Divorce Prevention:

A Positive Approach to Divorce can Prevent Your Divorce

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D

Divorce is a traumatic and often an expensive process. It can ruin financial futures, create dramatic changes in lifestyle, destroy relationships, and leave children and family members emotionally devastated.

Talking about Divorce can save your Marriage

It is better to talk about divorce before you actually start one. In fact, talking about the possibility of divorce can be the first step in saving your marriage.

Nearly every horrible divorce I have encountered was caused by couples who did not give each other “fair warning” and they do not put an honest effort into trying to work things out. It is easier to accept divorce and be positive about ending a marriage if you both know you really tried and did everything you could.

Taking the steps to insure a positive divorce may resolve the need for a divorce. It can save your marriage.

Give Fair Warning

Before you decide to divorce, tell your spouse that the marriage is in trouble and that you want to avoid a divorce. Your spouse should be given a clear opportunity to understand what is right and what needs to change. Highlighting strengths will help both of you understand why you want and need the marriage to work. Most important, tell your spouse what you want and what has to change. You need to be clear and they need to understand. If you don’t know for sure, or you are not able to be clear, then see a family psychologist who can help you identify what to say. Both you and your spouse should talk with a psychologist present to make sure what you want is constructive, understandable and realistic. As part of a “fair warning”, your spouse needs to feel appreciated and they need see a clear choice that is understandable to them. They may also need time and support to change.

Too many couples are unclear or unable to ask for what they want in a marriage. If you haven’t asked clearly, you may just be miserable and blaming your spouse because they don’t know what you want either. You may see divorce as a solution when in fact you are just running away. You may end up just a miserable by running away. Don’t let your unhappiness and anger build until you run off. Self-inflicted unhappiness and anger can give people a false courage and justification to give up instead of solving problems.

Involve Your Children Appropriately

Except in cases of clear abuse or neglect, divorce is never good for children. The fact is divorce will have a devastating and lasting impact on children. Many children end up pretending like they are OK. Parents often decide to divorce and expect children to adapt. Many lose trust and respect for their parents. Parents get so caught up in their own divorce struggle and struggle with their children that they often ruins their relationship with their children.

A psychologist can help you understand the potential impact on children. See a psychologist if your children might be overwhelmed or you don’t know exactly what to say or do.

Children often ask questions. One of the best possible things you can do is to tell them that both parents are going to see a family psychologist. It is important to tell them that you are going to see someone and that you have not made any decisions. This is important because children expect parents to try and not give up.

Marriage has responsibilities, and divorce should have reasons, and parents are responsible for the consequences. Children need to know that both parents tried their very best to make it work. If you don’t try, and if a divorce doesn’t make sense, children will lose respect and trust in their parents. Or, they may blame their self or worry that you might give up on them as well.

Make Genuine Effort to Save the Marriage

Working with an entire family can be complicated and requires expert skill and a lot of experience. If possible, find one therapist who can work with everyone in the family. Some therapists will recommend you have four or five therapists; one for each spouse, a couples therapist, a family therapist and eventually a therapist for your children. For most people, that’s too expensive and difficult to do.

The biggest mistake you can make is to work with a therapist who is afraid to hold you accountable or to confront you and your spouse. A good therapist will risk the possibility that you will not like them or agree with their opinion and recommendations. I have saved many marriages by confronting people. One couple told me that I helped them more in their first session with me than 9 sessions with someone else. I did this by confronting their unrealistic expectations of marriage, family and divorce. For most people, life and parenting usually gets harder when parents divorce.

If you want to see your own individual therapist, avoid what I call “therapy in a bubble”. A therapists working in a bubble can miss an important reality in a situation. A second opinion won’t hurt. You might also want to get a second opinion if your therapist supports a divorce without trying or at least considering the idea of meeting with your spouse and your children.

Tell the Truth and Do the Right Thing

Never frighten or threaten your spouse. And for gosh sakes don’t take money, belongings or objects of sentimental value out of anger or revenge. Treat your spouse politely and with respect. That doesn’t mean you need to tolerate abuse. Sincere respect and trust is reflected in words, actions and deeds.

Gambling, drugs, alcohol and affairs are not solutions to marital problems. They can be the cause of and the response to marital problems. In most cases it is better to divorce after given your spouse time to complete treatment for these problems. Abusive, threatening and violent behavior is not acceptable and can hurt children. Striking your spouse in front of your children is a crime. Child abuse is a crime.

Separation is Good

One very good way to save a marriage is to separate before divorce is the only answer. Divorce is like a train. It’s hard to stop once it gets going. Separation, if done right, and with the help of a family psychologist, can make a huge and positive difference. For better or worse, the realities of divorce become apparent when you separate. In most cases, separation will stop negative interactions. Also, the fantasy that divorce will make you happier often fades. Financial and parenting realities become obvious to everyone during a separation.

Caution: Many marriages fall apart because a spouse has an undiagnosed and untreated mental or emotional disorder. You should always consult with a clinical psychologist or qualified mental health professional if you or anyone in you family may be dangerous, suicidal or suffers from a potential mental disorder, drug or alcohol problem.

Copyright 2008, Michael G. Conner