The Web address of this
2-page article is
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will jump to an answer on this or the
next page, or in an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
This is one of a
series of Lesson-4 articles on improving your relationships.It proposes brief answers about psychological and legal
divorce which significantly
stresses millions of average adults and kids, and depletes our society. Each answer includes links to more information.
This brief YouTube video highlights some of what you'll find in this
29) How can typical courting partners with
prior kids minimize the odds of eventual
re/divorce? Why and how should they
select effective pre-re/marital counseling?
does redivorce usually
indicate about each partner and their family?
The answers beloware based on my professional research since 1979, and clinical
experience with over 1,000 typical divorcing and re/married Midwestern-US
women and men. Use these answers to clarify what youand
believe about these questions.
What is a
"relationship," a "pseudo relationship," and a "committed primary relationship"?
Premise - two people have
a relationship if one or both of them
is significantly affected by the existence, beliefs, expectations, attitudes,
and/or behaviors of the other. Significantly is a subjective
A primary relationship is one which a partner
above all others except in some emergencies.
relationship, each partner
vows to keep the relationship primary despite inevitable stressors
Traditionally, marital partners
better and for worse, 'til death do us part." Some modern couples - specially
after prior breakups - commit conditionally, as in "I commit to you as long
as I get my main relationship needs (below) met." They may or may not admit
this limitation to themselves and/or each other.
pseudo relationship is mostly dutiful, intellectual, and/or strategic
(a means to an end), and is based on one or both partners pretending respect and
concern in order to fill some covert
Typically, such partners deny the pretense and their denials. Their pretenses imply...
trauma and tragedy requiring personal and family recovery (grieving,
acceptance, and adjustment)
Most people associate divorce with a legal process between
two spouses involving attorneys, settlements, and decrees. Typical
Catholics also associate it with
The legal process is the end
phase of months or years of psychological divorce - the
gradual loss of love, respect, and bonding between two partners.
Millions of uncounted couples tolerate psychological divorce,
but never file to end their legal partnership obligations or status.
Awareness of which
meaning of divorce is relevant in your situation promotes
effective discussion, decisions, grieving, and problem-solving. For
perspective on the unremarked American divorce epidemic, see
It is a complex
long-term process that includes...
understanding, accepting, and adjusting to a
web of personal,
social changes; and...
adults and kids admitting (vs.
grieving broken bonds
over months or years; and...
forgiving themselves and each other
for divorce-related hurts, failures, and betrayals.
Divorce recovery is a multi-level, multi-year personal + environmental process
starting with shock, moving through predictable
phases if conditions allow that, and
ending with stable mental + emotional + spiritual
acceptance of significant divorce-related losses (broken bonds) in all affected people.
Full acceptance allows resuming normal life goals and activities, including
selectively forming new
bonds. Divorce recovery often takes many years for all affected adults and
kids to reach full, stable acceptance. That may
never happen, if some affected adults and/or kids are
wounded and lack
requisites for healthy mourning. See
Lesson 3 for more perspective.
evaluate the degree of divorce recovery in yourself and/or another person,
use this worksheet.For effective
divorce prevention options, see
typical couples are unaware of grieving,
communication basics, and can't avoid or
resolve significant relationship
problems. Therefore, their relationship needs are unfilled too often,
and eventually, weary, hopeless partners divorce psychologically or legally; and...
unless divorcing, needy
adults intentionally reduce their unawareness and wounds, they often
unconsciously repeat this sequence in midlife or later - specially if
they choose to join or create a complex, alien stepfamily.
Does this explanation of
seem credible to you? If so, consider acting to
prevent divorce by choosing some version of these
three steps - starting in
current state and local laws promote the U.S. divorce epidemic?
states require an exam to get licensed to operate a vehicle, practice law,
dentistry, sell food, prepare taxes, parent foster kids, and to provide
various personal and home-repair services.
To my knowledge, most U.S. states require an official blood test and no
other meaningful requisites for legal marriage. In other words,
tradition puts the responsibility for wise commitment choices on the couple, not the
state - despite the major stresses that divorces and inept child care
put on our society.
Typical churches may
offer voluntary pre-marital counseling and sanctify
marriages, but make no effective attempt to assess and stop ill-prepared (unqualified) couples from
committing to each other and potentially passing on the lethal [wounds +
cycle to their
From this point of view,
current civil laws and church traditions are
unintentionally promoting the
tragic U.S. divorce epidemic, which spreads the
lethal [wounds +
unawareness] cycle.The voting public passively permits this, so far. If you want
to stop this enabling and protect future generations, consider these
practical action options.
Q8) How does
the courtship process relate to possible future divorce?
or both courting partners are psychologically
they risk choosing the wrong
people to commit to, for the wrong
reasons, at the wrong
time. These reactive, unwise
courtship-commitment decisions combine to steeply raise the odds of future
psychological or legal divorce - even if one or both mates divorced
This is specially true where one or both partners have
minor and/or grown kids from prior unions.
Restated - typical
needy, love-dazed courting partners aren't aware
of - or ignore - clear
that they're making unwise commitment choices. From this
perspective, divorce starts in courtship.
clergypersons and churches help courting couples guard against future divorce?
Thefirst line of protection for typical
needy, unaware couples is any clergyperson
they ask to sanctify their union who knows about the unseen
cycle and its toxic personal, marital, and parental
effects. I suspect that
few ordained men and women have this vital knowledge now.
For practical options
that clergypersons of any faith have to alert and protect engaged
couples with or without prior kids, see
(re)marriage-prep programs like
helpful within limits, and presently
do NOT adequately assess engaged
couples for the five common
hazards proposed here. See
and study this free, self-improvement marriage-prep course.
Many people say "It begins when one mate calls a lawyer." I propose
that psychological divorce starts much earlier, when one
partner admits significant relationship discomfort - i.e. anxiety, hurt,
anger, frustration, distrust, irritation, and disrespect. A purist
may say that divorce really starts when an
The (legal) divorce processends only when the adult or child who is slowest at
adjusting to personal and family changes regains their personal
balance, finishes grieving and forgiving, and fully resumes stable
focus on their present and future life. It can be hard to assess
this - specially if anyone is repressing and denying
divorce-related feelings. See this
worksheet for perspective
after you finish here.
Implication - because many psychologically-
wounded couples divorce
and their families are unable to grieve well, their divorce-adjustment phase
may not truly end until the adults
hit bottom and admit and start to
reduce ("recover from") their wounds. This delayed adjustment may manifest as
health and/or parenting problems, and impulsive remarriage
"adjustment" refers to the process required for all
affected family members to grieve their
losses and stabilize changes in their roles, identities,
relationships, rituals, activities and assets. Research suggests that
full family adjustment can take typical kids and adults many years after a
divorce decree is signed. If the pre- and post-legal phases of the full
divorce process are included, the
process may easily take average kids and adults a decade or more to stabilize.
psychological divorce period
post-decree adjustment period
<- - - - - - - 10 or more years - - - -
suggests that it's more
realistic to describe family members as divorcing, vs. divorced
at any point in this long process. This adjective
can guard against the need to deny or minimize the uncomfortable causes and impacts of divorce as soon as
possible, which can hinder healthy grieving.
Many (wounded) young adults marry too soon and later
divorce psychologically or legally, for several
reasons. The net effect is:
the three phases of divorce (Q20)
probably stress more
American lives than AIDS or cancer. What's your opinion?
Realistically, identifying the "impacts of divorce" must include how the
months or years of
stress affect the
wholistic health of each extended-family adult and child. This effect can be
my professional experience since 1979,
a high percentage of
typical American couples cohabit
too soon after mate death or legal divorce. They do this from
neediness + an unconscious desire to avoid the pain of full
study, I believe many researchers, clinicians, authors, and divorcing people
over-focus on the impacts of the legal divorce process and event, and
minimize or ignore the psychological wounds +
incomplete grief that cause it.
studies, laws, and lay books and articles focus on the “effects of (legal) divorce”
- and overlook or discount the
underlying psychological wounding that starts
early in the ex mates’
childhoods. I've seen no studies of the developmental and social effects of psychological
(non-legal) divorce on persons, families, and our society - have you?
Typical impactsvary by person, family, and circumstance, but some
gradual shifting from
marital and family hope and
optimism to pessimism, anxiety, frustration, and possible despair (loss of key
dreams and expectations);
prolonged periods of anxieties, confusions,
guilts, frustrations, hurts, and resentments among adults and kids,
including concerned relatives and key friends;
complex sets of tangible and invisible
losses (broken bonds) that require months or years for each
affected family adult and child to grieve well;
temporary or chronic loss of self-respect
and/or mutual respect in some family members;
one or both divorcing partners - and maybe
their parents - feeling significant regret and guilts for various
guilts may lower self-respect and hinder
grieving, parenting team-work, and forming new bonds.
the three-phase psychological > legal divorce process can promote...
major shifts in, and disputes over,
financial security and asset ownerships. One or both ex mates and
dependents' financial security may drop significantly for many
months after marital separation; and...
family members and key
friends may form adversarial groups, which reduces
support and adds conflicts for some or all adults and
over property and
parenting settlements, which inexorably amplify original disputes
barriers to child-care cooperation;
and another effect is the...
wounding of minor children,
possibly slowing or blocking their normal
creating a group of
adjustment needs which they don't understand, and need informed adult help to fill;
and divorce causes...
unquantifiable stresses in local and
our larger society; and...
situational stressors unique to each family
you have divorced, or know someone who has, can you identify other
significant personal and social impacts of marital and family dis-integration?
Would you agree that
some divorces are less stressful and more successful than
others? Try saying your definition of "successful divorce" out loud,
and notice your thoughts and feelings. Do you know a family who has
achieved that, in your opinion? See how your definition compares to
A successful legal divorce...
adults' and kids' primary needs well enough, in their own
raises their overall life quality (security, productivity,
serenity, and health) over time; and...
affected people learn important things about themselves and
relating to others effectively; and...
realistic hope for, and steady interest in, the future.
Fills what needs? Each family adult and child has a
different mix, but some are common. We'll looks at minor kids' needs
in some detail below. See if you would edit this checklist of needs
As your relationships, roles, identities, and routines
change and stabilize over time,
each family member
usually needs to
that they and their loved ones are
psychologically and physicallysafe enough during their family reorganization process. This includes
trusting your judgment,
and the good will of your mate and others involved.
about your values, choices, and actions by (a) yourselves and
(b) key other people. Restated: you each need to maintain your
integrity as your divorce
evolves. To do this, you all need to...
free enoughfrom other people's interference, like
lawyers, judges, and relatives, to make their own decisions about
how to fill their daily and long-term needs; and...
each other identify and grieve their manylosses – i.e. to maintain
pro-grief environment inside
their skins and home/s. This includes safely
expressing normal grief confusion, anger, and sadness.
Lesson 3 provides a
to reduce any
significant feelings of
shame, guilt, resentment,
and revenge. That means that each divorcing person needs to
learn to want to
forgive themselves and each other for causing
prior and current pain. And you each need…
psychological, mental, and legal
support, while this complex, daunting process goes on a day
at a time. This includes
support, and reorganizing and stabilizing your friendships.
Can you hear your “still small voice”?
And as you divorce,
each of your kids and adults needs…
to rest once in a
while, and do all your other responsibilities well enough, like
jobs, and school, and taking care of each other; pets and plants and
managing assets and belongings; and your bodies and spirits; and you
to balance your life
with other activities as your process unfolds, so it doesn’t consume
and finally you each need…
to sustain enough
hope for a
Each family system is unique, and will probably have special needs that
aren’t included above. Do you see any needs that don’t
apply to you all? This list is less important than your staying
aware of your and your
kids’ needs, and working steadily to fill them well enough, as
you reorganize and restabilize your family system.