Birmingham AL Collaborative Divorce Law Blog

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Should You Stay, Or Should You Go? Listening to your motives may provide insight

When it comes to making the decision to divorce, no one can answer that question for you. The fact that nearly one half of all marriages end in divorce indicates that there are many reasons to part ways. Research shows that infidelity, physical, emotional or financial abuse, and addiction top the list of reasons why couples split.[1] But the impetus to make any decision comes down to one key factor: motive.

Exploring the rationale behind your desire to make life changes reveals a lot. Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W., author of Contemplating Divorce and contributor to Psychology Today, outlines two distinct types of motives: avoidance of pain or fear, and desire for positive change.

At times it may seem fear is driving a need for change, and at other times, you may feel goal-focused; however, many people may experience both fear and attention to goals when making decisions, but we are often unaware of the underlying motives driving our actions. To gain a greater understanding of your motives and move beyond fears, try these four steps.

Step 1. List your reasons to stay or go

Make a list of your reasons to end or remain in your marriage. Be specific about what you want, need, or fear. Use only first-person statements, such as “I need more intimacy,” rather than statements that are centered on another person’s behavior or situation. (“My husband is afraid of intimacy.”)

Step 2. Separate wants/needs from fears

Now examine your list. Are your reasons primarily about avoiding change, hardship or conflict? Or are they seeking resolution, even if that calls for personal change, challenges or unpleasantness?

Gadoua’s examples of goal-oriented, actionable statements include, "I want more out of life than staying in an unhappy marriage," ”I want to establish healthy boundaries in my relationships,” or "I need to get away from this abuse." Notice that each reason features a want, need or desire for change. All of these statements are action-oriented and envision a better future. 

"I'm afraid of not seeing my children every day," "I don't know how I'd make ends meet without my spouse," or "I’m scared of starting over again and being alone,” are obviously all fear-based statements. Notice how each statement even features fearful language. These motives voice concerns that may — or may not — be true in an unpleasant future that does not yet exist.

Step 3. Transform anxieties

Try to revise each fear-based statement into a goal-oriented one. Once motives are transformed into actionable statements, it’s easier to see what tangible steps may be taken to meet your needs and goals. Best of all, this clarification opens you up to a variety options.

For example, “I’m afraid of not seeing my children every day,” might become, “I want to see my children everyday even if I divorce their mother.” Perhaps divorce is not the right path for you now while your children are young. Or, if you divorce, you may want your attorney to draft custody arrangements that make you the primary custodian. Or, if you share custody, it may be important for you and your spouse to live near each other.

 “I don’t know how I’d make ends meet without my spouse,” might be revised to say, “I need to make enough money to support myself.” Even if you choose to remain married, perhaps it’s time to go back to work or to enroll in classes that will provide you with the education you need for a well-paying job down the road.

Step 4. Seek an objective expert

Talking with an objective third-party can provide an unbiased opinion about your situation. Explore the reasons you’re contemplating divorce with a skilled therapist, psychologist, family attorney, or trusted advisor. No matter your decision, sounding out your concerns may help you come to terms with your motives and allow you to move forward.

If divorce is the path you choose, working with a knowledgeable attorney can help clear up fears about legal issues, such as spousal support (alimony), child support and custody arrangements. Demystifying these aspects of the process will shed light on the reality of the situation and give you the knowledge to help transform anxious responses into empowered choices.

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