If you've read, oh, I'd say seven or so articles that I've written on this site about marriage, I'm pretty sure you know that I am a marriage life coach. You might've also caught that my specialty is reconciling divorces. There are many reasons why. From a biblical standard, divorce isn't really something that God rallies behind (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:1-12, I Corinthians 7:10-11). Another reason why is, while I've never been married before (which also means that I've never been divorced either), I am a child of divorce, twice, and believe you me, children feel the effects of a broken home—no matter how much parents may want to tell themselves otherwise. Then there's the fact that marriage isn't some upgraded boyfriend/girlfriend relationship that so many people seem to act like it is. Vows were taken. Promises were made. And, if we're gonna be real about it, contracts were signed.
When you choose to get a marriage license, you've decided to make your relationship a legally binding union. In short, marriage is sacred. It's super serious too.
For those of you who are reading this who may already be divorced, this isn't to make you feel bad because, Lord, if there's something else that marriage tends to be, it's complicated. However, since I know that a lot of people are quick to jump the gun and call things "quits", only to later on regret their decision (check out "What Some People Regret About Their Divorce"), if you're someone who is really struggling in your marriage right now and the d-word has come up, more than a couple of times, I thought it would be a good idea to put on record that there is some space between being married and getting a divorce. It's called getting separated. And you know what? If you approach it from a proactive space, believe it or not, it could actually help your relationship in the long run. Here's how.
See Separating As a Way to Help Your Marriage. Not As a Vacation from It.
It's interesting because, whenever I write articles like "What Should You Do If You Feel Like You Married The Wrong Person?" and "So, What If You're Not Attracted To Your Husband Anymore?", there are a ton of people who read those. Off top, that lets me know that many people are really being tested in their marriage, even as we speak. That said, some of y'all might've seen the Black indie movie Secrets before. The married couple in the film got married young, the husband cheated, the wife was stressful and they ended up separating—for them, that season included seeing other people.
Yeah, that's not healthy. For one thing, separated or not, you are still married. Secondly, if anything looks like a rebound relationship, it's a married person who is seeing someone else while their marriage is in trouble. And third, separation should never translate into, "Goodie. Now I get to be out here, doing whatever I want." No, separating should be about giving you and your partner time and space to ponder what's going on in your relationship, how things went off of the rails and what you need in order to bring things back together. Sometimes it's hard to do that when you're constantly sharing the same space and getting on each other's last nerve. Yet when you separate with the mutual understanding that you're taking the time apart to see how to make your marriage better, that could actually be a good thing. Which brings me to the next point.
Be Open to Therapy (Separately and Together)
If you're single, reading this and you already know that you are a prideful person who is never willing to admit that you are just as human as anyone else which means that you've got flaws and can stand to grow, you DO NOT need to get married. After working well over a decade with couples, if there's one thing that I think a lot of them didn't go into their marriage prepared for, it was their spouse being able to hold up a huge symbolic mirror—one that reveals just how much they could stand to evolve and mature as an individual. In fact, let me tell it, that's why a lot of people end their marriage; when it gets too hard for them to have to see themselves, they move on in hopes of finding another person who will not challenge them to become a better person, quite like their former spouse did (layers, chile).
Here's the thing about that, though. Ever heard the saying, "Everywhere you go, there you are"? I believe that's why, the more times that people get married, the higher their chance for getting a divorce is (it's 60 percent for second marriages and a whopping 73 percent for third ones). And that's why I think it's oh so very important to use a time of separation to really focus on yourself. What could you have done better or differently? What was your understanding of marriage vs. what you are currently living out? What could you do to improve things?
In order to really get honest with yourself about stuff like this, more times than not, it's best to go to therapy (or a counselor or relationship life coach) alone at first—just so that you can really "get back to you". Then, after a couple of months, consider going to couple's therapy as well. I'm telling y'all, it really is tragic, just how many marriages could've been saved if this step had not been overlooked. Listen, I'm not guaranteeing that therapy will prevent a divorce; what I am saying is that it absolutely cannot hurt it. Or you. Ever.
Get Back to Your Friendship
All of the couples that I work with know that one of my most popular mottos is, "If you're still 'in like' with one another, I am confident that you can get back to being 'in love' again." The reason why I say this is because every marriage has seasons (both in and outside of the bedroom)—you know, times when a husband and wife can't get enough of each other and then other times when they close to can't stand each other. The ones who survive those moments tend to have two things in common—a relationship with God and a strong friendship.
I say it often because it's the truth. It really is crazy how much people are willing to endure in a friendship that they would've never consider in a marriage. Yet it's hard to remain committed to someone who you don't see as a true friend, isn't it? In the articles, "10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect From Your Friendships" and "Self BFF: 7 Signs You're Your Own Best Friend", I outline some signs of what it means to have a healthy friendship. See how those traits line up with the relationship you have with your spouse. Sometimes, focusing on finances, kids and daily stressors causes us to forget foundational truths; ones like, if you are friends with your partner, you really can get through, just about anything. Matter of fact, if there's one thing that a lot of divorced people have told me was the last straw in their marriage, it was that they didn't feel like they were friends with their spouse anymore. Being friends with your spouse is a superpower that doesn't get nearly enough credit.
Understand That Divorce Isn’t Necessarily a “Solution” to Anything
I've had my fair share of boyfriends in my day. I have vowed to myself to never have one again, though (check out "Why I'll Never Call Someone A 'Boyfriend' Again"). A big part of the reason why is because, it has been both my experience as well as my personal observation that, getting into these kinds of relationships where you act like you're married when you absolutely aren't does nothing more than prepare you for divorce. Think about it. If you've profoundly loved five men before, you put your entire mind, body and soul into all five and then broke up—what's to make you not see divorce as being that big of a deal if you are the same way with your husband? That point is for the single people.
For married folks, breaking a contract rarely makes life any better, no matter what the contract may be. Oftentimes, it simply makes life way more complicated and difficult. While I get that in some extreme cases, there may seem like there's no other option, really think long and hard about ending your marriage simply because "I don't feel the same anymore". Divorce affects credit. Divorce affects how your children see relationships (present and future) and, in some ways, the world, in general. Divorce affects things like mental health too.
Bottom line, seeing divorce as a solution to your marital problems can be quite the gamble. Don't approach it like you did your break-ups. Divorce is far more consequential than that.
Know What You REQUIRE for Reconciliation
Depending on the state that you live in, before getting a divorce, you may have to separate regardless. Y'all that "rule" doesn't exist just so that you can kick it in these streets. The intent is that the time apart will give you both some space to process, heal and hopefully reconcile. That said, while I try and do all that I can to prevent couples from divorcing, one thing that I do tend to be a semi-fan of is separation—meaning, I'm in support of it when things seem so stressful or counterproductive that trying to work together to save the relationship isn't really benefitting anyone.
Still, separating doesn't make you single. AGAIN, YOU ARE STILL MARRIED. The time apart shouldn't be about "doing your own thing" or finding someone new. It really needs to be about figuring out what went wrong, how to set things right and what you would require in order for that to happen.
You know, I once read that 50 percent of couples that separate end up getting back together. It doesn't just up and happen, though. Real self-work is required. In other words, while separating may be about getting some space in your marriage, it's not to be treated like some sort of single's vacation. It really needs to be about making sure you both have done all that you can to make your relationship work. It needs to be about figuring out what you're willing to do and also what you would require in order to reconcile. Reconcile is a pretty dope word too. It means "to bring into agreement or harmony; make compatible or consistent".
I really do hate what Disney and rom-coms have done to people. So many folks are out here thinking that if marriage doesn't look like some filtered fairy tale then it must be an absolute nightmare. Marriage is about having someone in your life who will hold you down, no matter what. Marriage is about figuring out what you and your partner's strengths and weaknesses are, so that you can come together as a unit and make each other better. Marriage is a covenant relationship too and covenants are about agreeing to come together, mind, body and soul, to build a life together—until death parts you. Making this kind of decision is definitely not easy (not by a long shot). But if you're willing to stick it out, it really can be super rewarding.
It's all about approaching marriage from a realistic point of view. It's about accepting that you've got baggage and your spouse has baggage. You've got issues and your spouse has issues. You're not perfect and your spouse isn't either. And sometimes, the weight of all of that requires taking some time apart, just to catch your breath. Yet if during that time, you're being real and honest about what you need, you're willing to forgive your spouse (as well as yourself) for things that cannot be changed, you are open to getting back to the foundation of the relationship (friendship) and doing things that made you fall for one another in the first place (like casual dates)—you could come back together in a more realistic space and being realistic about life—including marriage—is always beneficial.
We live in a world where folks are quick to quit—this includes quit on each other. Please try and see separation as an option before divorce, OK? I've worked with many couples where, approaching it from the space that I just shared, it actually saved their marriage. Took it to another level too. And I want the same for you. Divorce is a lot. Try separating first. Chances are, you absolutely won't regret it. I mean that.
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