BOOM! Your marriage is in trouble and DIVORCE IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. What do you do?
As with a medical emergency, get help now! Waiting only invites death. The qualified and trained ER staff will assess your immediate needs and give you a list of things to do. Yes, you may need extensive (and expensive) tests, a course of medication, a change in your “diet” and “exercise.” You may even need major surgery or a lifetime of ongoing therapy.
But for now, trust you are in good hands and there is hope. This quick list can help you or someone you love who is facing the fear of a family blowup. Divorce does not have to be the end.
WHAT YOU MUST REMEMBER
- Don’t run. You made a vow for life, no matter what.
- You have an obligation to do everything possible to save, adjust, recreate, or otherwise find a way to live with your spouse in some level of harmony. It may be possible; it may not. But you have to try.
- You do not have the right to leave simply if things are uncomfortable or miserable. Those are signals that something needs fixing and are also invitations to discover new ways of loving each other.
- You bring more harm to the marriage when you shift love and loyalty that first belongs to the spouse to your children, friends, or others. Don’t do that.
- You must do the work that is required to change things on your part. BUT…
( 1) It takes two for a marriage to work.
( 2 ) You are not obligated to endure gross neglect or passive/aggressive abuse and live in a miserable situation forever.
- You have legitimate moral options. But first you have moral obligations.
WHAT YOU MUST NOT TOLERATE
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse, pressure, or deviancy
- Verbal abuse
- Emotional and psychological abuse
- Bullying, shaming, name-calling
- Affairs and other infidelities
- Pornography and other addictions
WHAT YOU MUST DO IF THERE IS TROUBLE
Do not ignore it or fall into hopelessness.
Do you benevolently wish he/ she would die a peaceful death, so you would be free? A desire for escape is normal but there are ways other than death. Hopelessness seems realistic when you are looking at all the things that have not worked. But there is usually another way you have not yet discovered or maybe don’t want to see. There is always hope. Invite God into this right away and cling tightly to him. Consult with him often.
Tame your feelings for now.
If you resent your spouse and cannot imagine a happy life with him or her, acknowledge that the feelings are telling you help is necessary and death of the marriage may be imminent. But feelings come and go with circumstances. Your circumstances CAN change. Don’t be foolish and make this decision without wise counsel.
Get outside help.
We put time, energy, and lots of money into our home repairs, car repairs, dental needs, medical issues, our education, and our children . . but not our marriage? We hire financial counselors but not marriage counselors? The marriage is the fountain of love, security and hope that flows to all the children and into the community. It is our most important human relationship. Treat it as such.
Realize not all counselors are the same.
Pray for the wisdom to find a good counselor and ask trusted, wise friends. Anyone who tells you to stay and endure abuse is wrong. Anyone who tells you to simply leave and find yourself is wrong. Priestly collars and counseling degrees are not guarantees that you will get the truth. Each person and what they bring from their past into a marriage is unique. Thus, each marriage is unique, and every situation is different. I recommend The Gottman Institute and their trained therapists which, although not specifically faith-based, have extremely helpful methods of repairing friendships and respect that should underlie a marriage. Lots of free & helpful videos are online.
Do the necessary work.
You cannot change another and even God will not impose himself on their free will. It is a lie from the pit of hell that successful marriages should be easy. They can be, but only after we open up the closets and—with God’s help, grace, and good counseling—clean out the years of junk that has been keeping us from loving each other rightly. Don’t be lazy.
Make a plan.
To accomplish any goal, we need plans, timetables, and methods. The same is true for repairing relationship issues. We also have to want it badly enough. Sit down with your spouse and be honest about your fears and desires. Have you been thinking about leaving? Don’t hide that . . . reveal the truth of it so that your spouse can have the opportunity to hear you and do what is necessary to respond rightly. Don’t threaten; make a bid for help. Start with one counseling appointment to see where you might both begin. If your spouse won’t go, you go.
I’d love to be more original, but “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Be willing to suffer for a greater good.
I’m not talking about suffering from abuse; I’m talking about the difficulty of being misunderstood, of having to wait for the other, of the struggles to communicate and work things out. The suffering of being lonely and feeling discouraged while we give the Holy Spirit time to work in both of us. Carry your cross for a greater good. Model this maturity for your children.
WHAT YOU MUST DO IF THEY REFUSE COUNSELING OR SEEK DIVORCE
Refuse to accept divorce as a solution.
Don’t agree just to keep the peace or if they say its “best for the kids.” If you think there is still work that can be done or divorce is not the answer, fight for the truth. Not with bitterness or revenge but with certainty and courage. Don’t leave the home; if they want a divorce, let them leave. But remember that they can still file without your consent. Be emotionally, financially, and legally prepared for all possibilities.
Consult with a lawyer immediately.
This is not to facilitate divorce but to protect yourself and the children from unseen problems. Did you know that if /he she asks you to move out–and you do to keep the peace—you could be considered to have “abandoned the family” and could lose custody or visitation? The legal system is a hellhole. Be smart.
Keep the kids out of it.
You’ll need to assure the children of your mutual love for them and that things will work out in the end somehow. But don’t invite them into the details or make allies of them. Get professional counseling immediately on how to best help the kids. They are already wounded but don’t fall into fear or despair over their hurts; remember that God is with you all and can bring healing over time. Don’t minimize the pain that divorce will bring into their lives, maybe for a very long time.
If you have not already done so, ask for specifics.
Ask your spouse to write down the five things that would have to change for them to stay in the marriage. You’d be surprised at how many people never have this list in their mind or ask for it from the other. They just think they are unhappy and want to leave. Clearly this marriage didn’t work for you. Let’s end it and rebuild a new one we can both live with. What five things would have to change for you to consider rebuilding a new marriage that would work for you? You also give him/her a deadline to reply: I would like to hear back from you in two weeks. If not, I will consider that you have no interest. If he/she responds positively, get into therapy at once. Give them your list, too. If they reject your bid, you can proceed with a clear conscience that at least you asked.
Read what the Church teaches about divorce and annulment.
Don’t seek advice from just anyone in the Church. Many clergy and laity can knowingly or unknowingly give you bad advice. Read the Catechism: CCC 1628, 1629, 1649-1651, 2382-2384
Learn about Church annulment.
Your marriage vows are considered valid and unbreakable unless proved otherwise(after your civil divorce) in a church tribunal. It’s prudent to get past the misunderstandings and discover what the Church really teaches so that you are armed with the truth no matter what happens. If your spouse divorces you and attempts to seek annulment, you will need this information to cooperate and/or defend your marriage bond, not just on your emotions but on the truth. You may also see that you had major problems from the start that may have prohibited a valid marriage bond from forming. Get the book HERE.
WHAT YOU MUST DO AFTER DIVORCE
Remain true to your vows.
You may believe it justified to file for civil divorce to protect yourself and your family because of very grave circumstances. But you must remain faithful to your marriage vows until and unless there is an annulment. That means no dating; you are married and have no right to offer yourself to or use another.
Wait at least a year or more.
Give the other spouse time to repent and return. You owe them that even if it seems unlikely. It is also a good way to insure you will not make knee-jerk decisions.
After learning all you can about marriage validity, and you believe you have a valid marriage bond, you must resolve to live your life alone but married, no matter what your spouse does. The civil divorce affects property and other legal rights, but it does not undo your marriage bond. You can offer up the pain for the good of your spouse and your family and have a rich, whole, and satisfying life without living together. It may not feel like it today, but the truth is that faith, family, friendships, and meaningful work can make a rich and happy life. Marriage is a great good, but we do not need it to be happy or to get into heaven (albeit not without a lot of sorrow and grieving, I know). Avoid self-pity; seek and grant forgiveness. Draw always closer to Our Lord.
Stay in counseling for yourself and your children.
There is so much to learn about relationships and parenting. Keep investing in the discovery of who you are, how much God loves you, and what healthy relationships look like. It will only help you and your whole family in the long run.
Is this an exhaustive list of everything you’ll need to know or consider? No. There is so much more, but these steps can help you get a short-term plan while you allow God to love and guide you in this troubling time. If we turn to him and trust Him, he promises to bring great good from all our sorrows. Even divorce.
For more on suffering, annulment, dating after divorce, go to www.catholicsdivorce.com.
For annulment help or pastoral advice contact Rose.