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You only Divorce the Person You Were Married To

Deborah Mecklinger, Divorce Coaching, Mediation and Counseling (Reprinted with Permission) Sept. 19, 2023

If you want to predict the course of your divorce, check the landscape of your marriage. If your marriage was high conflict, chances are pretty good that your separation will be fraught with conflict too. If your marriage,  despite its demise,  was one where the two of you were able to communicate,  likely you will be able to communicate as you move forward in your separation. For those marriages where trust was an issue, expect the separation to trigger trust issues too. The same can be said for any prevailing marital dynamic as you make your way out. You will not find your exit visa without struggling with the same roles and patterns that occurred in the marriage. Same wine, new bottle, different grapes, same gripes.

If you were married to a bully,  you will divorce a bigger bully.  If you were in bed with a victim,  you will separate from one too.  If your spouse was dishonest,  bring in the forensics or be prepared to accept half-truths as you unravel the marriage.  On the other hand, if honesty was an anchor and communication  a strength, you are likely to experience a more collaborative and respectful divorce process. You only separate from the person YOU were married to.  The difference is that divorce is like a caricature of your marriage.

That being said, if you were the person in your marriage that was better able to compromise, you will likely find that will still be your role in the separation process. If you turned a blind eye in your marriage you may need to look the other way as you divorce. If money bought your admission ticket into the relationship, it may well be the price of your exit visa. You get out in a manner akin to the way you got in – but hopefully, with increased self-awareness and greater insight into your own behavior.

So why are people so surprised when the spouse they are separating from behaves like the spouse they were married to? Why are soon-to-be-ex-spouses shocked when their dishonest spouse lies on his or her financial statement? Why does the acquiescing parent expect the formerly controlling parent to agree on how to raise children now when it was impossible before? Human nature is baffling. We play tricks on ourselves that are tantamount to delusional in setting ourselves up to believe people are different than who they are.  Reality is that the divorce mirrors the marriage.

Nora Ephron said it best, “Never marry a man [woman] you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” This brilliant piece of advice,  however, implies that before one chooses a spouse they must accept that divorce is a real possibility. In order to pick a partner that is acceptable to divorce, one must truly accept that divorce is a possibility and a potential by-product of one’s decision to marry. The promise of marital bliss and the potential of divorce are equally possible outcomes of the decision to say: “I do”. As we hand out advice and words of wisdom to our daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, parents, and friends – we must educate those “choosing” to accept that they are also choosing the person they may separate from. Caveat Emptor, the man/or woman you are marrying might be your ex-spouse so choose accordingly and think about the criteria you want in a mate and how the same criteria translates to divorce. Perhaps not the most romantic approach to choosing a spouse but romance has no place in divorce.