Before the Divorce…
Before taking the steps to seeking and filing for a divorce, let’s have a look at what is going on and see what the alternative decisions and remedies might be…
Divorce is the failure to resolve the second stage of relationship. Also known as the “power struggle”, this unavoidable, inevitable phase signals the couple is deepening their commitment and making explicit agreements to be there for one another. It occurs when we decide to get married, become engaged, buy a house together, get pregnant, or choose to be exclusive with each other. Having upped the “ante in the relationship”, we become “deep family” for another – resulting in being more sensitive and vulnerable with one another!
In contrast to the early romantic phase, the “love hormones” that heighten our illusions and enhance our experience of one another have worn off. Having seen the best of each other and what we wanted to see, the veil is lifted and we begin to experience the annoying, irritating traits of our partner. Once relatively easy to move towards one another for affection, and nurturing during the chemically induced phase, we are now less likely during this second phase of relationship. With heightened vulnerabilities and insecurities more evident, we now inadvertently rub against each other’s raw spots (unconscious painful memories and experiences of past relationships). No longer chemically influenced in this growth phase, these painful memories ignite the fuel for our reactions and defenses.
Imbedded in the unconscious memories are the times we felt abandoned, rejected, dismissed, ignored, blamed or shamed by past partners or caregivers. These unresolved memories also activate our styles of relating. Already implanted from earlier childhood, the patterns of defense and protection re-emerge including behaviours of withdrawing, criticizing and blaming….all ways to defend against those perceived moments of losses in connection. Underneath the behaviours and reactions are tender feelings of shame, fear, hurt, sadness and disappointment. Now highly sensitive to one another while re-experiencing our wounds/injuries, we now wonder if we have made the wrong choice or if there is something wrong with us.
What many fail to recognize during this sensitive phase, is that this is the maturation and growth phase….a time that we need to rely on one another. Instead of asking for what we want in a safe way, we either explode or implode to avoid further pain and rejection. These become the fury of exchanges that appear threatening to the “other”. Having no idea of our impact on the other, we create more misattuned moments. The more these experiences occur without repairs and periods of relaxation and respite – the more weakened the relationship becomes in its strength and closeness. For many, an Invisible Divorce gets created, in which we resort to moving away from each other to outside pleasures. Having continued this way for years, couples feel emotionally disconnected and unfulfilled, spending less time at home and more time at work, with the kids, friends, sometimes having emotional relationships with someone of the opposite sex. These symptoms of the ‘invisible divorce” indicate the couples inability or lack of skills to openly verbalize their distresses and tune into one another.
A primary relationship is the most important relationship that we will ever have with an “other”, yet our knowledge and skills in maintaining the protection and privacy of this relationship are minimal, as seen by our world and the rising divorce rate. More paramount than the relationships with our parents, this adult love relationship can help us complete what didn’t get finished early on. What we needed at age 2 or 3 is what we still need today. With focused attention, attunement, presence and caring of another, our self-esteem rises along with our sense of safety and security. The vitality that emerges from a safe and secure relationship is valuable, the antithesis to what our culture says. Our culture says we must find it within ourselves and then we can have relationships that are healthy. If this is true, then why do we pair up? We marry one another for many reasons, one of them being that “two are better than one” and that “together we are better”. We can face adversity and huge losses in life by supporting and taking care of another… a real love vs. the drug induced romantic one.
So before the divorce, (which is a “signal for help” and a mechanism to move away from the pain of repeated misattuned moments) consider that there is another way. Repairing a relationship means learning and acknowledging our impact and contribution to the relationship dynamic. Also, learning to relate to your partner’s style of relating is valuable knowledge to have. Becoming your partner’s advocate, being their cheerleader, amplifying the positive, instead of the continual denigration is a way to stay connected. Having someone that has our back and we have their back can restore our sense of security. Isn’t that what we hoped for in relationship? The provision of care and empathy is wired in us; we do it for our kids, why not for our partner? By taking care of our partner, being great parents for one another enhances the other’s self- esteem and restores vitality and passion.
There are many ways to do this and learn this – mostly gleaned from watching and learning how infants and caregivers respond. Being great parents for our kids is a prized ability; however, being great parents for one another has even a taller order. Again, this primary relationship is the most important relationship – a precious healing relationship. Helping one another is helping you and helping humanity.
Consider taking a course in marriage or seek an effective marriage counsellor to assist you. Before the divorce, change your perspective on marriage/relationships – to not view the power struggle as an end, but rather a phase of growth and maturation.