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

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 second part here:

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

Continued from Part I:

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.

At the beginning of the emotional stages of divorce, when one partner is in shock or denial, they withdraw and begin to separate from the marital relationship.  Their behavior changes.  If the other partner does not acknowledge the change in behavior, the “initiator” partner, may next become sad and appear depressed.  The “non initiator” partner may even say the other partner should see someone about their sadness and depression.  The best path is for the partners to attend marriage counseling to deal with the marital relationship.

Navigating to the last stage of moving forward has a destructive path as it continues.  When the “initiator” partner is in the anger stage, the “non initiator” partner might feel that he or she can do nothing right or nothing to please the spouse and may even verbalize that.  If there is even the slightest recognition of this stage, the partners should attend marriage counseling to deal with the marital partnership.  Adult adolescence, changing appearance and hobbies, and further separation from the spouse and family further lead to the last stage of moving forward.

We talk about “changing,” how one partner has changed or grown and the other partner has not, in a breakup of a marriage.  Changing happens when there is no effort to grow together.  Effort is the key.  It is easier not to work hard.  It is easier to separate emotionally.  When one marital partner is ready to move forward, to leave, may be the first time that either or both partners want to try to save the marital relationship.  It is too late.

I saw many “situational domestic violence” cases that occurred when one marital partner is packing to leave and the other partner, in shock and denial, not realizing until that point that marriage is over and the “initiator” is done, in an emotional frenzy, tries to stop him or her.

So why does the Gates divorce bring the need to write this blog to the forefront?  I have read most of the articles about the Gates divorce.  Most talk about “change,” or movement from the marital partnership that took place over time in their marriage, and even allegations of adultery on the path to the divorce.

It is the children of the marriage that this retired family court judge cared about, the consequences and the detriment to them.  There was great respect for the parents who understood this, worked on their marriage when the marital partnership needed it, tried to reacquire the love and intimacy that cause the parties to marry in the first place.  There was recognition that marriage is hard work, harder still raising children.  Though, despite this, I rarely found that the parties looked forward to the good and maybe different marriage that could lay ahead rather than backward to what was wrong that caused them to leave.

In a “gray” or “white” marriage there is a shared history to recollect and look forward to reaping its benefits, worth the work to try to save the marriage, especially with the new freedom from the responsibilities of raising children and the joy of family reorganization, time for travel, hobbies and more, and celebration of a shared family history and family future. . . .and especially, sharing the joys of grandchildren together.

Being in a marital partnership comes with a responsibility and commitment to each other and to the children. The children of the marriage suffer at any age when their parents’ divorce, but the “gray” and “white” divorces are the worst for the children.

There is some speculation that the Gates’ marriage has been over for a while and that they waited until the graduation of their youngest child to divorce.  I wonder still if they looked forward, to what wonderful life together they might be missing, before they both reached the moving forward stage, the moment of no return.  Most important, not one article or opinion piece addressed the impact on adult children when their parents’ divorce. The most recent media articles are just now beginning to acknowledge the adult children’s distress.

This family court judge has found that the older the children the more they suffer when their parents divorce.

Teenagers going through their own crisis in developmental stage and adult children suffer the most.  Teenagers worry about how the divorce will affect their future, payment of schooling, and their expenses. The adult children know enough to know what the parents’ divorce means to their lives.  Their lives are also changed forever.  The navigation of life passage events (graduations, weddings, births of children, etc.) and holidays and birthdays, becomes complicated and a challenge forever more for the children.  The adult children question whether their parents were ever happy together and at what point in their childhood was every family event or vacation a lie, based on a false premise of a supposed happy marital relationship, wondering if their childhood was an important or happy part.

This is not a blog post to condemn the Gates’ for not divorcing sooner.  A divorce is an emotional failure of a business partnership.  Any divorce, especially when there are children of any age, is tragic. 

A divorce is as stressful a life passage event as a loss of a loved one.  We do anything and everything to save the life of a loved one.  The earlier an illness or disease is diagnosed, the greater the change of saving the life.   We should do anything and everything to save a marriage.  The earlier a marital partner recognizes and acknowledges that the marriage needs outside help, the greater the chance of saving the marriage.

Please do not think saving the marriage is just surviving in a relationship.  I have presided over second divorces which ended for the same reasons as the first that were never addressed.  As my mother used to say, “the grass is not greener.”

Notice that I have not mentioned “love” in the discussion above.  My next mantra, which is a common saying, is

Marriage is falling in love many times, always with the same person.  Intimacy is the key to marital happiness and a perfect marriage of being happy 70% of the time. 

This is the most important of my mantras.  Prevention is the best medicine. To maintain and nurture intimacy, I always recommend to newlyweds to go away for 24 hours every quarter, four times a year, away from their home, to a tent in the woods if necessary, without electronics or connection to anyone other than their partner.  If one is in their home, they find other things to do than talk to one another.  In this respite, couples have told me they talk about their history of loving experiences.  They reminisce. They remember why they got together in the first place. They reconnect and keep intimacy alive. Studies show that couples have sex 85% of the time during these “intimacy” trips. Marital intimacy brings us to the perfect marriage of being happy 70% of the time.

Our grandchildren deserve us to help when and where we can, not only keeping our own “gray” to “white” marriages alive and healthy as a role model to our grandchildren, but to help the parents of our grandchildren.  In 2103, I wrote the post, “Grandma’s View on Promoting Intimacy and Love.”http://grandmother-blog.com/blog/2013/06/01/grandmas-view-on-promoting-intimacy-and-love/ Marital partners must nurture the intimacy of the marriage from its infancy until death of the partners.  We grandparents can encourage quarterly intimacy trips for the parents of our grandchildren.  We can facilitate them by caring for children or paying for the care of children or assisting with the cost of that 24 hours.  Our accumulated reward points can go to no greater cause.

So, outside help to save a marriage once one of the partners enters the emotional stages of divorce not only includes marriage counseling.  It includes restoring the intimacy, which leaves the relationship first and is the most painful to experience.  When there is a valley in a marriage, more intervention is needed, both counseling and intimacy restoration.  I have recommended in my professional career, when I see that neither partner has yet reached the moving forward stage and the marriage is salvageable, that they go away at least 24 hours once a month for six months while attending marriage counseling.  Six months is the minimum for both and a minor investment for one’s children’s future.  It is better than suffering six to eighteen months of the emotional stages of divorce, and may prevent a divorce or dissolution of a marriage.

The children of the marriage, whatever their age, deserve their parents’ working on the marital partnership and the commitment, trying to save it, before it is too late.  The detrimental consequences to the children are lifelong.

“Gray” divorce is not what you are hearing about in the media.  Both Gates marital partners have moved forward.  The Gates’ adult children are in pain. That pain can now only be minimized by the parents repeatedly affirming and confirming they were once in a happy marriage and the children’s happy life experiences and happy memories of that are true.  However, while the divorcing parents’ pain may fade and go away, the children’s pain will not go away.  It is time that has been properly recognized.

With little joy,

Mema

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