People often view the prospect of divorce much like the mystical oasis is for the thirst-starved person wandering alone in a sun-scorched desert. A magical place where all pain will cease. But in the end is divorce worth it? Is the oasis really worth it? Surely both have to be, right?
Just like an oasis can turn out to be a mirage, so too can the idea of what divorce will bring us be an illusion we create in our minds. It's where the pain of being married to this person will finally end. Or so we want to believe and hope.
We've all heard horror stories of divorces like the one in the movie War of the Roses, but certainly that's got to be the rarity, right? And that couldn't happen to you, right? Hopefully not, but the pain the movie portrays certainly can. As you consider if divorce is really worth it, please keep the element of pain in mind, both the hope of ridding yourself of it as well as the possibility of creating more.
I feel betrayed when I caught my wife flirting through repeated glances with a security personnel standing on the casino hotel passage because she thought I was asleep in the hotel room. I saw all those acts of slutty behavior a form of deceit. It is so painful and caused a very deep wound in my feeling I wish I have not seen that situation. She keeps that pattern of behaviour with men from her younger days even as a married couple. I am now suffering with shock and negative thoughts and it is taking a toll on my health. I think this would be the end of our relationship and worth a divorce. I totaly lost my trust and respect to her if there is anything left." -Ricardo
What is Divorce Like?
Divorce means pain. There's no way around it. Divorce is painful, even if you're the one who wants it. Is the pain divorce causes worth it though? Tough question. Is the pain of physical exercise worth it? That depends upon whom you ask and the level of the pain - is it a 5 on a 1-10 pain scale or is it an 11?
One of the challenges when thinking about divorce is that from the outside it's easy to underestimate the hurt it can bring and convince yourself that divorce is worth it. Even people who've been through it before can minimize the pain and the end results. When you're in pain because of your marriage, like Ricardo above, you're naturally going to be more focused on escaping the present pain than being realistic about the new pain you may be causing.
It's important to consider divorce in 2 parts. First, there's the process of getting divorced. Second, the life you'll have after the divorce is completed. Getting divorced is almost always a long, hard process. You may be able to separate rather quickly, but untangling your lives takes time. I've worked with a few people who've divorced in states that will complete the process in as short as 6 weeks, but most states are like California and require a minimum of 6 months. Despite these legal time lines I've rarely seen a divorce completed in less than a year. It just takes a lot of time to work through all of the steps. A guy I was counseling this week had his take 2.5 years and they didn't even have any money to fight over.
So there's the pain of how long divorce takes, and obviously there's going to be financial pain. But it also takes a huge toll on people mentally and emotionally. It's impossible to quantify this aspect of divorce and no one ever knows what that's actually going to be like. If you're contemplating the costs of divorce then you're probably already hurting mentally and emotionally and may think how could it get any worse. However, most people believe their ex will act better than they end up doing and that the divorce process will go better than it actually does.
Not only are people typically overly optimistic about what the process of divorcing will be like, but they also do this regarding life after divorce too. Usually when trying to decide whether or not to divorce what life will be like post-divorce isn't thought about in much detail other than a general belief it will be much better. But this is where the question about the benefits of divorce comes in to play. At some point the divorce will end and then you'll have to live with the results of being divorced.
Divorce Being Worth It Depends on the Outcome
In most divorces the two biggest issues are money and kids. In many cases there's one spouse who has the ability to earn a good income and can usually recoup the assets that are lost in divorce, while another has less income earning potential and is very dependent on maximizing their take away from the divorce. However, even though they can be replaced there still are years of saving that can't be. A woman I've counseled in the past who's now in the middle of a divorce is really regretting not prioritizing saving for retirement during her marriage.
It's a common mistake to underestimate the impact of divorce on retirement savings. Most people have some amount of money in retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k. These will be divided and years of saving will be gone. What makes retirement savings really grow is the compounding of growth over the years. So the real impact of divorce is not only in the lost savings, but the lost compounding (in the form of years and amount). The woman above with no retirement savings is now questioning if walking away from her marriage was the right thing.
The bottom line on money and divorce is that almost everyone's lifestyle goes down because what used to pay for one household must now pay for two. There is the rare exception, but most people have to figure out how to live on less. Don't lose sight of the fact that living on less won't just be a reality for a temporary period, but for the rest of your life.
Obviously, money shouldn't rule us, but it does play a big role in all of our lives and must be thoughtfully considered when making what's a very emotionally driven decision. As you wonder if getting a divorce is worth it consider this aspect carefully.
The affect on kids is also something that's easy to minimize and overlook. The impact on them isn't usually obvious. One man I'm counseling right now has had both of kids showing stress and anxiety (upset stomach, bowel accidents) over their parents broken relationship, but this is not always the case. It's not that kids aren't not impacted, they are hugely, it's just they can hide it well and often it's not visible until down the road.
Just reviewing a few statistics on children's health and well-being after divorce will give you an idea of the many ways kids are affected. Keep in mind that regardless of how you explain or justify it, deciding to divorce is more about your interests than your kids. What your kids want and need are for their parents to fix their problems and stay together.
What's rarely considered when thinking about if divorce is worth it is what it will be like starting your life over. There are many ways in which this can impact you. But I can tell you from my years of doing divorce counseling that it hits everybody - even the partner who wants the divorce. One of the most obvious places is in dating and finding someone new. Despite all of the hi-tech ways to meet and date now (dating apps, match-making services, social media) I can tell you that for most people this is harder than ever. It's also humbling to be doing it again at mid-life or later.
Another common complaint about starting over is the absence of someone to help carry the day-to-day load of life. When you're divorced everything falls on you - from figuring out how to connect the printer to Wi-Fi when your husband always did that to doing all of your laundry to being a full-time parent when it's your days for your kids to visit. Ironically, it's these moments when people can question if the divorce really worth it.
Not only do I counsel people prior to divorce, as well through it, but I counsel people well after as they struggle to figure out their new life. As I said earlier, the mental and emotional impact is impossible to predict. There are also a number of intangibles that result from divorce that are hard to anticipate and calculate their impact, such as the loss of family and friends. New routines that have to be developed, like finding a new church or favorite restaurant, moving to a new part of town to avoid crossing paths with your ex, the list goes on and on. Are any of these enough to make divorce not worth it? Not necessarily, but when the cumulative effect is considered it should make you pause.
We had the fairytale falling in love, struggles over cross country moves and difficulty getting pregnant for years. The last 2 years have been increasing hard with his work - he travels all the time. Often home on weekends, but not always. The distance has worked against us. I take of everything at home (a recent stay at home mom for the past year). We bicker a lot, have had questions about his fidelity as I have discovered a few instances whereby he keeps information from me, as innocent as it maybe, he does not let me decide how I will react to it, rather he just tries to omit it. We have too much sarcasm with one another, but on the outside, everyone has thought we had the 'perfect life'. 2 weeks, just prior to a long awaited family vacation, he bought a brand new truck, and on the vacation told me he's "done" and does not love me anymore and hasn't for awhile and that he wants a divorce. Initially, it was a bomb. I knew we were struggling and had actually wanted to take this vacation time to talk with him, put our guards down and try to work on us to reconnect and rekindle our marriage, so I told him, no way was he going to get a divorce. I don't believe in it. When we married he said he didn't either. I feel if it's broken fix it, forge a new path and don't give up. For better or worse...that vows mean something. I shared with him we could come out stronger, better spouses and parents, that we could reflect on this in years to come with our children to help guide them. After many talks, he has agreed, although he doesn't see things changing, that if I give him space, he might be able realize what he's missing. He's said he misses and wants to be part of the kids lives, but could care less if we're together, that he is simply no longer attracted to me and doesn't see that changing either. I told him I believe what we have is worth saving and trying to fix, let's bury old hatchets, leave the past in the past and start new. Let's change our old behaviors - I have already changed as I'm so much more acutely aware of places that I can be a brighter, healthier more pleasant person to be with. It will make me happier and in turn come out to him and the kids. I don't feel our marriage is disposable. I feel he might be having a mid life crisis. We lost sight of what was important and spent all our energy on the kids, house and work instead of us. I shared with him I wanted to refocus our energy. How can I help him see divorce isn't worth it?" -Vivian
What's the Goal of Divorce?
Obviously, the answer to the question is divorce worth it is going to be different for each person. Every couple I've counseled through divorce would have a different answer. One partner might say, yes, and another, no. Both might say, yes, but for different reasons, or want to qualify their answers by describing what the experience was like and the long-term affects. I've even had people who've wanted a divorce very badly and later looked back either questioning or regretting their decision.
Ultimately, deciding if divorce is worth it comes down to your reasons, purpose and goals for divorcing. What are you trying to accomplish or change? Most people would say some version of to be happy or escape the pain of their marriage. That's not an unreasonable expectation, but it's often an unrealistic one. Most people don't get divorced and never have any contact again with their ex. It does happen, but it's rare. Kids keep people connected and so escaping the pain that comes with having to interact with your current spouse isn't usually possible. Other things like finances or family can keep your ex in your life too.
A guy I who counseled through his divorce almost 10 years ago still has his divorce attorney on retainer because he and his ex can't work together to make decisions about their kids without attorneys and a judge involved. Another guy who's 4 years post divorce and just got his child visitation temporarily halted by his ex because he changed where he was living. Unfortunately, escaping all of the pain your spouse causes you now isn't possible in most cases.
Another common expectation or hope is that you'll find someone new and better. While this is always possible, it doesn't always happen. I have several divorced patients I'm counseling who've been unsuccessful in dating and finding a new long-term partner, and hate having to do it. Yet the belief that they'll find someone better is what makes a lot of people believe that getting divorced will be worth it.
So think through your expectations and be sure they're realistic. Talking with a marriage counselor experienced in divorce to check yourself is a really good idea. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking divorce will turn out better than it actually will or that it will change things that it won't.
It's tempting to want to get reassurance from others that divorce is worth it. However, be very careful to consider the potential influences of anyone you speak with. Family histories and expectations can be factors influencing opinions (both in favor and against). Anyone who's already divorced is going to have a wide range of opinions and feelings so remember that everyone's experience is different and depends a lot on the things I've already discussed. Nevertheless, it's beneficial to try to learn from the experiences of others.
There's a lot to consider when deciding if divorce will be worth it. It's a big, big life-altering decision. So take your time and make sure you're making a well thought out decision, not an emotionally driven one.
Do you have some experience with divorce? If so, is divorce worth it in your opinion? Please share your opinion with others in a comment below.
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