Families, communities, and nations are strengthened by strong, intact families. I studied divorce in my college class this week and learned some facts that may help you. I read a chapter about divorce in a book titled Take Back Your Marriage by William J. Doherty, who is a practicing marriage and family therapist.
Doherty first explains that there is a difference between “hard” and “soft” reasons for divorce. Hard reasons include serious problems, such as abuse, addictions, and affairs – known as the three “A’s”. He was quick to say that “Nearly any serious personal problem someone brings to a marriage is treatable if that person owns up to the problem, seeks proper help along with the spouse, and dedicates himself or herself to becoming healthy again” (p. 116).
Having made the above statement about hard reasons for divorce, Doherty concentrated on soft reasons. Doherty and two colleagues gave a “standard checklist of reasons for divorce” to almost 900 divorcing people with minor children. The two reason that were marked by more than half of the people were “growing apart” and “not being able to talk together.” He stated that “most divorces are not based on severe problems that compromise health and well-being, but on more subtle relationship problems that might be more easily repaired” (p. 116).
Doherty’s first piece of advice for anyone considering divorce is to start “moving in a healthy direction before you call it quits on the marriage.” Doing so “offers two benefits: it gives the marriage the best chance to survive and it helps to avoid the same mistakes in future relationships if our current marriage ends” (pp. 16-17).
Continuing, Doherty states that there are “two main paths that couples take toward unnecessary divorce for the soft reasons, and you need to know how to avoid those paths and get off them if you find yourself there” (p. 17). The two paths are the “slow way” and the “fast track.” Then he made an interesting statement: “You can bring down almost any good marriage in two years” (p. 117). You can do this by “focusing on what you are not getting out of the relationship and how your partner fails to live up to your expectations” (p. 117).
The slow way to bring down a marriage is by making small choices that are detrimental to the marriage. By focusing on the spouse’s deficiencies, you can eventually destroy the relationship. Quite often, the spouse is innocent and the same person that you married. The problem is with you. You are more stressed, and your spouse is not emotionally there for you. You see the spouse of your good friend doing a better job at maintaining a marriage. A dangerous reason is that you are attracted to someone outside your marriage.
The next step has two paths. You can either begin to criticize your spouse and say negative things to him or her, or you can start withdrawing from your marriage. You can either take the second path after failing on the first one, or just start on the second path. The next thing that you will do is change the history of your marriage. Because you see your marriage as failing, you will tell yourself that it was a bad marriage from the beginning because you married the wrong person. Some time along the path, you will make an escape plan.
Doherty wrote that women initiate two-thirds of all divorces, and second divorces come faster than the first – especially when one does not learn from the mistakes of the first one. He said that there are warning signs, but some couples do not notice them or act to prevent divorce. He listed ten warning signs and said that “If more than three of the following statements describe you, drop everything and make a commitment right now to put off any decision or actions to dissolve your marriage until you get real help” (p. 129).
1. You’re beginning to claim that you and your spouse were really never in love, yet your friends and family say you were crazy about each other when you got married.
2. You say your spouse never pays any attention to you and never makes an effort to spend time with you, yet somehow, you’re busy – with work you brought home, with volunteer meetings, with dinner or a drink with friends, with helping your child with homework – every evening of the week.
3. These days you dwell mostly on your spouse’s faults and failings but if pressed to describe the type of person our spouse is, you would use terms like “fair,” “dependable,” “responsible,” and “kind.”
4. You say your partner can’t be a good spouse but is a good parent. You rule out the possibility that someone who can be a good parent might also be able to learn to be a good spouse.
5. You begin your usual long litany of complaints about your marriage to our mother or a friend, but for the first time the response is “Maybe you’re right to think about divorce,” and you find yourself speechless as well as surprised to feel a little hurt.
6. You say you’re determined to be “done with it” and get on with your life, but you’ve canceled appointments for an initial consultation with a divorce lawyer.
7. You make constant declarations that you want to work things out with your husband, but your once-benign fantasies about having an affair are beginning to take shape in reality – a work colleague asks you to lunch, an e-mail correspondent turns flirtatious, or you are pleased that the guy you play tennis with is getting divorced.
8. You say that you crave emotional connection, but when your spouse is unavailable, you watch television instead of calling a friend. You may not be such a great emotional connector yourself.
9. You feel as if you’ve tried everything and despair that anything will ever get better, even when you know your spouse is trying to change.
10. You know you will have trouble explaining to your children, now and in the future, why you ended the marriage. You are not sure that ending the pain you are in now justifies the pain that they will be in later.
According to Doherty, surveys show that “forty percent or more of divorced people regret their divorce and that the great majority of divorced people believe that one or the other of them could have worked much harder to save the marriage” (p. 130). His own research shows that “in forty percent of divorces at least one partner thinks the marriage could still be saved” right up to the time of the divorce decree (p. 130).
Doherty wrote a lot about the necessity of leadership in a marriage. “In the best marriages, both people are leaders, although sometimes at different times” (p. 131). One of Doherty’s colleagues said that “every marriage has a you, a me, and an us” in it. While partners are fighting for what is best for them personally, someone has to fight for the good of the marriage. How does one go about fighting for their marriage? Here are a few ways suggested by Doherty:
1. Speak about the good of your marriage….
2. Decide you are going to work on personal, unilateral change for the sake of your marriage….
3. Ask yourself [if] you are expecting your mate to meet all our needs….
4. If you are very angry or frustrated with your spouse over an ongoing problem, ask yourself whether this is a “marriage breaker” if nothing changes….
5. If your spouse uses the “d” word (divorce) in an argument, say clearly that you do not want to divorce….
6. Insist that the two of you get help together….
7. If your spouse asks you to move out, and you want to salvage the marriage and genuinely change yourself to do so, refuse to move….
8. Even if you are separated, you can keep working on the marriage by working on yourself... (pp. 132-134).
Marital leadership can save many marriages that otherwise would end for lack of someone standing up for them. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers can strengthen their families, communities, and nation by not rushing into divorce.