If you're someone who's read, even a couple of my articles on here, you probably already know that I'm a marriage life coach. What you might not be aware of, though, is I'm one who specializes in reconciling divorces.
And why is that my particular niche? There are a few reasons. One, I am a child who experienced two divorces while growing up. Parents, if you don't think that divorce affects your kids, even well into their adulthood, I encourage you to read this piece in its entirety. Another reason is because, although it's not discussed nearly enough, from a biblical perspective, the Bible has a lot to say on the topic (Malachi 2:14-16, Matthew 19:1-12, I Corinthians 7:10-11, for starters). Because marriage is such a profound spiritual union to me, that's another reason why I strive to do all that I can to help couples not divorce or reconcile once they do. Still, another reason is actually found in the title of today's piece. There are countless couples that I've worked with who, were unhappy in their marriage, got divorced and then, whether it was a year or 10 years later, they ended up totally regretting it. In fact, there are studies to support that between 32-50 percent of divorced couples end up wishing that they had made another decision at some point in their lives.
The old folks used to say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My mother used to say that discernment prevents experience from being your teacher. There's a wise saying that goes something like, "If you've been waiting for a sign, this is it." If you're married and a part of you has been wondering if it's time to throw in the towel, before you do, here are some things that you should strongly consider before signing on the dotted line; some things that many divorced people wish they had thought about more, before they ended their own relationship.
REGRET #1: How Much They Saw Divorce As an Option
One of the reasons why I no longer have the desire to have a boyfriend again is because, I believe, that way too many people date like they are already married. They get together, give their all, break-up and move on to the next person, only to repeat the pattern. Before long, sometimes without even noticing it, they start to process marriage like they do a dating relationship by taking on the mindset of, "Welp. If it doesn't work out, I'll just break up with my spouse like I have with everyone else." To me, marriage way too sacred to take on that casual of an approach. For me, if I promised forever, I want to do my best to mean it (an interesting read from a spiritual perspective is "Until Death Do Us Part — For Real").
That said, we all know that divorce is an option in the sense that it is something that we all can choose to do. But when I've counseled some people who are divorced, one of the regrets that they shared with me is them ending their marriage was an option that they focused on way too much. Before long, not making their marriage work became the goal far more than trying to stay together was; the vows that they said to their partner on their wedding day no longer held very much weight. Why? Basically because, since they knew that they could get out, they were obsessed with doing just that.
I often say that I wonder how many people would get married if divorce was illegal; if dissolving the union actually wasn't an option. Either way, the power of our thoughts is what sets things into motion. If you're always approaching your marriage like you can get out at any time, that could end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; one that has ramifications that you very well may not be prepared to take on.
(A cool video that addresses this very point is "We Saved Our Marriage - Tips to Saving our Marriage - Divorce is Not an Option").
REGRET #2: How the Divorce Affected Their Children. Including Adult Children.
Something that is truly like fingernails on a chalkboard to me is when I'm talking to someone who is on the verge of ending their marriage, I bring up their kids, and they say something along the lines of, "People divorce all of the time and kids survive." Geeze. I'm hoping that you want your children to do more than just "survive" in this life. Something that's even more fascinating is when they say, "I'm the product of a divorce and I came out OK." Perhaps you did, but there are also plenty of studies to support that a part of the reason why you may have dissolved your union is because your parents divorced when you were a kid. Kind of ironic, isn't it?
I was just having a conversation with someone who recently divorced. He admitted that a part of the reason why his marriage didn't last is because of all of the unresolved PTSD that he had from when his parents broke up. The scars from their divorce resulted in him not trusting people, not knowing how to resolve conflict in a healthy way and never fully letting his guard down with his wife. He's not alone. You can read articles like "10 Common Dating Struggles Children Of Divorce Face", "The Long-Term Impact Of Parental Divorce On Young Adult's Relationships" and "Divorce Hurts Children, Even Grown Ones", and studies like "Effects of Parental Divorce on Marital Commitment and Confidence" to know that the after-effects of a divorce can truly be long-lasting. Which is just one more reason to think long and hard before making the decision to get one.
REGRET #3: The Fact That They Divorced Without Going to Therapy First
As a marriage life coach, this is the one that I can't seem to figure out. Marriage is serious. So is divorce. I don't get why you would get into one without some counseling or get out of one without some therapy. I once read an article that only one-fourth of divorcing couples have ever sought out any type of professional help. I'd venture to say that a part of that is pride, another part is fear and, an even greater part is couples think that their marriage is beyond repair. Again, my focus is on reconciling divorces and there have been divorced couples who have come back together after, as Iyanla Vanzant says, "doing the work". You simply need to be open to finding someone who has the tips, tools and commitment to help you and yours stay together.
One reconciled couple told me that they realize the reason why they had such a hard time in their marriage is because the premarital counseling that they got totally sucked. It was so bad that they went into their marriage extremely ill-prepared. And, because they got a divorce without seeking therapy, they didn't realize that their marriage could be saved. It took three years of us all working together, but they did eventually get married again. They've been together, for the second time, for six years now.
Therapy isn't easy but it can be what saves your marriage. At the very least, give it a shot. That way, you'll know that you have it all that you could. Without therapy, you could always end up wondering what could've been—had you went.
REGRET #4: The Financial Toll That Divorce Has Taken on Them
When it comes to staying married, some folks claim that it's cheaper to keep her—or him. It might sound totally insensitive or even a little crass, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some truth to that. A Forbes article and one on Money Under 30's site both state that an average divorce can cost you as much as $20,000 between hiring attorneys, divvying up property, taking time off from work to handle the details of the divorce, working through tax issues and getting therapy for you and your kids. Not to mention how the stress and strain of dissolving the marriage could cause you to slack on your bills and ultimately affect your credit score.
One client that I was working with for over a year-and-a-half, we had to stop because a divorce that he didn't want had taken such a toll on his income that he simply couldn't afford to pay for his sessions anymore. During our final meeting, he said, "I thought a quickie divorce would save me money. It cost me more than I ever would've imagined."
Staying together just so you won't lose money isn't a good enough reason. But getting out without factoring what it could do to your financial state is something that you should never do. Ignoring the financial toll could end up costing you. BIG TIME.
REGRET #5: How Their Unrealistic Expectations of Marriage Led to Divorce
Whenever a couple tells me that they want to end their marriage and I ask them why, oftentimes they say something along the lines of, "It just wasn't what I expected marriage to be." When I ask them to break down what their expectations were, sometimes they will say something like, "I thought it would be like my grandparents' marriage" or "I thought it would be a fairy tale" or—and this one is super popular—"I didn't think it would be this hard." First up, you and your spouse are not you and your grandparents; they have their journey and you have yours. Plus, I'm willing to bet good money that if you knew all of what went down in their marriage, your eyes would buck open wide a few times. Second, nobody's marriage is a fairy tale. Fairy tales are make-believe. And, on that last point, that's a part of the reason why I think it is so important for a couple who is considering marriage to get into some serious premarital counseling. I'm not talking about after they get engaged either. I mean even before that (so that you're actually listening and not treating your sessions like a mere formality).
If all that you think marriage consists of is "having a non-stop sleepover with your best friend", about three months in, you're gonna be in for a real shock, if not a series of huge disappointments. I personally think that a part of what makes marriage so challenging for a lot of people is, not only are you learning how to share so much of your life with another individual, you're also learning some things about yourself—good, bad and ugly—that you probably wouldn't learn any other way. Sometimes the mirror that marriage holds in front of you makes you want to turn away and leave the relationship altogether.
If you're expecting your marriage to be like someone else's or the reenactment of a scene from your favorite rom-com all of the time, you definitely are a candidate for divorce. Marriage is beautiful. It's also one of the hardest things that you'll ever do. If you're not willing to accept that, avoid the regret of getting divorced by not getting married in the first place. Better to be real about what marriage is than go into it in a state of denial, divorce and end up with regrets.
REGRET #6: The Fact That a Divorce Isn’t Necessarily a “Solution” to Anything
If you are being subjected to abuse—any kind of abuse—that is one thing. But if you're thinking of getting a divorce because you feel like there are problems that only ending your marriage can resolve, I'm going to challenge you a bit on that. One of the reasons why second marriages have a 67 percent divorce rate and third marriages have a whopping 73 percent divorce rate is because a lot of people will get a divorce and then hop into another marriage without taking the time to do some serious self-reflecting. In other words, they will file for divorce from their original partner thinking that their spouse was the problem when the reality is it was probably a whole lot more complex than that.
A female client that I once had told me that she regretted divorcing her husband because she thought that he was simply the wrong fit. But after getting back into the world of dating, she saw that there was some idealism, selfishness and impulsiveness that she had within her own self that she needed to deal with. In hindsight, she wished she had been willing to look at those things while she was still married; perhaps her marriage could've been spared if she had.
I don't know too many divorced people who claim that divorce minimized the problems that they had in their life. Oftentimes what happens is they simply exchange one set of stressful issues for another. This is just one more reason to think long and hard before actually filing for a divorce.
REGRET #7: The Way They Underestimated Life After Divorce
Divorce is certainly no laughing matter, but one of my friends did have me cracking up when, after going out on a few dates following his divorce, he asked me, "What the hell is super gonorrhea? Y'all got some new STDs out here since I was single?" Yes sir. Yes we do. My friend is off the chain, so I'm hoping that he didn't find out that little not-so-fun-fact the hard way. But what he said is a great way to wrap all of this up.
I've had divorced people tell me that they regret ending their marriage because they don't like the dating scene, sex seems way too complicated now, making connections is difficult—the list goes on and on. I've even had some folks admit that the freedom that they thought would come with being unmarried doesn't compare to the security that they totally underestimated within their marital dynamic.
To be fair, I'm not saying that every divorced person that I've encountered hates that they ended their union. Some have left and never looked back. But I do think that those stories are told way more than those who do wish that they had taken a different approach to their marriage. It should also go on record that some people look back and wish that they weren't so quick to get out—that they had tried a little harder to make things work.
Again, marriage is serious—and divorce is serious. Neither should be entered into lightly. In a world where it seems like people change their spouses like they change their clothes, just try and be sober-minded and as knowledgeable as possible before getting into or out of a marriage. Life is short. It's best to have as few regrets as possible. Amen? Amen.
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