The decision to divorce is never easy, and as anyone who has been through it will tell you, this wrenching, painful experience can leave scars on adults as well as children for years. Before you and your spouse decide to call it quits, consider whether your marriage can be saved.
Colorado clinical psychologist and divorce expert, Mitchell Baris, Ph.D, co-author of Caught In the Middle: Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce, has some guidelines for those wrestling with this difficult decision. When is it possible, through diligent, hard work, perhaps in counseling, to save a marriage? And when is it generally impossible? When—despite the kids—are you doing the right thing by throwing in the towel?
There are, of course, many reasons for divorce, including sexual infidelity or abandonment, a lack of interest, a difference in values, and even abuse. When are these chasms just too wide to bridge? When can bridges be mended and relationships restored? “The decision to divorce is personal,” states Dr. Baris. “But I think the point of no return comes with the loss of respect and trust. Those two feelings are particularly difficult to rekindle. Trust can be built back, but it takes years. Often, if trust and respect are gone, rebuilding the marriage is hopeless.”
As painful as it may be to admit that your marriage is at an end, sometimes ending a painful or difficult marriage is the only way you can empower yourself to move forward toward emotional health and growth. We know that leaving a familiar relationship for the possible isolation and stress of single life (and perhaps single parenthood) is a rough road to travel. But after you have made the transition, you will find that you are open to new experiences and new relationships never before possible. If your marriage has been demeaning, painful, or even boring, take comfort in the knowledge that divorce might signify the beginning of something, not just the end.
Dr. Baris also feels it might be difficult to rebuild a marriage when the animosity between two people builds to the breaking point. “I find couples are most likely to split when the intensity of negativity between them escalates.” One couple, for instance, fought relentlessly about their son's bedtime, his eating habits, the duties of the cleaning service they had hired, and even the cable TV bill. For such couples, discussion on any topic—from the children to the brand of dog food they buy—might erupt into a negative and angry emotion. “These people will continually make destructive remarks about each other or just bring up the past,” states Dr. Baris. “In therapy with them, you see this intense negativity and anger just pouring out.”
What if children are involved? Dr. Baris explains the studies show that whether or not parents stay married is less important than whether they engage in fighting or conflict—and whether or not they drag the children into their disagreements. The degree of conflict in the environment is the critical factor that determines the ultimate psychological health of a child.
In other words, don't keep your marriage together for the children if that means exposing them to constant conflict and wrath. It's better for your children if you divorce amicably than if you stay together and continue at war.
Divorce often means relinquishing the creature comforts that defined your life in the past. Families who lived in the suburbs as a unit may now have to sell their house, leave the neighborhood, or move out to less expensive (and possibly less desirable) areas. Divorce means divesting the accoutrements of a shared life and starting out again—diminished in strength and number, and often alone. The death of a marriage inspires, among other emotions, anger, grief, and fear.