Vallarta Tribune, Sep 3-9, 2006, issue # 491, pg 15

Many couples struggle in frustrating relationships or marriages and seem to feel caught in a vicious cycle where things just don’t seem to improve and often get progressively worse. It becomes easier and easier to see all of the reasons why they should split and fewer and fewer reasons why they should stay together. Their perspective loses proportion and objectivity. What would it take to stay together and what it would look like to break-up?

You cannot decide on one without considering the other

If a couple comes into therapy and are undecided whether or not they want to stay together or break-up/divorce, then the work is around figuring that out, which includes considering in a very detailed way, what it would be like to do either one. That may include careful consideration of what you absolutely need to have and what would be nice but not essential, as well as considering what you absolutely will not tolerate and what you don’t like but would accept or tolerate. It also requires making a clearly defined list of what then must change, be improved upon, let go of, including behaviors, ways of thinking, attitudes, and expectations. This helps each of you set conditions that must be agreed upon.

Maybe you’ll notice that I haven’t specified if the above considerations and lists of requirements and conditions are for keeping the marriage/relationship together or breaking it up/divorcing. That’s because the work must be completed for both scenariosFor example, the woman who moved here from another part of Mexico or from the States or Canada, may have an expectation and make it a condition that if she is going to live in Vallarta she needs to get back home 2, 4 or 6 times a year. If that same woman ends up divorcing, she may now consider movingback home even if that means separating her children from their father.

Consider the following

How do you spend, combine, and save your money? Are you a spender and the other a saver? How do you share responsibilities of the household or with the children?  Does one of you feel angry because you feel you do everything and the other one is so irresponsible or lazy?  Do you share similar or very different values and beliefs (religious, spiritual, political)? Does this cause conflicts? Does one of you need to travel more or talk on the phone and have friends around more? How do you work this out? Is one of you a morning person and the other a night person? How do you find quality couple/family time?

Are you comfortable if each of you have his or her own interests and activities and to what extent/extreme? There are some guys for example who love a certain sport that may become very time consuming to the point that it interrupts and steals time from the couple and/or family. Whatever that sport or activity may be, it may cause deep resentments in everyone who feels left out or “second to” that activity. One such example is the infamous “golf widow”.

Consider a trial separation

If you were to consider living separately what would it look like? Who would move out? Would each of you need to downsize since you no longer have a combined income or does one person now need to support both of you? Who will pick up and drop off the kids? How often will you see your kids? How will your lifestyle and standard of living change?

It is often a good idea to actually take a trial separation for 3-6 months and see what it feels like and if you do decide to divorce, then you will know many important details to include in a divorce agreement. It is important that the separation represent everyday life instead of being a vacation. Taking a month to go visit your mom does not count. I am talking about establishing and maintaining a daily routine.

Don’t leave for the hope of someone better

Do not leave your partner or divorce because you think you will find someone better, leave because your life will be better without them. You cannot count on who you may meet in the future. Instead, base your decision on the present and what you know to be true right now.

Some couples should split

Relationships that are damaging emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, and that are destructive to the one or both partners and/or to the children are not “better off” staying together. Many couples truly “grow apart” especially if they got together in their younger years. They really are different now and may no longer have a “good fit”. Often times only one of the partners is dedicated to changing or “working at it”. Sometimes one partner blames the other for all of the problems and truly believes that they do not have a problem or need to change, or has an attitude of “that’s the way I am and don’t expect me to change now”.

Either decision deserves careful consideration based on an honest assessment of the problems in the relationship and each person’s desire to attempt to save the relationship and/or to ensure as healthy of a separation as possible. This is particularly true when children are involved because it requires ongoing contact and communication with the other partner. Be careful, but be honest with yourself and with each other.

Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW, CADC