How to Avoid Getting a Divorce
Updated: 4 days ago
The decision to divorce should not be taken lightly. Based on surveys, a large percentage of divorcees end up regretting their decisions. Because of this, it is important to understand clearly why you want to divorce someone.
Now, some of us may not have any choice in the matter...or at least, may believe we do not have much say because the other side initiated the divorce. But there may be more to that decision than you might believe. Just because somebody initiates a divorce doesn't necessarily mean that they want to go through with it. They may be attempting to reset boundaries or "teach a lesson" to their spouse.
On the same note, if you have decided to initiate a divorce against your spouse to reset boundaries or to teach them a lesson, DON'T! Filing a divorce rarely, if ever, will shock your spouse into a sense of reality. Doing so, conversely, will often cause your spouse to go into combat mode and act even more hostilely than previously. After all, when a relationship gets so strained and both sides are severely emotional hurt, depressed, and angry with each other, there is often no going back.
A Couple Facing Hardship
Bottom line: you should understand that when you are asking for a divorce and you take action to file and serve this request with the court, you will typically get what you are asking for. Likewise, even if you don't formally file, if one or both parties get into the habit of threatening each other with divorce when arguing, that will likely eventually cause the relationship to end in divorce as well.
In other words, the best type of communication with your spouse is to respectfully attempt to understand their viewpoint and also communicate your heart's true desire. If your true desire is to stay married, with some changes, you need to say so clearly. There very well may be a chance to not only save the marriage, but also to reset expectations, and learn how to treat each other with appreciation and respect and provide each party the room to grow and change.
Should We Get Divorced Because We "Fall Out of Love?"
No matter what philosophical, religious, or other beliefs we have, when we formally commit to another individual to share the rest of our lives with them, usually in front of friends and family, it is often not an easy thing to violate that commitment. The longer we stay married and the more intertwined our lives become with another person, especially when children are involved, the greater pain we will inevitably feel when the emotional, social, and spiritual bond we feel with another is ripped apart.
You should be very clear about one thing: divorce always results in a ripping apart; it is never a clean break.
But what happens if we simply have never loved the other person, or we fall out of love with them? To answer this, we need to have a discussion about what "love" is. Is it the type of conditional feeling that is reserved for spouses only when they behave exactly how we want them to behave? Or should it be an unconditional feeling that you will love them for who they are, flaws and all?
The first thing to understand when thinking about conditional love versus unconditional love is that to truly love another, we must first love ourselves. This is not referring to a narcissistic type of self-love, which is actually, conversely, the complete absence of genuine self-love. Narcissism, like many things in life, falls on a spectrum, so the below description likely manifests in varying degrees. In general, however, narcissists dislike themselves so much, in fact, that they form and cling very strongly to a false personality as a facade to avoid facing their true selves. Because of this, narcissists are actually deeply disconnected from their true selves and deeply dislike themselves. That's why even slight scratches against this false facade will cause them to fly into a rage.
Narcissists are also not introspective. They intentionally find targets who are introspective, however, and will use this soft-hearted quality to their advantage. When embroiled in "narcissistic rage," narcissists will lash out on others they know are easy targets - these are typically people who also have dysfunctional boundaries in the other extreme...a.k.a., "people pleasers." The narcissist will seek to denigrate these types of persons to somehow elevate themselves and reinforce their own false facade.
Also like numerous other phenomena in life, opposite people naturally attract each other. The people pleaser typically wants to "save" the narcissist, often at the expense of themselves; and, as mentioned above, the narcissist attacks the people pleaser to feel more secure in their false facade. These very different behaviors actually stem from the same source, however: both the narcissist and the people pleasure don't love and appreciate themselves. That's why they seek validation from others.
With this distinction in mind, the type of self-love first referred to above is based on understanding and accepting ourselves, warts and all. Only by truly understanding and empathizing with ourselves can we begin to genuinely love and accept ourselves. This doesn't mean that we don't continue to progress or strive to become better; it just means that we don't unnecessarily beat ourselves up about our flaws. We look at our flaws and recognize them for what they are; when we make mistakes, we accept our role in these mistakes and vow not to make the same mistake again...to the best of our ability anyway. This type of moderate introspection, acknowledgment of the truth, and willingness to accept our own responsibility in the dysfunction we are facing, but in a nonjudgmental manner, will actually enable us to truly grow.
When we have a true and clear understanding of ourselves, we will also know what energy comes from us and what energy is a projection from others.
What is a Projection?
Projections are odd yet extremely prevalent psychological phenomena through which people attribute their own specific flaws to others so they don't have to look inwardly at themselves and acknowledge their own flaws. For example, somebody might feel jealous about something and says that you are the one who is jealous. Somebody lies about something and says you lied about it. Somebody cheats on another and blames you for cheating.
"Gaslighting" goes hand in hand with projections. Gaslighting is a phenomenon in which narcissists twist the facts and present these often extremely distorted versions of facts in a manner that paints their actions in a good light and paints another's actions in a bad light. They repeat these lies so often and so vehemently, using tried and true tactics like rage, giving people the cold shoulder, manipulating soft-hearted people with perceived self-victimhood, etc., to slowly get others to start doubting their own version of reality. The really strange thing is that people prone to make projections and gaslight others often even convince themselves of their own lies! Typically, the stronger someone's false ego is, the more distorted their view of the world and their perception of others will be, and the more prone they will be to making projections and to gaslighting.
The weakness in this "ego-distortion field," however, is that it doesn't work well on people who are calm, balanced, rooted, and understand themselves. Because, conversely, the more grounded in truth we are about ourselves, the more clearly we will see the world, and the more insightful we will be about the true nature of others' thoughts, words, and actions.
In other words, when we truly love and accept our true selves, we won't be triggered by the false projections or gaslighting of others. We will understand those projections and distorted versions of events for what they are and can even feel compassion for the people engaged in such tactics.
That said, however, another aspect of true self-love is understanding that we must put healthy and gentle boundaries in place for ourselves, so we won't be subject to abuse. In other words, we can feel compassion for those who lack self-love, who can't face their own weaknesses, and who have the desire to distort facts and project their flaws onto others to avoid self-reflection, but we also should not let them unduly invade our boundaries and take advantage of us.
With all this in mind, we can better understand what true "love" is. True love is when we have sufficient love for ourselves so that we do not need to deplete ourselves by chasing love from others. We learn not to ceaselessly give and sacrifice our own needs to the point that we our left mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. This is not sustainable anyway; in fact, this type of depletion is exactly what typically leads to divorce.
Said differently, when we love and respect ourselves and have no outside need for a conditional "love" from another, we can, in turn, begin to feel a healthy and balanced compassion for others, while also understanding the importance of protecting ourselves with gentle and healthy boundaries. At this point our expectations towards others will change. We will accept others for who they are and respect the fact that each person has his or her own unique path towards spiritual growth. It is only then that we can have the capacity to truly and unconditionally love others.
The Flawed Reasoning Behind Many Divorces
Back to the original issue: a primary cause of many divorces is due to not getting our emotional needs met by others. We are not getting the recognition, appreciation, or validation that we desperately desire. This applies both to narcissists and people on the opposite end of the spectrum - i.e., the "people pleasers," who are often referred to in psychological literature as "codependents."
We often labor under the illusion that if we move on from our current partner, we can find somebody who will better understand us and give us the intangible things we so desperately desire. While that may eventually be true, the greater truth is that another person cannot ever truly make us whole. If we leave one marriage, we will take ourselves and our own feelings of inadequacy with us to another marriage if we don't first deal with these issues inside ourselves.
Only by first mastering ourselves can we find a partner that matches us. Better yet, however, especially if children are involved, is for both parties to find a way to emotionally and spiritually grow while still in their original marriage.
Another truth is that sometimes two good people can be caught up in misunderstandings, both about themselves and their partners. It is also difficult at best to modify old, set-in habits and hard-wired ways of thinking when in the midst of an unhealthy relationship; but it ultimately can be done with the right resources, mindset, and dedication.
Although both parties should ideally try to understand their own roles in a toxic dynamic, even if one party can come to a true understanding of the role they themselves have played, the relationship can be redirected onto a path of healing. Especially if you have children, you owe it to them and to yourself to attempt to at least attempt to heal yourself to the best of your ability prior to embarking on a divorce. In so doing, you may very well heal the marriage relationship.
More Clear-Cut Cases
With the above in mind, there are some instances when divorce might very well be the best decision. For instance, when abusive physical violence has happened and continues to happen from one or both parties. It only takes one rash instance of somebody going overboard to lead to severe injury or something even worse. If this is a typical dynamic for the couple, separation or divorce could definitely be warranted, as nobody should be subject to physical abuse, or even the threat of physical abuse, as a method for one party to "control" or manipulate the other.
Genuine emotional abuse is also a good reason to consider divorce, but just make sure you are seeing things about yourself and your own role clearly as described above. It is possible that by mastering yourself first, a calm focus will come into your life, enabling you to better manage or eliminate marital discord and to fulfill the obligations you feel towards your spouse and children; it is breaking these self-recognized obligations that will lead to regret.
To elaborate upon the sentiment above, "emotional abuse," while it can definitely be real, is often very subjective by its very nature. For instance, for someone on the narcissistic spectrum, slight and well-founded criticism might be labeled in their own mind as abusive, which can cause them to fly into a rage. For those on the codependent spectrum, not being shown sufficient appreciation might also lead to outbursts of emotions, and when they become emotionally depleted, also to name-calling. In short, "emotional abusive" relationships may be able to be remedied through proper therapy.
Emotionally independent people with healthy mindsets give simply because they want to give, not because they expect anything in return, even appreciation. When others give to them, they accept those gifts without the need to return anything in a quid pro quo fashion. Relationships between people with healthy mindsets involve a natural, spontaneous flow of give and take. In these types of relationships strong bonds and deep roots will form.
If even one party can learn to understand themselves, though, as stated above, the toxic relationship cycle can be broken. A very important reason to strive to break this cycle is that, if you have children, this cycle can easily be passed down and continued by them. Children experiencing toxic relationships are often drawn into toxic relationships of their own. If you can heal yourself, you will be in a much better position to help your children learn how to develop healthy relationships.
With the above said, it should be acknowledged that if emotional abuse is egregious, one-sided, and pervasive, with the abuser being completely unwilling to change, then divorce could very well be the best solution, the same as with physical violence. You won't be able to fully see this situation clearly, though, unless you first eliminate your own distorted perceptions and master your own reactions stemming from such misperceptions.
In the end, expect divorce to be an extremely painful process regardless of the cause. Because of this, make sure the uncontrollable pain (i.e., the pain that does not come from lacking genuine love for yourself - which situation can be remedied with proper therapy and mindfulness) of staying married is greater than the pain for you and your children that will inevitably result by going through a divorce.
Whether you get a divorce or not, hopefully you will ultimately reach the point where you can master yourself, learn how to love yourself genuinely, and learn how to feel compassion and understanding for the other party in an unconditional manner, while also maintaining healthy boundaries for yourself.
About the Author
Timothy Griswold is a family law attorney in Austin Texas. He opened his own law firm after serving five and a half years in the active-duty United States Air Force as a JAG officer. Although he makes his living by helping clients divorce, he understands deeply the toll that a divorce can take on people and sincerely hopes that clients seek him out only as a last resort.