Before thinking about divorce mediation, a fundamental first question to ask yourself is whether or not you are really ready for divorce. There is a difference between readiness for divorce and readiness for divorce mediation, although these certainly overlap. Today we will talk about the former and in our next post, the latter.
Assessing Readiness for Divorce
Have you told your spouse that you want a divorce? Did you mean it? When a marriage is trouble, either party might threaten divorce out of anger or frustration. Sometimes it seems like the only way to regain a sense of control. You might just want to shake the other person up and force them to look at the seriousness of the situation. Angry attacks, however, will not change a person’s mind or character. Nor will filing for divorce.
If either of you has fallen into a pattern of making divorce threats (or maybe even if you just make such threats silently, in your own mind), it’s time to ask some deeper questions:
- Do you believe you have done everything possible to save the relationship?
- Are you fully aware of both the negative and the positive potential effects of divorce and feel ready to move forward regardless?
- Can you let go of your super-charged emotions, whatever these might be—anger, grief, or guilt—and discuss options for resolution without blame?
Unless you can answer a resounding yes to all of these questions, think about starting with a therapist or a couple’s counselor, instead of a divorce mediator. Maybe you feel conflicted because you see loneliness, rejection and failure ahead, regardless of which way you turn. If that’s the case, it can help to start building up your support system of family and friends before taking a dramatic leap which could be out of the fireplace but into the fire. Also consider talking to an attorney sooner rather than later. Sometimes people imagine that after a divorce they will be either much better or much worse off financially. They may or may not be correct in their assessments, but either way, a consultation with an attorney can help illuminate the truth.
When to Consider Marriage Counseling
If you are thinking about marriage counseling—also known as couples counseling or marital therapy—make sure that you understand the purpose. Some people confuse it with divorce mediation. Mediation is for couples who are ready to divorce and want to reach a legal agreement about things like dividing property, parenting children, or paying support. While couples do occasionally reconcile during the mediation process, that’s neither the norm nor the purpose. If you still have hopes of reconciliation, then consider seeing a couple’s counselor first.
The primary purpose of marriage counseling is to help couples stay married. It teaches people to communicate better, confront marital issues, and strengthen emotional bonds. If you think you want a divorce, but you have reservations, marriage counseling might help you come to a clear conclusion. Another option is individual therapy, which can help you gain clarity through working out your own issues
When Marriage Counseling Might Help
Surviving an Affair
Over the past few years on this blog, we have analyzed several couples’ readiness for divorce. For example, Katherine and Julian, who were both 33 years old and had been married for six years. They had no children, but a divorce would have presented them with significant economic issues. Their marriage had broken down, at least in part due to Katherine’s affair with a coworker. She insisted that the affair was over and wanted to try to save their marriage. Julian, however, was not receptive. He wanted to go straight to court. “I do not even want to be in the same room with Katherine!” he said.
Julian was shocked by the news of Katherine’s affair. He had believed they were happy. He immediately left their home to stay with a friend. Katherine left him several messages expressing regret and asking him to please consider seeing a couple’s therapist with her. Eventually Julian relented and agreed. We saw from this example that an affair is not always the end of a marriage. Some couples, in fact, manage not only to survive an affair; they emerge from it with a stronger bond.
Revitalizing a Long Marriage
Another couple we looked at, Gerry and Beth were in their early 60’s, had been married for 35 years, and had three grown children. While they once had a good marriage, Beth felt that Gerry had been distant and disinterested in their life together for a long time. She wanted to retire from teaching and move closer to their oldest daughter and two young grandchildren. Gerry, on the other hand, loved his job. He wanted to keep working until they had enough saved to maintain their current lifestyle.
When Beth told Gerry that she wanted a divorce, he took her by surprise by saying that he still loved her and still had hope for their marriage. He said he had no objection to her retiring and spending a few months a year with their daughter, but he didn’t think that meant they had to divorce. Maybe they could start trying some new things together. He was even willing to learn ballroom dancing!
Beth was touched but not sure things could change enough for her to feel committed again. She went ahead and met with an attorney, who opened her eyes to some practicalities. Eventually, she decided that she owed it to Gerry and their long marriage to at least try marriage counseling. When she did, she found herself deeply affected by several things he told her. She left the first session feeling far less certain that a divorce was what she really wanted.
When Individual Therapy is a Better Choice
Marriage counseling can sometimes be the answer when you are not sure which way to turn. It isn’t always the best choice though. If your situation involves domestic violence or substance abuse, or if your spouse has not demonstrated any capacity or willingness to address his or her own contributions to the dysfunction in the marriage, you are more likely to benefit from individual therapy. If you aren’t sure which choice is right for you, start with an individual therapist, who can help you assess your readiness for divorce and explore your other options.
On the other hand, if you are already certain that you want a divorce and are wondering whether or not mediation is for you, keep reading. You can find lots of information on this website, and next month, we’ll take a closer look at readiness for mediation.
Do you have questions about divorce mediation? One of our caring and experienced mediators can help you decide. Contact us today for an initial consultation.