Divorce Should Always Be A Last Resort, Even For “Gray” Divorces, Part I

In The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Monday, February 7, 2022, Amy Dickinson’s column concerned a thirty seven year marriage, and a wife in her sixties who is considering a divorce because she believes her husband is still involved with a woman he had an affair with thirty years earlier.  He denies the relationship.  The advice Amy Dickinson gave was excellent, to seek marriage counseling and simultaneously seek legal advice as to the divorce laws where she lives.

As a retired family court judge, who presided over family law cases for two decades, I have written extensively about family law, marriage and divorce, even an entire two volume book on Florida Family Law.  I have written less frequently on this blog about my expertise before retirement, but there is one blog post which clearly explains my reasoning why divorce should always be a last resort, even for “gray” divorces.  After reading Amy Dickinson’s most recent column on the issue, I am reprinting the May 30, 2021 post in two parts, the first part here:

Gray Divorce is not About What You Are Reading In the Media: Hear It From A Retired Family Court Judge

The media hoopla around the divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates is the impetus for this blog post and my sharing of my thoughts on “gray” and “white” marriage and divorce.  “Gray” divorces are considered ages 50’s and 60’s.  I guess that leaves us Boomers with “white” divorces.

After a long profession of helping children and families, I finally felt secure enough to develop some ideas and mantras of my own regarding children, marriage and divorce.  One of my most important is that a perfect marriage is when you are happy 70% of the time.  I even lectured about it to other judges and lawyers, and included it in my book, “Florida Family Law & Practice,” available through James Publishing and on Amazon.  The link to my last speech about what I had learned about children and families, marriage and divorce, over my decades long career of being a family lawyer and family judge is available on YouTube

A perfect marriage is when you are happy 70% of the time.

This a significant statement to ponder.  How can we expect that two strangers, who come from different family backgrounds and culture, are going to be happy 100% of the time when they marry?  After all, siblings from the same family, from the same background and family culture, do not get along much of the time.

I believe that we have an unrealistic romantic view of marriage before we enter into this commitment and it does not get better with the length of the marriage.  We underestimate the commitment.  It is a marital partnership, the greatest, longest, and most challenging and important business contract we enter into in our lives.  It is a commitment to do that which is necessary to make the marriage sustain itself “until death do us part.”

We are not taught that a marriage is an entity separate from each of us. 

It is. We must nurture ourselves, but we also must nurture the marital relationship.  Just as life has its ups and downs for each of us individually, life brings peaks and valleys, ups and downs in the marriage. If we bring children into the marriage relationship, then our responsibility to preserve and protect the marriage becomes even greater and more significant.  Divorce damages children and we do not have children in a marriage to damage them.

The emotional aspect of the business relationship of a marriage brings the most challenges. If we aim for a perfect marriage, we should aim to be happy 70% of the time.

When marital partners deal with what are real detriments to maintaining a marriage of any length, drug abuse, mental health issues, spouse abuse, these detriments trump the above.  When partners to a long term relationship consider divorce, there are many reasons, including staying too long in an abusive marriage, not realizing the detriment to the children of living with parents in a loveless marriage.  Adultery can be the cause or the consequence of challenges in the partners or the marriage, and can end a marriage or not. There are no easy answers when it comes to divorce at any time.  There are only hard issues.  “Gray” or “white” divorces have some of the hardest issues and challenges, once considered those being primarily finances and ostensibly growing apart, but there is so much more to consider.

In the valleys of the marriage, in between the high peaks, the Kubler Ross stages of grief and healing upon the death of a loved one are applicable to the emotional stages each marital partner experiences as the marital relationship experiences its expected and unexpected issues and challenges.  The emotional stages leading to the end of a marriage, in my opinion, are shock and denial, anger, sadness, and finally moving forward to a life leaving the marital partnership behind.

The marital partners do not know they are going through the emotional stages.

The marital partners do not go through the emotional stages at the same time.  The partner who goes into the stages of the “emotional divorce” first I call the “initiator” partner.  Many times, the “non initiator” partner does not realize anything is wrong until the initiator has already moved forward, out of the marital relationship.

Divorce or dissolution of marriage happens when neither partner has recognition of a valley that requires intervention until one partner is already in the moving forward stage.  At that last stage of moving forward is when divorce or dissolution of marriage cannot be stopped.

Part II continues the discussion of why divorce should be a last resort and how to make it a last resort.  It begins with the stages of divorce, how to identify them and what to do to stop the path to divorce, the consequences of divorce on children, even adult children, and continues with how to save the marriage and how to recreate or create the marriage that brings happiness 70% of the time.

The best time to save a marriage is when there is communication of concern or dissatisfaction in a valley [in the marriage] and the partners attend marriage counseling to deal with it.  If one is informed, there are ways to know when this communication is needed.

Continuing in Part II.

With little joy,

Mema

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