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A Happy Divorce?

by: Sharon O'Neill, Ed.S, LMFT

A happy divorce? That truly sounds like an oxymoron and it certainly is for many a divorced couple and family. But then, when have you heard a couple’s goal to be a happy divorce? You may think it absurd! To move toward a happy divorce may feel like you are acquiescing and no longer fighting for what is right.

But what is right? My experience working with divorcing couples has shown me so much of what is wrong: spouses and their children screaming, literally and figuratively in pain, needy, and seeking rescue in all the wrong places. Divorce comes to define them. Divorce creates victims with lots of complicated baggage. None of this bodes well for the ‘happily ever after’ that everyone deserves.

Let me digress for a moment to say a few things about marriage and about bringing it to an end. For the record, saving marriages has been my life-long passion. I believe that most marriages are repairable and worth every bit of the terribly difficult work required. My enduring hopefulness stems from knowing that once a couple has made their relationship the priority, and taken the pieces apart and put things back together differently, most couples can end up with a marriage far better than the old one.

I expect spouses to fight hard for their marriage and their family, and to use every resource at their disposal to find inspiration and then solutions to their unique and complex problems. Often, even one spouse, alone for a time, can make important inroads to helping the marriage. But in the end it always takes two to complete the work.

My clients have taught me that: marrying quickly after a whirlwind courtship, being complete opposites, never fighting, and having competing careers or contentious values, do not hold a marriage together over the years. Sometimes there is just not enough of the right stuff, or it really is much-too-little, much-too-late and a marriage cannot, and should not be saved.

When all has been tried, and every path exhausted, including working with a professional who concedes that the marriage cannot be saved, only then does divorce become the inevitable solution. When a marriage has become destructive, or a partner is apathetic and unwilling to work on change, it is time to let go of the possibility of restoring the relationship. It is not the time to have ‘last hope sex’ with your spouse. It is not the time for a rebound fling. These kinds of behaviors will only leave you shaky and disoriented for the divorce effort ahead. This decision will be one of the most significant in your life; it is huge.

There is no downplaying it. As much as you may not believe in divorce, or want to be divorced, you need to make peace with the fact that the decision is not yours alone, and that you have done all that is humanly possible. Now it is time to shift gears and revise perspectives. Divorce is the right path and the healthy path for you and your family.

There is no longer happiness in your marriage. The goal is to find happiness in divorcing. How do you begin? Slowly. Very slowly. If you haven’t yet talked with a therapist, this would be a perfect time. Ask your physician, or possibly a close friend or family member for a referral. You can also find an appropriately trained family therapist at www.therapistlocator.net, part of the resources offered by AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists).

Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage. She has worked for over 30 years, both in private practice and the corporate setting, helping her clients to examine assumptions, think creatively, and build upon strengths. O'Neill holds three degrees in psychology, is a Clinical Fellow of AAMFT, and maintains a private practice in Westchester County, New York. She is often called on as an expert by a variety of print/online publications, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, HopeAfterDivorce.com, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com.

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