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The inside scoop... for when you want more than the official line!
Sad. Mad. Scared. Stressed. Distraught. Distracted. Overwhelmed. Divorce dredges up so many emotions and entails so many financial and legal issues, it's difficult to stay rational and keep your life on track. This savvy, updated guide empowers you to take constructive steps toward a better future. It leads you through preparing for divorce, the process, legal issues, coping, sticky situations, and post-divorce ...
The inside scoop... for when you want more than the official line!
Sad. Mad. Scared. Stressed. Distraught. Distracted. Overwhelmed. Divorce dredges up so many emotions and entails so many financial and legal issues, it's difficult to stay rational and keep your life on track. This savvy, updated guide empowers you to take constructive steps toward a better future. It leads you through preparing for divorce, the process, legal issues, coping, sticky situations, and post-divorce financial and health-care issues. It tells you things attorneys and other advisors may not, and gives unbiased recommendations for negotiating the tricky issues of divorce while keeping your sanity.
Deciding whether to split * Marital counseling, separation, or postponement * Soul searching * Moving forward
Is This Really the End of the Marriage?
The foundation of any marriage is the human connection-the bond that is formed between two people who have chosen to share their love and their lives. You and your spouse may enjoy many of the same activities, may have brought children into the world together, may still laugh at the same jokes. But if you reach the point where you feel you're losing-or have lost-that deep human connection- nothing else may matter. That's when divorce may start to seem like the best option.
The breakdown of the human connection can happen for all sorts of reasons. In the heat of an argument or during a time of high stress-or perhaps right after bumping into an old flame in the supermarket -it is often easy to leap to the conclusion that divorce is the answer. And it may well be true- but before you start flipping through the Yellow Pages for a lawyer, it's important to look at the big picture, and to try to do so with an objective eye.
Have you really thought this out? Do all of your problems, all the things that have gotten on your nerves over the years, all of your spouse's wrong-doings and alleged wrong-doings, warrant a divorce? Take the time to consider what you really want and need before youenter into that extremely grueling process. Consider, too, whether you are realistically evaluating a future relationship with someone else. Might you not be just trading in old baggage for new? And, of course, if there are children, you need to weigh the likely effects of a divorce on their lives.
In this chapter you'll learn about resources and options available to couples who want to make certain that they have exhausted all options before giving up on a marriage.
Deciding to decide
Only you can decide if divorce is your best, or only, option right now. Of course, you may wish to seek the input of counselors, friends, and family when making this decision. But remember that friends and family will often have an agenda of their own (they may adore your spouse, or they may think your spouse is the devil incarnate). Before you begin the divorce process, you, and you alone, need to be fully comfortable that this is the right decision for you
You may decide to see an attorney at that point. An attorney will help educate you on all the legal consequences of your divorce and will help guide you through the process. Some attorneys will also provide moral support. But don't ask your attorney if you should divorce. That is not a legal question. And if he or she answers it, find another lawyer.
Ditto for the court. Except in rare instances, it is relatively easy to get a divorce (not to be confused with settling financial and custody issues, which are never easy). But it is not the court's place to decide whether you should seek a divorce. You are the one to decide that.
There are options to divorce
In the extreme cases of physical abuse or repeated and flagrant affairs, your best option is, of course, to simply get out. But these are special cases and need to be handled carefully-more on that in Chapter 14.
The vast majority of divorces are brought on by more subtle problems. You may have seemingly grown apart or lost sight of what once bound you together. What to do in that case? Work like there's no tomorrow to evaluate the problems and try to save the partnership. Marriage is too important to be dumped without a fight.
Some couples find that simply taking time out of their busy schedules to sit and talk, or perhaps to run away for a week to the islands without the children, can work wonders. Other couples decide to separate, which if done very wisely, may help create space enough to figure a few things out without having to actually divorce. Sometimes it helps to have a referee, an experienced negotiator, someone who can coach you through the stickier parts of communication. In short, it may be time to give marital counseling a try.
The human connection between partners is the heart of a marriage. When that connection starts to crumble, you might need some help in reconstructing what once was.
Counseling may be the answer. But you'll have to take the initiative yourself. Don't look for a therapist in the Yellow Pages. Ask family and friends, or work colleagues if you prefer to keep family and friends out of this, or perhaps your physician for a referral. Make a few calls. Always ask about credentials, experience, and cost.
Licensing of therapists differs from state to state. In some states, just about anyone can call himself a therapist, so be careful. If you choose a psychiatrist (an M.D. who specializes in psychology and emotional issues), ask if that psychiatrist is board certified. Be aware that many psychiatrists do not really provide counseling, but rather, their approach to psychological issues may be through use of drug therapy, which may not be what you need in the context of marital problems. By contrast, psychologists (who are not trained in medicine) generally focus on talk therapy. A psychologist should have a Ph.D. in psychology from a respected university, and should certainly be certified by the state. Don't be shy about asking anyone holding himself out to be a marriage counselor exactly what qualifies him to be so. If he or she resists or seems offended, find someone else.
Set up a first appointment to see if you and your spouse and the therapist "click." Determine if the therapist seems impartial, confident, and competent. If not, don't hesitate to hunt for another. If your spouse refuses to join you in therapy, consider going alone. (More on therapy in Part V.)
What's going on here?
If you've never gone to counseling or therapy, you may be curious to know what's in store. So here's the general flow of events ... On your first visit, you will be asked some basic questions about your situation-after all, the therapist doesn't know you or the circumstances that led to your marital woes.
If on the strength of your first meeting your therapist can determine that you and your spouse are not at each other's throats, but agrees there are areas of strain and uncertainty in your marriage, that will suggest direction for the therapy. The counseling sessions are likely to be good-natured and without conflict. Hopefully you've come to the sessions as two people who care about each other, but who have discovered that they need a third-party opinion and a nudge in the right direction. That is exactly what the therapist is trained to do.
On the other hand, if you and your spouse walk into the session looking like a Hatfield and a McCoy, with big issues of anger and hurt and possibly even a lust for revenge, your therapist will no doubt have to adopt a different approach-more of a referee or negotiator.
Your therapist's questions may surprise you-some of them may seem to have little or nothing to do with your immediate problems. For example, you may be asked questions about how you and your spouse met: Did you have a whirlwind courtship? To the therapist, that might suggest you didn't know each other very well before you decided to get married. Did you marry because you had to, or because you wanted to? Your answer may disclose areas of hostility that you or your spouse didn't even know existed.
The counselor may also ask about how well the two of you communicated during the earlier stages of your marriage. Maybe some of today's issues were always present, but were ignored while you were in the first blush of romance. In addition, the counselor may want to know about your relationship with your inlaws. If this relationship is troubled, maybe it's setting up conflicts of loyalty for you or your spouse.
If yours is a second marriage, and especially if there are stepchildren in the picture, the therapist will likely ask many questions about the stepfamily dynamic.
Many people become frustrated with these kinds of questions. They want to get right to the heart of their present problems, so to speak, and they don't see the point in talking about their first date. Indeed, it's hard for a couple to stick with it while the therapist gathers this important background information. But your therapist knows that the couple you are now has evolved from the couple you were back then.
Identifying old patterns
Early in her marital counseling sessions, Linda was surprised when the therapist asked about one of her old boyfriends, Pete. She'd been with him for six years before they broke up, after which time she eventually met and married her current husband. When Linda talked about the relationship with her old boyfriend, the therapist discovered that Linda had been very dependent on Pete, which led Pete to feel smothered and, in turn, caused Linda and Pete to break up. It's no surprise, then, that Linda's current husband was complaining of feeling smothered as well. This revelation gave the therapist a starting point-an issue that Linda and her husband could now begin to address.
We all develop our styles of relating from the patterns we've seen or followed in the past. This fact, which a good therapist well knows, is something that counseling helps us to discover for ourselves. For example, your notions of what marriage should be like are very much colored by the example of marriage you grew up with. If your parents had an unhappy marriage and you grew up with fighting and verbal abuse in your home, you might be likely to repeat those patterns within your own marriage. Those patterns may not even seem unhealthy or strange to you. Just as likely, you may be unwilling to have a healthy argument with your spouse because you never saw an argument between your parents turn out constructively. Or perhaps you never saw dear old Dad fight with Mom at all, and you are trying to mirror your parents' "perfect" marriage. Understanding the role models that shaped your individual expectations of marriage can help your counselor either debunk or support the lessons you've learned through the examples within your life.
You will also be asked personal questions-questions about how you perceive yourself and your place in the world as an individual. At the very core of counseling is the notion that two people come into a marriage with their own individual identities. These identities may be fairly well adjusted or they may be insecure. By helping you deal with the pasts, beliefs, personal fears, and values held by you and your spouse, the counselor can work with you to see how the pieces fit together now, and how you can make them fit together better in the future.
It may take a few sessions, but once the necessary background information has been gathered, you and your spouse will work with the counselor to identify what is and isn't working in your marriage. This work may be done in one or more of several different ways. You may be asked to fill out detailed questionnaires. You may be given essays to write, or you might be asked to write letters to your partner. You may be given specific topics to discuss, or you may be given the floor to bring up whatever topics are most important to you at the moment. You might even be given exercises to do at home-scripts you can use to foster better communication within your home environment.
The techniques your therapist gives you may take a little time before they start to work. Or they may take a lot of time. Emotional knots that have been tightening for years won't suddenly unravel. Don't get discouraged, however. Remember your counselor is not a magician. And, since we all generally try to be on our best behavior in front of strangers, you may not be presenting your counselor a clear view of your communication and fighting styles-at least, not at the beginning. So your therapist may not hit on the most effective techniques to recommend right away. Be prepared for the fact that it is probably going to take some time for you and your spouse to become comfortable enough in therapy to open up naturally. The time invested is worth it, however-after awhile you'll begin to find it easier to communicate with your spouse, and thus to constructively address your problems.
When only one will go
What happens when you want counseling, but your spouse refuses to go? This happens often, but before you give up on the counseling option, find out why your spouse is refusing. Here are some of the most common reasons for lack of cooperation:
* Denial: Your spouse thinks the problems aren't that major.
* Defeatism: Your spouse thinks it's too late to fix the problems.
* Avoidance: Your spouse is afraid to face up to what he or she is doing wrong, or is afraid that an honest discussion of problems will cause you pain.
* Threat: Your spouse is afraid that talking about the problems will lead to, not away from, divorce.
* Control issues: Your spouse doesn't want an outside authority figure to tell him or her what to do. This attitude may also spring from a lack of respect for the mental health industry.
* Financial issues: Your spouse may be reluctant to pay for counseling.
You can't force someone to go into counseling if that person doesn't want to-it just defeats the whole purpose. But you can be careful not to overanalyze your spouse's decision. You can stay open to other means of working on your marriage. And even if your partner won't go, you might choose to enter into counseling alone. If you do, you might at least be able to figure out what can be done on your end to help solve your marital problems. There is a danger in this, however-for while individual counseling can give you insights into your own behavior and feelings, it can't address the problems of the entire "machine." After all, the counselor is only getting your side of the story, and can't, therefore, directly help you to work on how you and your spouse interact. If your partner won't agree to work with you in counseling, it might be time to look at your other options.
Sometimes two people get too close to their problems or begin to take one another for granted. In such cases, a little distance and time spent apart might be all the two of you need to cool off and gain perspective. Well, that's what the common wisdom says. In truth, separations rarely work. They tend to only make matters more complicated. Once the two of you are living in separate houses, paying separate bills, reconciliation becomes a lot of extra work.
Of course, you could look at separation as a kind of "trial" divorce. During a separation, both parties have an opportunity to see what life without the other would be like. For many people, a separation comes as a relief; for others it's extremely unsettling. They miss being at home, being with their children-maybe they even miss their spouse. The old saying "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it" sometimes comes back to haunt people during a separation, making them realize that the initial decision to live apart may have been ill advised.
On the other hand, some people use separation as a convenient escape from the responsibilities of marriage, one that even gives them permission to have relationships with other people. In such cases, separation no longer becomes a means of cooling down and getting better prepared to work on the marriage. It becomes an excuse to party.
Clearly, separation can mean different things to different people. It's even common for some couples to shuttle back and forth between living apart and getting back together again, never really making a full commitment one way or another. For such couples, separation and reconciliation become a way of life.
In terms of the law, an informal agreement to separate is very different from a "legal separation." In an informal separation, one party in the marriage may simply pack up and move out on his or her own. A legal separation involves legal action. But no matter what your reason to separate-whether it's because you and your spouse simply want a time to cool off and gain perspective or because you see this as a first step toward making a more final split-you must still deal with all the practical issues that will arise once you decide to live apart. You have to make decisions about visitation with your children, payment of support and/or monthly expenses, division of assets (such as bank accounts and automobiles), payment of debt, covering the mortgage, and the division of future income. To protect your interests, you have to know where you stand not only for the time you're separated, but also in the event that you ultimately do get divorced.
Excerpted from Unofficial Guide to Getting a Divorce by Russell Wild Excerpted by permission.
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