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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This subseries focuses on primary relationships.
This summarizes alternatives for people who are considering legal divorce,
or are already divorcing. The goal here is to consider every option
available before committing. The article also illustrates what your
kids and parents will probably need if you choose to divorce,
Q&A items about divorce and
This brief YouTube video previews what you're about to read:
Divorce starts in
courtship, when psychologically-wounded, unaware, needy partners commit to the wrong
person, for the wrong reason, at the wrong time. This cannot be reversed.
Mates who make three right choices CAN learn to improve their
relationship if it becomes troubled.
primary causes of divorce are:
one or both mates are
of early-childhood neglect, abandonment, and abuse (trauma); and they don't know that or what to
do about it; and...
either or both partners may carry
incomplete grief, and
not know that or how to finish it.
these three core problems are amplified in
typical stepfamily unions by a mix of
common surface reasons for divorce are based on these three or four
Implication - if you and/or your mate
(a) each made three wise courtship choices and (b) are considering divorce,
your reasons for doing so are probably not your real problems!
Popular superficial reasons are:
intimacy / sex
lying / distrust
If you two are conflicted over one or
more of these and you haven't explored the three primary causes above,
you may be
able to avoid divorce trauma for you and any dependents.
Alternatives to Legal Divorce
What follows assumes you (a) still care about your mate, and (b) feel ambivalent about whether to divorce or not. If you don't, these options may
be of no value other than helping you understand why your
relationship is ending. This awareness is essential for grieving divorce-related
Choose an undistracted place and time, and
check to see if your
true Self is
other subselves. If
not, you may have a distorted reaction to these divorce options. If your
true Self is not guiding you, make
empowering it your top priority.
Alternatives for All Couples
Following these options will help you defuse the first three primary
causes of divorce above.
Adopt a long-range point of view. Some research studies suggest that it
can take ten or more years to fully adjust to divorce trauma. For your and
any kids' sakes, take your time working at these alternatives!
2) KEY - Invest several weeks in doing
in this site - assess
and your mate honestly for significant psychological wounds. Then ask (vs. demand) that
your mate to do the same, and discuss your
results as teammates. If s/he's not willing, consider these
options. This assessment is the most impactful thing you
two can do to
make a wise choice about your health, your primary relationship, and any
If you decide that either or both of you is a
Grown Wounded Child (GWC), then (a) decide if you're motivated to...
If anything other than your personal
wholistic health and integrity often ranks higher than your primary relationship, that
usually suggests a false self rules one or both of you, and/or one or both
of you made unwise commitment
Doing these usually requires
hitting true (vs. pseudo)
and breaking protective false-self denials. If you aren't ready to do that, the rest of
these divorce alternatives may be of little use for now.
Option -.use these worksheets to see if you
think one or both of you chose the wrong person to commit to, for the wrong
reasons, at the wrong time. If so, you can't undo that. These alternatives
can still benefit you and your family.
this together after you finish here, and then
commit to learning communication basics and skills(Lesson 2) - ideally as a
couple. This will empower you to solve your conflicts,
rather than argue, fight, avoid, criticize, debate, explain, justify,
collapse, give in, stonewall, guilt trip, manipulate, an/or give up,
Lesson 2 will only work for you and your family IF your true Selves
are guiding your personalities.
Lesson 3 together, and assess whether incomplete grief. is promoting your relationship stress. Three decades of clinical work with over 1,000
typical marital partners since 1981 suggests to me that
incomplete grief a major cause of personal, marital,
and parental stress. Psychological wounds + unawareness of healthy
grief concepts impair the natural three-level
mourning process. This inhibits forming healthy new pair-bonds.
down specifically what you and each
dependent child will probably
if you decide to divorce. Then
assess what, specifically, each of you are likely to gain. Then try to
evaluate these against your long-term personal and parental goals for your old
age. If you don’t have any specific goals yet, in-vest time in visioning them
now. Authorize yourself to be Self-ish without guilt: you are
responsible for designing your old-age circumstances!
Visit http://www.smartmarriages.com, and
browse for relevant marriage-support programs near you. I recommend
as having a good track record for marriage strengthening. Also consider "Imago"
programs for couples, based on the useful ideas of Dr. Harville Hendrix.
If one or both of you aren't motivated to do this, what does that mean about
your priorities and who's setting them?
Recall - we're reviewing primary alternatives to divorce...
Option 6) Try
marital counseling. Most
state-funded mental-health agencies offer qualified individual and couples therapy on a subsidized
"sliding scale" rate, depending on your income. If you've never tried therapy
or have had poor results from it, read
this. If either of you
are taking medication for psychological or sleep problems, read this
interesting research summary.
If either of
you balk at this, try using your
“dig down” skill to unearth what’s
really in the way. Reality: therapy does little
lasting good unless you each are willing to (a) learn new information, and (b)
changing some core values and/or priorities
to get something you need. If you don't give therapy a good
try, you risk wondering "What if we had..." when you're
7) Identify the people in your life who have the
most influence on your decision
to divorce or not. To
minimize reality distortions, (a) ensure your Self (capital "S") is
you, and consider using an objective counselor's help. Be
alert for well-meaning supporters offering you
isn't founded on healthy primary-relationship
basics (Lesson 4),
is really about the advisor's own needs,
that may come from a narrow-visioned, biased,
well-intentioned false self.
Option 8) Avoid comparing yourselves to other couples
- specially your grandparents, parents, siblings, and/or
real or fictional hero/ines. Doing so risks increasing your guilt, anxiety, confusion, and shame.
You and your mate and family are unique in the universe. Yes, you
surely have things in common with other spouses - and none of them have
the unique mix of needs, opinions, values, personalities, perceptions,
and circumstances that you two do.
ruling subselves insist on comparing, at least rate
yourself against couples similar to you in ages, education, ethnicity,
spirituality, income, and probable woundedness.
either of you feels that
abuseis a reason to divorce, make sure you understand the three
requisites for that provocative word…
one person has significant power over another – i.e.
some primal needs of the other, like a parent does for a dependent child or
the “power” person fills their own needs in a way that
significantly injures the dependent person psychologically, physically, and/or
the dependent person can’t (vs. won’t)
defend themselves or withdraw.
unaware people say "You're abusive," when they really mean "You're
aggressive with me." This
distinction is important in relationship problem-solving, because of the high
E(motion)-levels that an accusation of
abuse can trigger.
rather be publicly called an aggressive person or an
True abuse is
alwaysa symptom of
of effective-communication basics
and skills. Once admitted, bothcan be greatlyreduced, with patient effort.
10) Affairs.If a reasons you're considering divorce is because either of you
has had one or more sexual or romantic affairs, read and discuss this
article, and/or watch this brief YouTube
video. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site - I've
reduced that to seven.:
Typical affairs mean several things:
some or all people involved are
significantly wounded, and...
they have important
needs that aren't being
met in their current circumstances, and...
Option11) Do a "guilt
check." One or both of you may be carrying excessive or unwarranted
about your feelings, attitudes, or behaviors toward your partner. If so,
that can skew or complicate your decision-making process.
With your Self guiding you, meditate and
honestly list any significant guilts you're feeling now -
including any that stem from your childhood and/or religious faith.
"Significant" is a judgment call. Then
apply these ideas to each guilt you feel
is "significant" to validate it, update it, or let it go. Then see if
forgiving yourself or someone else (like
your partner) would release your guilt.
12) Try physical separation. Instead
of imagining living apart, you can learn valuable realities by experiencing
it without committing to an expensive, grueling legal divorce. A
family-law attorney can advise you about legal separation options. You
View marital separation as an investment vs. a punishment (manipulation) or
Separate for five days / two weeks
Journal about your experience,
and learn from the process...
Go to a retreat location to minimize distractions and optimize meditations and
Before or during separation, form some clear
goals - e.g. like learning...
"How does living apart actually feel, vs. what I thought
it would be like?"
reliefs do I experience? What
anxieties, guilts, and hurts?"
"How, specifically, does this exploratory lifestyle seem
to affect each of our resident and visiting kids? (e.g. less tension,
"How does this experience affect my attitude and
motivation about legal divorce?"
four sets of concurrent family-adjustment
needs that typical kids of divorce and parental re/marriage must fill - often without informed adult help.
assess each of your kids’ status with each relevant
imagine how each of your main marriage options (stay together, separate,
divorce) would most help each
child fill their mix of needs until they live on their own, and...
what are your current
and how do you rank them compared to your kids' needs?
Premise - "staying together for the kids' sakes" is
usually harmfullong term. It prolongs a
low-nurturance environment, which inexorably promotes psychological wounds, blocked grief, ineffective communication skills, and many secondary
problems. There are exceptions.
Readthis perspective on using
lawyers and the courts to resolve marital and divorce conflicts. Doing thisalways means one or both mates inherited psychological wounds and don't know how to
problem-solve (#1 and #2 above)
Option 15) Exercise: Take
undistracted time now to imagine your elderly self a week before your death.
Get physically comfortable, put other thoughts aside, and breathe peacefully
from your belly.
Close your eyes, and imagine your present self sitting by your older self's
bedside. What would you say to each other? Ask each other? How would you
each feel about this marriage, and how you decided to manage it, across
Now imagine each of your present kids
joining you as adults. Imagine them circling your present and elderly
selves. Let your present Self look into each person's eyes, and ask that man or
woman what they experienced while you were married.
Ask each adult child "How have you felt about the decisions
we parents made about healing or ending our relationship back then (i.e.
right now)? How have our decisions affected you and your kids? What do you
want me to know now?"
If you wish, thank your grown kids, and now ask your living
or dead parents to join you all. Let them be any age you wish, or several
ages. What would you want to say to them about your life? About your marital
decisions? What would you want to know? Would their grandchildren want to
speak to them?
Take your time with this exercise. Repeat it as often as
it's useful - perhaps over several weeks or months. Consider tape recording or
journaling about your experience, including the inner dialogs that you "hear."
Alternatively, journal about why you choose not to do this exercise. What are
saying - specially the
quiet ones? Slow down and listen....
Option: suggest (vs. demand) that your mate do this exercise, and see
what happens. Share it with others you feel it would benefit you and/or them.
Divorce Alternative for
16) If you're a stepparent and/or a re/married
bioparent, the 15 divorce
alternatives above all apply to you. Because typical multi-home stepfamilies have
many more concurrent
than average biofamilies, before deciding to split up...
Reluctance to do this usually indicates a false-self controls
your life. (See #1 above)
+ + +
If you don't have children, skip to
If you are parents, an important factor in deciding whether to divorce or
not is recognizing...
What Your Kids Will Need
This YouTube video previews what you're about to read:
Eliminate any distractions now,
and see if your Self is
guiding your personality. If so, authorize yourself to
take all the time you need to experience this:
Imagine each of your kids looking you in the eye, and saying things like...
"I need you to be real and honest with me. Please don't
pretend things are fine, or get all mental or preachy or pooh-pooh the
problems in our house. I know things are not fine. It confuses and
scares me if I feel like you're not telling me truthfully what's happening
now, and why, and what may happen to me and us in the future. I
have a right to know, because it's my life too!"
2) “If you felt too bad too often as a kid,
need you to (a) learn if you have (significant inner
wounds and to (b) protect
me from developing similar wounds. I won’t know enough to ask you
this until we’re both much older.
"I need to know if you’re going to divorce (again)? If
you are or you may...
Where will we ( I ) live?
Where will I go to school?
Will you be OK?
Will we all have enough money?
Will you or I or (someone) go to hell? To jail?
What will I lose? Gain?
Who will I live with?
Will I lose my friends?
Will my other parent and siblings be OK?
Will you be there for me when I need you?
What will my grandparents think?
Did I do something wrong?
"I need to know if I'm doing something that's causing you
and my other parent/s to be angry or cold or sad or mad or gone so
much. Is the tension I feel at home my fault? Not knowing is worse than
hearing I'm doing something wrong."
And imagine each of your kids asking or saying…
5) "I need each of you adults to
to me, and to (b) make it safe for
meto ask questions, express my
feelings and needs, and tell you my thoughts. I feel safer when you adults
look at my eyes, and we can talk without phones, TV, chores, or other people
"I need you to remember that I'm a
child, not a pal or a
pretend mate. I feel really weird, and sometimes I feel too
responsible for you, if you treat me like either of those Please be a parent
for me, and show me
respectfully how to understand and do all the
confusing tasks I have."
7) "I need to trust that you're all right, and that you're
taking good care of yourself, as well as me. If something bad happens to you,
I don't know what would happen to me! I can't make it without you, you
8) "I need you and my other adults to find a way to stop
fighting and being mad or sad or tired or gone all the time. I start to
want to be in my room or away from our house more when you keep doing those,
specially if you won't tell me what's happening. If you complain or blame me
for going away, I feel hurt, misunderstood, guilty, ashamed, anxious, and
angry at you." And...
9) "I need you to not call my other parent/s or yourself
bad things, or whine or complain all the time about how bad you or they are. I
lose respect for all of you adults when any of you do that, and I really need
to respect you!" And…
10) “I need you to show and tell me how to name, understand,
losses well. I need you to accept that I’ll grow my own way of
mourning, and that’s OK – even if it’s different than your way.
help me feel safe to mourn.
11) "I need to trust that you
adults are in charge of our
homes. When you give me or any other kids too much freedom or power,
and if you don't see that my "disobeying" is really testing for safety or
calling for help, I get real scared. I need to feel safe enough!"
And imagine each resident or visiting child saying clearly
12) "I need you to not blame
me for your adult problems or
expect me to fix them. Also, please don't blame me for
testing over and over,
to see if I'm really safe in my home/s and who’s in charge. I
start to believe I'm bad when any of you grownups blame me, and I have enough
to feel bad about already! Please help me see and believe in the good in me,
while you set and enforce limits, and work out your problems to keep us all
respect each other as equal family partners
despite your disagreements, and
fix your and our problems!
When you fight and
yell, or go quiet or run away instead of
team up to separate the problems
and fix them together, I get real scared and hopeless. I get angry too,
because you're not doing your jobs! Then I feel guilty and ashamed, and I want
to scream or cry or hide or run away."
"Speaking of that,
I need each of you adults to know (a)
what you want our family to
grow into, (b) what your
job is, and
I (c) need you to want to learn how to do your job well for both our
to trust that
(a) you feel hopeful about a
good-enough future for all of us, and that (b) I'll be OK enough as an adult.
When you sound or look sad or depressed too often, I lose hope and get scared. I also get worried and confused when you
deny what I see and hear, or you tell
me that I'm wrong."
"I need to trust that you really care about these
and my other needs, day by day. I need to feel that I really matter to you! Your words are far less important to me than what I see you doing or
17) If I'm not used to naming my feelings and needs,
me what an adult sounds like naming theirs, and ask me about mine from time
to time. Then please
listen to me! Help me accept that
needs, that being 'needy' is not being weak, and that it's good to try
and fill our own needs, as long as we don't put them above other people's
"I need you adults to find
help fast, if you can't fix
our big family problems by yourselves. When I see you doing that, I feel
more like asking for help when I need it, without feeling like a wimp." And…
19) "I need
you adults to
show me what being genuinely loved looks
like, feels like, and sounds like. I also need to see what it looks, sounds,
and feels like when two grownups really love each other, specially when
they're angry, confused, or scared." And also...
"I need you parents to respect
dignity, my integrity, and my
rights as a person.
Please do that because you want to, not because you have to. Just
because I'm smaller and younger and know less than you,
I’m still as much
of a person as you are. I need the same things that you grownups need, every
"I need you to read
this memo from me and these
guidelines. Show these to my other
adults, and talk together about them. I need all of you to keep those ideas in
mind as you lead our family. They say really important things that I
can't say myself."
"I also need you to stay aware that even if we're not
talking together, we're communicating (decoding messages and meanings)
all the time. Most of the
messages we decode from each other come through our
eyes! Do you know what your actions have meant to me recently?"
Add your own need-statements from your child/ren...
+ + +
quietly now. Breathe well, and
experience the flow of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Consider
journaling about them, as an explorer.
When your Spirit is troubled, your
personality subselves are disorganized, and you're not getting your primary needs met well enough, it's
tough to keep these many concurrent child-needs in mind and fill them
the way you want to. Affirm without guilt or anxiety that you have real
limits, and that all you can do at any time is your local best.
Talk back to
your Inner Critic and Perfectionist subselves if they rant too much! Letting these myopic, well-meaning subselves insist that you
should do better than your best is self abuse. It signals that you're ruled
(locally) by a
false self. It increases the burdens of the
inner children who carry your old guilts and undeserved
shame, and hinders you from
providing the refuge you all need.
If you're skeptical about some of these
needs, reality-check themwith other veteran parents, clinicians, and the
real experts: each of your kids. If your kids are grown, review
the needs above and see if you think they've "outgrown" any of them...
+ + +
Unless you’re emotionally
enmeshed (boundary-less) or
codependent with your parents, it’s easy to be unaware of
their needs and feelings as you re/divorce. You are not
responsible for filling their needs, and it can help you all to talk honestly
and clearly together if you empathize with them. Have you ever paused
What Do Your Parents Need?
Seniors have universal and personally-unique needs.
universal needs probably include…
regularly knowing (a) how you’re feeling, and
(b) how they can
best help you and any grandkids as your marital decisions unfold;
knowing if and why you’re deciding to divorce, and
(b) whether you’ve exhausted all other options;
venting their feelings, needs, and
opinions, and being
respectfully heard, if not agreed with;
and your parents probably need to...
stay clear on their
boundaries with you and your kids, and
to not take on your problems or give you theirs; and to...
grieve their own set of
losses (i.e. to feel and
anger, and sadness), and to support you and their grandkids as you grieve
And your parents
and in-laws probably need to…
face and heal any shame and
guilt that they “failed” you
and their grandkids as caregivers – specially if this is your second or third
divorce, and/or they divorced when you were a child;
make thoughtful decisions together on if and how to
continue relations with your partner and your in-laws – specially if you
mates have a child; and they need to…
settle any religious or
spiritual confusions, anxieties,
and judgments they each may have about your divorce; and to…
decide how and when to talk to their friends about what’s
happening to you all;
And your senior adults need to…
seek and accept emotional and spiritual
keep them clear and resilient through all your
family-system's changes; and to…
resolve any confusion or conflicts about what your divorce
means to their wills and estate plans; and they need to …
balance the needs of their other kids and grandkids with
their own and yours as you all move through your family reorganization
together over many months; and also to…
have periods of rest and refreshment from reducing their
discomforts; and they probably need to…
decide honestly if they need
in filling all these dynamic needs, as they try to balance their daily lives.
Add any other relevant parental needs that you’re
Again, pause, breathe, and notice what you’re thinking and
feeling. Would you feel comfortable discussing this needs-inventory with each
of your parents and in-laws? Would your mate? Doing so is a chance to build
empathy among you all, if you can help each other stay centered
amidst the welter of emotions that will probably arise…
Lesson-4 article proposes that divorce starts in courtship, when wounded, needy,
unaware partners commit to the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong
time. It then offers three primary reasons for the U.S. divorce epidemic:
(psychological wounds + unawareness and ignorance + incomplete grief), and
16 alternatives to divorce for first-marriage and stepfamily couples. The article ends with
a summary of what typical kids and parents need if mates divorce.