow the space and time needed for determining whether a marriage is worth saving. While many people don’t see it that way and view the decision to divorce as a true end, they may be surprised by their own questions whether it was a mistake.

There are multiple routes to a conversation about the desire to divorce. One partner may completely blindside the other in proposing an end to the marriage. The blindsided spouse might have had no idea how unhappy the other was, might not have been paying attention to the assumption that everything was fine, or at least fine enough. In other cases, there may have been constant fighting and one or both partners call it quits to find relief. Sometimes the conversation is the result of discovered infidelity. The betrayed partner often feels so angry and hurt at the discovery that divorce seems like the only option.

What are the tools that might help couples reconcile? Whatever the path to the decision, finding the way back to each other has two requirements: seeking professional support from a counselor and taking time.

If the request for divorce seems to come out of the blue, it may be a wake-up call to the clueless partner to recognize the stakes and work hard to change the relationship—to try to understand the source of the partner's unhappiness and be open to changing their own behavior. It could involve gaining the skills to listen to their partner’s needs so that they can learn what they can do differently in order to make the partner feel cared for and understood. Instead of dismissing what a partner says, or negating it, gaining the skills of empathizing can enables awareness of the partner's hurt and disappointment.

Constant fighters may think they’re communicating with each other when proclaiming how they feel, but more often than not people engage in blaming and criticism without appreciating the impact their judgments have on each other. Learning how to share feelings in a way that envisions the way things need to be better done can change the landscape of a relationship and make both partners feel they are on the same team fighting for the marriage instead of in against each other.

If infidelity is the precipitant, finding a way to forgiveness can allow for the rebuilding of trust that allows both partners to feel secure in their marriage. A broken heart can heal, particularly if the betraying partner is committed to making that happen. In fact, most couples that recover from dealing with an affair can go on to have an even stronger marriage.

Spending some time apart may allow some objectivity and perspective—enough to change minds and mend hearts. Missing a partner can put personal annoyances in perspective enough to breed tolerance and acceptance.

Those who still feel love in their hearts and wish divorce were not the only solution deserve to give themselves the chance to know for certain they've done everything possible to make a relationship stronger before abandoning it entirely.

More from Jane Greer Ph.D.
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