The woman sitting across from me is a mess. She is in my office because her husband of thirty years has out of the blue announced that he wants a divorce. The entire narrative of her life has been turned upside down in the space of a few hours. The reality that she has lived with – that she is loved, that she is part of a partnership that is ongoing, that she and her husband have had their issues, but will always work them out and will grow old together – is torn apart. She is facing a broken home, a home that she has poured everything she has into creating and maintaining. She chose to be a stay-at-home mom, and their financial circumstances allowed this to happen. She was so certain of the relationship that the idea of its being gone is literally nauseating.
I know the long road ahead of this woman as she enters the netherworld of interrogatories, property settlements, splitting of assets. Who keeps the house, does anyone keep the house, does anyone WANT to keep the house? How will the children manage? Even as adults, divorce breaks families apart. Custody may not be an issue, but adult emotional loyalties are as delicate and easily damaged as a child’s psyche.
The experience of breaking apart a marriage is wrenching for all concerned. Whether married for months or years or decades, couples carry into a divorce the reality of heartbreak and broken dreams. More often than not one of the spouses is anxious to end things, and the other spouse wants only to hold on in the hope that something, anything, will stop the inevitable demise of the marriage.
The end of a marriage is a crazy time for both partners. Whether both want the marriage to end or one does and the other doesn’t, the effect of breaking the bonds of attachment and commitment is profound, if sometimes unconscious for a time. The leaver often becomes callous to the pain of the “leavee,” or the leaver may become so guilty about wanting to leave that he/she makes financial decisions that are not reasonable. If the decision is mutual, there is nonetheless a need for dealing with the psychic fallout from what amounts to a nuclear bomb going off in people’s lives.
One way to mitigate some of this distress is by using some of the attorneys, therapists and mediators who are committed to using the collaborative divorce model. Even if two people are not in agreement about ending the marriage, the use of collaborative divorce can dial down the adversarial struggle that mirrors the internal pain of the dying marriage. Another helpful process is that of using Divorce Care (which has a religious component and is often found in churches) or Divorce Recovery, a more secular support process.
Have you gone through a break-up or a divorce? What was helpful to you? Please leave ideas and comments below, and thank you.
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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One response to “The Other Side of the Couch – What To Do When It’s Too Late”
Excellent advice, as always, Susan! I’ve seen the damage done in the workplace by divorce. Perhaps a follow up column could talk about the awkwardness felt by co-workers and friends of the divorcing couple.