By Greg Griffin
I bet you’ve figured out already that this is not the warm fuzzy holiday blog post. There are lots of wonderful heart-warming stories and experiences shared this time of year. Cultures around the world celebrate, decorate, plan parties, buy gifts, and gather with family and friends. Media hypes the feel-good stories of the season and businesses cash in on the holiday spirit.
And then January comes along, with a 300+ % spike in divorce filings and inquiries over the previous four months. That’s not a typo. Over three hundred percent, and some sources quote as high as 333%. No matter whether your source leans right or left or somewhere in the middle, there is agreement: January is divorce season.
If you’re reading this and you’re not thinking about ending your marriage, you are truly blessed. No marriage is perfect, and yours is working. Give thanks. Why not make a point to give your spouse a huge hug and a kiss when you finish this blog post and tell them how blessed you are that they put up with you? (Maybe they will reciprocate.)
If you are thinking about divorcing after the holidays, you are certainly not alone, and it’s certainly taken a lot to get you to this unimaginable point. Surely this is not what you were thinking when you said “I do, ‘til death do us part.” As a counselor, I know you’re hurting.
This is not a “shame and blame” piece. Nobody needs that. It’s my effort at a loving “informed consent” piece. Please receive it in that way.
I hope you will consider these important truths before you make a move.*
1. The timing is no better in January. If you are thinking the kids and other family members will thank you for not telling them before their holiday, please think again. Once the divorce is out, often the hurt is exacerbated, especially with children. (This dynamic is similar to the one experienced by children whose parents divorce after the youngest leaves for college.) There’s this stunned feeling that they’ve been played, big time. When kids and other family think back on this holiday season, they will not remember wonderful memories; they will remember being played. You may doubt what I’m writing, and there are folks who can tell you their story matches up.
2. It won’t go like you think it will. This is unpredictable territory. Often one spouse knows the other will not be happy when they are told their partner they want to divorce, but they feel their spouse can be convinced it’s for the best. After all, they don’t like all the fighting, disconnect, and hurt either, right? Most marriages fail because of poor communication, and one spouse may think he or she has made it clear how bad things are, and have been saying that for a long time. The spouse who wants out is often surprised by their spouse’s surprise when they say they want a divorce.
The announcement of the intent to divorce changes things going forward in ways that can’t be predicted, by anyone. Both parties are often in disbelief at things they say and do. Suffice it to say, if you understand it will be hard, you are partially right. Just know, it will likely be harder.
3. The kids won’t be okay with it. Unless there’s physical violence, addiction, and the like in the home, the overwhelming number of children aren’t okay with their parents divorcing. One of the fallacies about divorce that’s been widely circulated through the years is “The kids will be fine.” While kids aren’t destined to fail because of being a child from a broken home, it’s a mark on their life they will always carry. Ask any child of divorce when their parents divorced, and they won’t miss a beat. They will tell you how old they were without hesitation. It’s hard to find a credible voice today in the social science world who will dispute the research conclusions regarding the negative effects of divorce on children.
4. It will cost you more than you think. A prominent divorce attorney in the Atlanta area told me she has this formula to help someone determine if they can afford to get a divorce. She says if you can live on 40% of what you currently have (your 50%, minus 10% of that spent on attorney and divorce expenses), you can afford it. If you think your divorce won’t be that contentious or that expensive, refer to point #2 above. The sad reality is there are no financial winners in divorce. At least I haven’t heard of one yet.
Time for a shameless commercial. Don’t forget…One counselor is way cheaper than two divorce attorneys. For those clients in my counseling office who have consulted with an attorney, I ask how much the initial retainer fee would be to begin the divorce process. The cheapest answer so far is $2000. A person can invest in a LOT of counseling without having to spend anywhere close to that amount.
5. Maybe there is another way. That previous statement might make your blood pressure rise. Let me explain. For those contemplating divorce, it’s been a gut wrenching and soul searching ride to get to this point. You may feel like you’ve put so much effort into trying to get your spouse to understand, and you feel like they just don’t care enough to hear you or heed your request. You’re out of gas, out of ideas, and just feel so exasperated that divorce seems to be the only solution at this point.
I’m not saying you haven’t tried everything you can think of, I’m suggesting maybe you haven’t tried everything. Often the counseling process with the right counselor uncovers some new possibilities and new breakthroughs. The very thought of putting one more ounce of effort into the marriage might be overwhelming right now.
I’m suggesting you try something different. You already know how it will go if you keep doing what you’ve been doing. It would be nuts to go back to your unsatisfying marriage and pick up where you left off. With the help of a professional counselor, many times couples find their way to a much better marriage than they ever had before. Will it work for you and your marriage? There’s only one way to find out and the attorney’s office isn’t the place that will give you the answer.
I admit it. I am biased. I start with the belief that every marriage can be saved. I think that way because I’ve seen marriages overcome infidelity and other terrible tragedies like it. I also think that way because I have heard many stories of pain and regret from those who’ve experienced a broken family, either as a spouse or a child.
Divorce wouldn’t be such a big deal if marriage wasn’t such a big deal.
Slow down, there is no rush. You can always get a divorce in your future. If you gain nothing from this post except this truth, your few minutes to read it will have served you well.
Because this is the season of hope and good cheer, here’s a word of hope and good cheer to end on a good note. Research indicates a large majority of individuals in unhappy marriages who hang in there and avoid divorce end up reporting their marriages are very happy a few years later. For the most part, those who divorced and even those who divorced and remarried were not happier than those who stuck with their marriages. (If you’d like to know more about that research, contact me at [email protected].)
Take a deep breath and hang in there. Do your best to enjoy today and see what happens.
*NOTE: If you are in a dangerous or abusive relationship, this post does not apply to you. Please seek professional support and help NOW.