All you need is love.
As long as you love each other, you can make it through anything.
Divorce means giving up, and you’re not the quitting type.”
With words of wisdom like these, it’s no wonder so many marriages fail.
We think it comes down to self-discipline.
Like exercise and a good diet, the prescription for a healthy marriage is obvious. Communicate. Have sex. Say, “I love you.”
But just as anyone who’s dieted and exercised her way to an even larger spare tire has found, “common wisdom” can be quite frankly worthless.
Staying married isn’t just about commitment. It takes more than love and an iron will.
A constellation of factors come into play—some of which you have control over, many of which you don’t.
Couples who stay married aren’t BETTER than those who divorce, any more than slim folks are somehow “better” than curvier ones.
Sometimes, marriages fail because they were set up to fail.
And, in failing, they did exactly what they were supposed to do.
Divorce: A Master’s Degree in the Human Heart
Marriage is not a love affair, it’s an ordeal.”
– Joseph Campbell
Few events change your life more profoundly than divorce.
It’s a wake-up call. In one fell swoop, everything about your old life is over.
You question the past. You question yourself. You question where you’re going.
You don’t know what’s true anymore.
Divorce is like Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. Kali knows that without death there can be no space for new life. Clearing out the old makes room for the new.
As you stand in the rubble of your old life, it’s normal to grieve. But there’s possibility in the emptiness. Every direction is open to you. What will you create?
Let divorce teach you. Use its lessons to imagine a better future.
Divorce gives you rare insight into human nature. Love’s destruction is as riveting as love’s blooming. It proceeds down well-worn paths.
Understand why marriages break down, and you have the knowledge to keep your next one—if that’s what you choose—from following in the same fate.
Here are 5 lessons you can learn in the trenches of a marriage breakdown.
1. People aren’t rational.
When you got married to the man of your dreams, you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that you two were alike in all the ways that mattered most.
When you divorced the husband from hell, you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that you never knew this man, even though you thought you did.
Divorce teaches us an important lesson.
No matter how much we think we know what’s going through another person’s head, we have NO CLUE.
We assume people are reasonable. We assume they act in their own best interests. We assume they live in the same world we do.
None of those assumptions are true.
Your ex may have been living in a completely different marriage than the one you thought you were living in.
And he will do anything to preserve that worldview, from twisting innocent comments to manufacturing an evil alter-ego for you.
Not even the closest lovers know what it’s like to stand in each other’s shoes.
2. Spouses are supposed to drive us crazy.
You thought you chose your husband because he was handsome, charming, passionate, and compatible.
You actually chose him because he could drive you crazy.
That’s the conclusion of Imago Therapy, a form of couples therapy developed by Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.
Imago Therapy teaches that we don’t pick our marriage partner on the basis of his objective merits. We pick him because he feels familiar. Like we’ve always known him. Being with him feels like going home.
He feels so comfortable and familiar because he reminds us of someone—on a subconscious level, of course.
We’ve finally found someone who can love us like they never did…
Or hurt us in the exact same ways.
If your parents ever drove you crazy, then it’s no wonder you ended up with a partner who drove you crazy.
Imago therapy could teach you how to give each other what you need, but most couples can’t face the thought that marriage might be about healing childhood wounds.
3. No marriage is good forever.
They have ups and downs.
In fact, all relationships have a self-destruct mode built into them.
It’s called the Power Struggle, and it happens to everyone.
After the glorious honeymoon phase of a relationship…
After the reality check where you finally realize what exactly you’ve got yourself into…
You hit a stage where you butt heads with your partner over just about everything.
You both want to be in charge. You want him to do what you say, but he ignores you. You’re not the boss of him. You should do what HE says.
It’s SO ANNOYING.
If you didn’t know that the Power Struggle was a natural part of every relationship, you’d freak out. You’d assume your fights were a sign you shouldn’t be together.
Couples who know about the Power Struggle spend that time figuring out better ways to navigate conflict. This is a learning process. You’ll never agree on everything, so you need to figure out how to move forward when you both want to go in different directions.
4. Hope lies in kindness.
As long as you can be kind to one another, there’s hope.
But when you can’t even bother being kind to each other, there’s not much point in staying together.
Living together as one takes enormous inner resources. You have to care about each other. You have to treat each other really well.
When one of you can’t be bothered—because you take each other for granted, or you blame each other for everything, or that’s how your parents treated each other—then the marriage starts to show cracks.
Dr. John Gottman studies couples on the verge of divorce, and he discovered four “red flag” behaviors.
If your relationship exhibits one or more of these red flags, mutual respect is slipping fast. You’re losing the ability to be kind.
The four behaviors are:
- defensiveness, and
Rolling your eyes at each other.
Refusing to talk about issues.
Defending yourself instead of listening to the other person.
Pointing out each other’s many personal flaws.
Having been in a relationship where all four red flags were flying in all their glory, I can tell you it’s awful. My partner didn’t see anything wrong with rolling his eyes at me. I obviously deserved his contempt and disgust. Everything he said about me was true, while I’d better not say a word against him.
A relationship without kindness isn’t worth keeping.
5. His attitude matters.
It’s sad but true:
Relationships hinge on the husband.
If you have a husband who’s willing to work with you and learn how to be a better man, hold him tight and don’t let him go.
Most women are willing to work with their men. Women are taught to prioritize social harmony from a young age. We’re taught to put others first and find common ground and compromise if necessary.
Men are taught to stand their ground, defend their territory, express their rage, and reject any and all feminine influences.
Which means they don’t always come into marriage with the skills necessary to create marital peace and harmony.
In healthy marriages, BOTH parties take each other’s thoughts and feelings into account. Women tend to be better at this than men.
The fate of a marriage may depend on whether the man can be bothered to consider his partner’s thoughts and feelings.
A New Vision for Marriage
It’s hard to realize that there’s only so much you can do.
If he doesn’t think he has to consider how you feel…
If he doesn’t feel he has to be kind to you…
If he sees conflict as an opportunity to beat you…
If he blames you for driving him crazy…
If he knows he’s right and has no idea what planet you’re living on…
Then it’s no wonder your marriage broke up.
That was the right thing to do.
Blame it on Kali the Divorce Goddess.
Even if you couldn’t end it, she swept in and razed the structure to the ground.
It was going to collapse anyway. It wasn’t safe. You could have been hurt even worse if you’d refused to get out.
Now you’re standing in the rubble, watching the smoke drift away, realizing that you have to start all over again.
On a foundation of kindness.
On a foundation of respect.
On a foundation of compassion and consideration.
That doesn’t sound so bad.
It sounds like a new beginning.
Can Your Marriage Be Saved?
I’ve been studying marriage breakdown since 2005, when I wrote my first book, Save My Marriage Today, with co-author Andrew Rusbatch. The book gives couples a foundation in basic marriage skills like communication, negotiation, and respecting gender differences. Exercises help couples understand each other and understand themselves.
Since then, my perspective has shifted. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, marriages fall apart. What can we do, then, to help heal the wounds caused by divorce? For me, the answer is to make a new commitment to oneself. You are the love you’ve been looking for. That’s what my latest book The Pleasure Principle is all about.