This is part one of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider.
Making the decision to get divorced can be one of the most difficult decisions a couple can make. There are a lot of factors that play a role and there are many details to consider. Nobody wants their marriage to end in divorce but it is, unfortunately, a common reality these days. If you and your spouse are considering divorce — how do you know if it’s the right path for you?
When seeing a couple who is considering divorce it is important for us, as counselors, to help not just one partner but both to explore three options. The process is called discernment counseling. Developed by Dr. Bill Doherty, discernment counseling focuses solely on helping couples to decide what they want to do with their relationship. It is unlike traditional marriage counseling, which is designed to save a marriage (but doesn’t work unless both partners are fully on board). Generally, discernment counseling is brief with the goal of getting couples unstuck so they can move forward in whichever direction they have determined to be best for them.
Making the decision
The first option for a couple to consider is to do nothing. Doing nothing is exactly how it sounds. It means everything stays put. Couples that choose to do nothing will not seek any additional counseling. They simply will keep things as is in hopes that whatever bumps their marriage is facing is just a “phase” that may eventually pass. A couple who chooses to do nothing may not be ready to make the decision of whether or not to get divorced. Maybe they have kids and they are just not ready to put them through that process, or maybe they are holding out hope that things will get better. Whatever their reasoning chances are they may return to discernment counseling at a later date, or decide down the road to seek marriage counseling.
If you are a person who is fearful of commitment, someone who enjoys being close to others but grows distant when the relationship becomes more emotionally involved, then you might struggle with attachment issues.
Many commitment issues stem from past relationship experiences and/or our attachment to our parents or primary caregivers as children. It all comes down to having our needs met and being confident that if for some reason a relationship doesn’t work out, it’s ok. The good news is even if you are a person who has a hard time moving forward in relationships, there is hope in overcoming these struggles. It just takes some effort on your part.
Moving Forward is Possible
Talk to a therapist. A licensed mental health professional has the proper training to help you move from unhealthy attachment styles to secure attachment. Proper counseling can help to heal the deep wounds that are causing you troubles now. Forming a secure relationship with a therapist can help to increase feelings of security and help make sense of the past.
The first part of overcoming attachment struggles is to identify the problem. You must first understand where these emotions are coming from so you can work to heal them. A therapist who asks the right questions can help you to identify aspects of your childhood that may have led to your current emotional state.
Second, it is important that whoever your partner is has a healthier attachment style. Being with someone who understands what a healthy relationship looks like can further help you to heal by developing more trust in others and how they will respond to your needs. That being said, you don’t need another person to heal, but if you are in a relationship try to choose a healthy one—one that makes you feel good, one that is not full of jealousy and insecurity.
Third, believe in yourself. You do have the ability to move forward and have a happy, committed relationship.
All relationships go through ups and downs. Sometimes your connection might feel off. Your partner feels distant and you aren’t sure what to do, or why he/she/they are feeling so far away from you. Your conversations might be simply transactional— what time do the kids need to be picked up? Will you make it to practice? What are we having for dinner? Etc.
Before you jump to conclusions about your relationship, have a conversation. Communicate with your partner. Pick a quiet time, free from distraction and talk. Let them know you feel they are being distant and ask them why that might be. It might be something as simple as your partner needing some alone time. Maybe they are stressed from work or other things and need to clear their head. Maybe they feel overwhelmed, smothered, or just plain exhausted. Maybe they need a break from the day-to-day.
Your partner could also be struggling with depression. It might have nothing to do with you at all, but they just don’t feel themselves making it hard to let you in. By clearing the air and letting your partner know that you are there for them in whatever way they need you, you are helping to open the doors of communication and increase closeness.
Other reasons your partner might be acting distant could be they don’t feel as close to you anymore. Maybe you need a date night, some time to reconnect. Maybe you need to find a hobby, a tv show, a common interest of some kind to bring you back together for a few minutes a day or a couple hours a week. It can be easy to get caught up in life and lose touch of what really matters.
There might also be a cycle of avoidance. Could there be serious issues that you keep brushing off? They all come to the surface eventually and need to be addressed. Is there a cycle of criticism that makes your partner not feel comfortable opening up to you? Maybe they feel judged or uncomfortable for some reason.
Much of the problems couples face come down to the fact that they aren’t talking about them. Issues are arising and they are ignoring them. They are thinking maybe if they pretend they don’t exist they will go away. But, if something is really bothering someone it won’t just go away. It needs to be talked about. There needs to be a solution agreed upon or a compromise. The air needs to be cleared.
If you and your partner are having difficulty communicating, it could be helpful to seek couples counseling from a licensed professional.
I am a survivor of sexual assault and a certified assault counselor who has worked with thousands of survivors. The single most important thing you can do if you find out your child has experienced sexual assault is to protect—and believe— them. Not believing them is the first form of harm in their recovery.
Child must come first
This undoubtedly is an extremely terrible thing for your child to experience and as much as you want to get revenge on the person who caused them harm—you must put that attention on your child and what they are experiencing. It is less about justice—while still important and shouldn’t be ignored—and more about your child’s recovery. Make sure your child is surrounded by adults who are emotionally there for them. There will be many people who don’t believe them. They need adults around them that can reassure them that they are believed and say to them: “whatever the outcome is, I am always with you.” Get your child help from a certified counselor. Listen to them. Talk to them. Don’t get caught up your own anger. Get yourself help. Find a licensed counselor that you can turn to for support so you can better help your child.
Your actions as an adult are extremely important to your child’s recovery. Negative or inappropriate responses by family members to a survivor of sexual assault can have profound effects on the child’s ability to recover. Things such as pressure to press charges when he/she/they are embarrassed and want to keep it quite, pressure to remain silent to others or deny that it happened when they feel ready to share, disbelief or distrust in the action itself, etc. can lead to shattering of family relationships and more incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research by Dr. Sarah E. Ullman published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.
There are many resources out there for victims and their families— use them. Make sure you take the time to care for yourself so you can be there for your child. Don’t pressure them to “get over it,” and don’t give them a time limit — every victim is different and recovers at their own rate in their own time. Keep hope. Remember your child can recover with the right support.
If you are a newly single mom, I am guessing you have just been through hell. Your whole world has been shaken up, unraveling your day-to-day. Now it is time to find your new normal.
You are probably feeling all sorts of things. You might be bitter, sad, or depressed. You might also be relieved or feel rejuvenated because you can start to make positive changes in your world. But, what about your kids? They are probably struggling emotionally and you are struggling with how to keep things as normal as possible for them. You also might be faced with doing everything on your own. Maybe your ex has completely left the picture, or only helps on weekends. So what do you do? How can you regain your sanity? Take care of your mental health?
The best tip I can give is to focus only on the important things and let the rest slide. No one is going to die from fishing semi-dirty clothes from the laundry (be sure to wash that underwear, though). Who cares if you need to have microwave dinner for a week or two while you adjust. Let your kids help to prepare their lunches if they are old enough. If it is not a life or death safety issue, let it go.
Now is the time to focus on your kids. Spend time together and figure out that new normal. There will be bumps and hurdles but you will get to a point of peace again. Take your kids to family therapy and talk about what that “new normal” might look like. This is not an easy time in your journey through life but you can get through it if you focus on the important things.
It is always important to take care of your mental health, but now it is even more crucial. You need to take care of you in order to be the best mom you can be for your children. Talk to your friends, find people who are going through the same thing as you and connect. Lean on your village and take it a day at a time.
What is something that has helped you as a single parent?
We get it. It is earth shattering when your wife tells you something is wrong with your marriage. You might have thought everything was good and bam! You are blind-sighted.
Rome doesn’t take one day to build. Things may have lost connection long before you noticed. Somewhere along the way, things got lost, and your wife doesn’t feel like she wants to—or can—open up to you. Resentment may have built along the way. Maybe you were too busy to notice she was acting different, more distant from you.
Repairing what is broken
Take a deep breath, and consider these five tips:
1.)Don’t try to fix it. Fixing it is more about your own anxiety about what is happening with your spouse than your relationship with your spouse. Listen.
2.)Stop being defensive. Both parties had a role in the unfolding of this relationship. This is not one-sided and it does not help anything to think or act like it is. Accept and understand there are things both of you need to improve if you want to make this work.
3.) Don’t ambush her. Every time you see her in the hallway or the kitchen don’t turn it into an in-depth conversation about the state of your relationship. It is no doubt a stressful time but there is a time and a place to talk. Find a time when you are both ready to sit down, and not feel pressured or rushed. Don’t make it constant.
4.)Don’t expect, or try, to jump right into the lovey-dovey stuff like before. Try for liking each other first. Things are not going to go from 0-60 in an instant. This stuff takes time. Instead take it slow.
5.) Don’t try to dig out alone. A qualified couples counselor can help you through it. A counseling office can provide neutral territory and a counselor can make sure the right questions are being asked.
This is a difficult time, but marriage isn’t supposed to be easy. This stuff takes work and effort from both parties. Take the time. Talk. Listen. Open your mind to understanding. Come up with a plan. Call a qualified counselor, such as Women’s Therapy Institute where we can help.