Divorce may be common, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. Death is also common, but the greatest pain we will experience is the death of those we love the most. And the second greatest pain humans experience is the death of their marriage: divorce. Today’s article is prompted by a European reader, who I will call Anna.
I will begin by explaining Anna’s situation and suggesting options, ideas, and resources for her to investigate. I cannot solve Anna’s problem. Only she can. But the information I provide may help her make her own decision.
Anna married a man from another European country and lives with him in his country. Their cultures and languages are different, but they both can speak English. They have two small children. Busy raising the children and somewhat suspicious of the people in her husband’s country, Anna feels alienated. Unfortunately, both Anna and her husband are stubborn and short-tempered. Although her husband is a good father, Anna finds the constant bickering so upsetting that she has decided to get a divorce and wonders if I have any suggestions.
According to the laws of the country she lives in, she cannot get a divorce until she first has a trial separation of six months. After living apart from her husband for six months, she can get a divorce if her husband agrees. If he doesn’t agree, she must live apart another six months before the court will grant a divorce. In cases where the wife’s safety is at risk, courts will immediately grant a divorce. However, Anna’s husband is not physically abusive, so she must first separate if she wishes to get a divorce.
Why are problems so hard to solve? One reason is that all of our problems are accompanied by other hidden problems that completely escape our attention. Failure to resolve the hidden problems prevent us from solving the problem that presently has our attention. Let’s look at four of the common hidden problems.
1. The mindset that led to the present problem cannot be used to solve the problem. Albert Einstein explained this is clearer terms, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
So, Anna will be unable to solve her problems until she stops thinking the way she is accustomed to. After all, it is her way of thinking that created the problems. She needs to “step out of the box” and see things in a new way. By the way, I’m not blaming Anna, for all of us, including her husband, are guilty of this flaw.
2. We don’t see the world as it is, but as we think it is. We don’t experience reality, but our interpretation of it. For example, in her email, Anna describes her resentment for “being let down” by her husband. But neither our spouse nor the world lets us down, they merely are. It is the demands we make that cause us to feel let down. So, if a man demands that his wife behave in a certain way for him to be happy, when she doesn’t behave that way he will feel let down. Not because his wife is bad, but because his arbitrary and unjustifiable demands haven’t been met.
3. Our problems are created by our reactions to situations, not by the situations themselves. The failure to recognize this is a major flaw with most people. We seem to believe that all of our problems are caused by events and others, rather than our faulty thinking and behavior.
For example, every time Anna’s husband says or does something she disagrees with, she becomes upset. Becoming upset is an automatic reaction that bypasses her power of choice. She could, for instance, choose to be compassionate, understanding, accepting, and forgiving, rather than angry.
4. Often people feel trapped; they feel powerless, as if they can’t do anything. They may say, “I can’t get along with my spouse; I can’t change; I can’t follow the advice of the counselor.” Merely by saying they can’t, they come to believe it is true. But the truth is, in their case, ‘“can’t” simply means “unwilling to.” They are unwilling to change because of the discomfort and fear they feel. But to get anything worthwhile we have to be willing to pay the price.
What Does Anna Need to Do Now?
1. Anna’s day is filled with frustration, resentment, and worry. These toxic emotions are draining her energy and preventing her from remaining focussed and thinking clearly. Under these conditions, if not impossible, progress will take place only at a snail’s pace. How can she find a job, find a new place to live, and solve her other problems while she is under so much stress? To make any real progress she must first learn how to get along with her husband, for once she does so, she’ll be able to relax and think clearly again.
So, the first thing she needs to do is treat her husband cordially. Just because she may not agree with him doesn’t mean that she should be disagreeable. Besides, she owes him at least that much. Isn’t he providing for her? Isn’t he a good father? And doesn’t she want to be a good role model for her children?
2. Anna needs to learn how to communicate. So does her husband, but if one of the partners learns how to, it will open up the other. Lack of communication is a leading cause of divorce. No wonder Anna and her husband are in such a mess. Whether she divorces or not, she still needs to learn the art of communication, and the sooner she does so, the better.
She asked me if I had any books to recommend, so here is my first one. COMMUNICATION: Key to Your Marriage: A Practical Guide to Creating a Happy, Fulfilling Relationship by H. Norman Wright.
If she would like another book, here it is: HOW TO SPEAK YOUR SPOUSE’S LANGUAGE: Ten Easy Steps to Great Communication by H. Norman Wright.
What Does Anna Need to Do after the Separation?
Although the law requiring a separation before divorce may appear to Anna as an unnecessary additional burden, it is actually a blessing in disguise. For it will give her time to cool off and think things through. And after experiencing life without her husband, she’ll be in a better position to decide if that’s what she really wants. Often, we don’t appreciate what we have until after losing it.
The most important job for Anna during the separation is to decide whether or not she really wants to go through with the divorce. But she cannot make a sound decision based on the toxic emotions she now has. She needs to calm down, take a deep breathe, and consider all the consequences.
But, since we cannot solve our problems with the same mindset that created them, she also needs the guidance of someone with the correct mindset and expertise. That’s why I’m recommending the following book, SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can—and Should— be Saved by Lundy Bancroft and JAC Patrissi.
Here are the comments of a reader of the book: “...Lundy (an expert on domestic abuse) & JAC (runs a facility for women healing from damaging relationships) are supportive and straight forward in this thoughtful and kind book. It’s strength is that it is filled with clear benchmarks to assess problems and give you some perspective. For example, (in an exercise on page 86): “1. What are some of the ways in which your partner has taken your freedom away 2. How does he justify doing so? 3. Which of his justifications get you the most unsure or confused?” Then they discuss a framework to understand your responses. In short, this book helps you identify the problems, make a plan for action and follow through with that plan. For many, this book could be the first step in getting your life back to a safe and happy place...”
Other than in cases of violence, abuse, addiction, and criminal activity, divorce can be considered a failure rather than a solution. On the other hand, marital reconciliation can become a huge success. For both partners can experience growth, healing, and greater intimacy. If a successful reconciliation is possible, it would certainly solve all of the problems for Anna, her husband, and the children.
What Does Anna Need to Do if Reconciliation Is Not Possible?
1. If divorce is inevitable, Anna will need as much help as possible to work through the stress and chaos that accompanies it. Again, since she asked for book recommendations, here is a good one: GETTING PAST YOUR BREAKUP: How to Turn a Devastating Loss into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You by Susan J. Elliott
2. It is difficult to go through a divorce alone. For this reason, it is best to join a support group. If Anna cannot find one close to where she lives, she can check out these online support groups:
For support groups specifically serving women, check out:
3. And for videos on healing after divorce, check:
4. To avoid the top ten mistakes women make after divorce, read this article:
Anna sent a long email with many questions, most of which I haven’t answered because she will first have to resolve the hidden problems that I spoke about. Once she does so, and with the help of the resources I provided, she’ll be able to answer all the questions herself.
I’m sure all our readers join me in wishing Anna, her spouse, and her children the very best.