As a divorce lawyer and mediator, I often encounter people struggling with the decision of whether or not to divorce. Since I have no idea what is the right decision for anyone else, I often say that a decision to divorce will be made when the pain of staying is greater than the fear of leaving. That’s how it was for me anyway. It is always a good idea to keep working on a marriage if both are committed and invested and hopefully the effort will lead to a more joyful union. But sometimes it does not and divorce is the right choice. And the pain of leaving will pass. The pain of staying will not.
Here are a few reasons why, in some cases, divorce might be the right choice:
- Staying married is usually not better for the kids.
It just adds to the pain of those in an unhappy marriage to feel that divorce will harm the children. It is important to consider the children’s feelings, and to protect them from the harm of a high conflict divorce, and ensure that their relationships with both parents are nurtured and maintained. However, the idea that staying in a bad marriage is somehow better for kids is dubious. What is more harmful and even traumatizing is living in a home filled with negative emotion, tension, and conflict. If the marriage is unhappy and a thoughtful decision to end it is made, you are modeling for your children that they do not have to be passive participants in their own unhappiness. However, it is essential that the divorce not be a high conflict one since studies show that kids of high conflict divorce more likely to experience delinquent behavior, a reduction in ability to maintain supportive friendships and dating relationships and less trust in future spouse. A divorce process such as Collaborative or mediation can help couples resolve the issues in a positive, respectful and mutual way and protect the children from the conflict.
- Improved wellbeing.
Chronic marital distress, unhappiness and conflict can create a fight-or-flight state, where one may feel they are “walking on eggshells,’ fearful of saying anything for fear of adverse reactions. This can result in sleeping problems, unhealthy eating habits, abuse of anti-depressants, or other forms of self-medication. The toll that negative relationships can take on physical health should not be underestimated. Some research suggests that chronically negative or abusive relationships can shorten one’s lifespan. So, ending a toxic relationship may be the first step to improved physical, mental and emotional well-being.
- You may create the opportunity for more satisfying relationships in the future.
Sometimes working through a difficult marriage and developing greater self-awareness around what your role may have been can lead to a happier relationship in the future. If after thoughtful work on yourself and your own weaknesses, there is no progress in your marriage, then the longer you stay, the longer you deny yourself the possibility of romantic happiness. Instead of fearing facing the world alone, fear spending a lifetime in an unhappy relationship. Fear of being alone is not an adequate reason to stay in a marriage and actually increases the misery, as one feels trapped and powerless.
- The grief will pass.
For some who know they need and want a divorce, the fear of unbearable pain and loneliness keeps them stuck. As difficult as ending a relationship can be, however, many find that they learn something from the pain and find some personal growth in the process. For example, they become more connected with family and friends, or find more meaning from other relationships. And it is helpful to take time to grieve, to give yourself time to experience the loss and process the feelings around ending a significant relationship.
- Giving up the fantasy that things will improve can be liberating.
Many live for years with a hope that the relationship will improve. And hope is important, but without meaningful action, it is misguided. Although the hope for improvement can sometimes provide relief, in the long run it can lead to defeat and disappointment when things don’t improve. If you and your partner are not actively working to improve the marriage and there is no real improvement, and both are not equally committed to the work, then hoping for improvement may just leave you stuck in a very unhappy situation.
So, once that decision has been made the next decision is how to proceed. There are many decisions to make in a divorce – how to divide the marital assets and debts, how to co-parent the children, how to address issues of child and spousal support.
These are all important, but the most important decision, is what kind of process will be used to make these decisions. There are several ways to divorce – from the kitchen table, do it yourself variety, to mediation, Collaborative and litigated. A contentious, litigated divorce is nearly always financially and emotionally toxic for all concerned. It is infinitely harder on the children that a respectful and thoughtful process, such as mediation or Collaborative divorce. Mediation and Collaborative divorces, on the other hand, allow couples to create an optimum outcome for the whole family and create a positive and respectful co-parenting agreement.
With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches divorce cases as a problem to be solved, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.