The decision to divorce is difficult to make and it can be quite painful. Due to the importance of this decision, it can take someone who is considering divorce a long time to have a discussion with his or her spouse. There may be an acknowledgement that the relationship is in trouble or that one or both spouses are unhappy.
Even though a spouse who is unhappy in the marriage may have decided that the marriage is over, they may feel guilty and fearful about what the future will bring. Questions arise such as, How will my spouse react? Will we end up fighting through lawyers? How do I know I am not making a mistake? How will this impact me financially? Will it hurt my children? Can we afford to get divorced? Will I look back and regret it?
Sometimes, one or both parties is considering counseling. True marriage counseling requires both spouses to commit to working on the marriage. Frequently, the spouse who is ready for the marriage to be over will attend marriage counseling, yet his/her heart may not be in it. That spouse may be going through the motions even though they have no hope that the marriage will last. In the alternative, the spouse who is ready for the marriage to be over may refuse counselling, leaving the other party questioning what happened and whether the marriage can be saved?
As a Collaborative Divorce Attorney and Mediator, in most divorce cases that I work on, one of the spouses is further along in their acceptance of getting divorced. That spouse has often been contemplating it for some time. The other spouse may feel surprised because they are just learning that their spouse wants out of the marriage. In addition, one spouse may be more vulnerable and less ready to move in the direction of divorce.
The pace of a divorce is usually determined by the spouse who is less ready or accepting of the decision. Having spouses go through the divorce process, while in different levels of acceptance, can lead to more acrimony and/or indecision, which in turn can increase conflict and fear and make the process more time consuming and costly.
A tool I recently learned about to address these issues is Discernment Counseling. A couple works with the counselor in a structured program of limited duration with the goal of reaching a shared decision regarding the direction they are going to make with their marriage. The choices are:
1) six months of marriage counseling;
2) divorce; or
3) leave the relationship the way it is.
Counselors trained in Discernment Counseling use assessments to help each spouse understand more about which of the three choices they want to pursue.
Even if one spouse has clearly decided the marriage is over and will not commit to work on the marriage, a Discernment Counselor can work with the couple so that they both can understand what happened. It can be very helpful for someone getting divorced to process what went wrong and why. Such processing and analysis can enable a person to work productively through a divorce settlement and enter the future, and possibly a new relationship, without the pain that can make for an unhappy future.
Likewise, if parents have agreed upon the same direction and display a greater understanding of the unhappiness in the marriage, a united front and minimal conflict is truly in the best interest of their children.
Discernment Counseling is a tool that can help a couple from being stuck in a state of threatening divorce. This process is streamlined and focuses on an outcome where both spouses are heading in the same direction, whether it be marriage counselling for a period of defined duration, divorce, or acceptance of the current status quo. If the outcome is that the parties are going to divorce, they may both be ready to proceed with an amicable process such as Mediation or Collaborative Divorce and avoid the adversarial and costly alternative of litigation. Furthermore, consider that work in the out-of-court processes may be streamlined because there is no resistance from either spouse. If a marriage might be saved, divorce should not be pursued prematurely. If a divorce is inevitable, it is best to work together toward the same end goal. The process should minimize the pain and animosity that frequently accompanies divorce.
For more information, go to www.discernmentcounseling.com