“What a mistake! What could I have been thinking of?”
Have you ever done something you later regretted? Thoughts of divorce pop up in most marriages. Some people act on them, some don't.
After a divorce is filed, there's often some second guessing: Is it the best thing to do? Recent studies conducted by researcher William Doherty, have provided new insights that might help avoid a regrettable decision.
Doherty surveyed 2,484 parents of children under 18, who had filed for divorce in Minnesota, to learn how people decide when it's over. The survey included asking participants to list “all the reasons” that were important in deciding to divorce.
Doherty found that there were both “hard” and “soft” reasons for divorcing. “Hard” reasons were problems that went to the heart of the relationship. These included chronic affairs, chemical dependency, gambling and domestic violence. Worse yet, the other spouse was “not willing to change. They have a drinking problem and won't get it fixed. They're gambling the family money away and won't get help.” It created “intolerable situations.”
“Soft” reasons for divorce involve what Doherty calls a sense of “general unhappiness and dissatisfaction, such as growing apart and not communicating.” These problems often fix themselves over time; can be resolved by taking relationship skills classes, such as conflict resolution or communications; or by developing money management techniques. Doherty suggests couples with soft reasons for divorce are better off trying to get the issues resolved.
Nonetheless, soft reasons were among the most frequently given for the planned divorce: “Growing apart,” 55 percent; “Unable to talk together,” 52.7 percent; “How spouse handles money,” 40.3 percent; and “Not enough attention,” 34.1 percent.
Hard reasons were listed less frequently: “Infidelity,” 34 percent; “Alcohol/Drug Problems, “22.1 percent; and “Physical violence,” 12.7 percent.
This is significant. Researcher Paul Amato has followed couples who considered divorce in “good-enough marriages,” i.e. the reason for a divorce was “soft.” After five years, a significantly higher percent of those who remained married were happy with their lives compared to those with good-enough marriages who decided to divorce.
It's even more significant for the children of these marriages. Amato explains that when good-enough marriages end in divorce, the first time the children learn there's a problem is when one of the parents leaves.
The shock is devastating for children and shows itself with greatly increased incidents of future psychological problems, juvenile crime, suspensions and expulsions from school, and problems with drug and alcohol abuse.
The keys to pulling back from the brink of divorce are hope and forgiveness. List the reasons why you're thinking about divorce. If the reasons are soft, then there's good reason for hope, although you and your spouse will have to address the problems honestly.
If they are hard reasons, but your spouse is willing to take the tough steps needed to change, there's also reason to hope. Even though this willingness first appears after you've filed for divorce, hope may still be warranted. Both you and your children will be better off if you work it out rather than break it off.
If there's hope, is there also a willingness to let go of the anger and forgive? It may take a long time to rebuild trust, but the willingness to forgive may save a salvageable marriage.
Amato has found that nearly 60 percent of all divorces could be avoided and that the parties and their children would be better off without the divorce. If there's a willingness to change, a willingness to forgive and reason for hope, there's a good chance that a divorce will be something to regret in years to come.
©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.