As a counsellor I am acutely aware, not every marriage can be saved. When a lady in her early 50’s made an appointment for herself, and her husband, to discuss the end of their marriage, I prepared the process I would take them through, to dismantle 22 years together.
In the first session both discussed the many issues they faced in the years they have been married. There were truly happy times they would treasure, and there were dark and hard places, where they had little understanding and trust for, and with each other. They needed a sense of closure to their life together, an ending, and a chance to minimize the hurt and hostility, which could allow for a less bitter future.
LEAVING THE LOSS AND DESPAIR BEHIND
Separating and filing for divorce, was their admission to each other they were ready to leave the loss, despair, and disappointment of their love, behind them. They confronted this reality within themselves, and could then share this news with their children, and loved ones. Only then could they make public, their marriage no longer provided a safe, and nurturing space.
EXAMINING THE ANGER
When a marriage breaks down, it provides a space for realities to be explored, and the emotion of anger can be examined. Anger is our protective emotion, which covers, and protects our more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, fear, rejection and shame. Anger informs us about our unmet needs. There are various explorative questions I consider at this stage of the process. The questions which brought the greatest clarity for this couple were:
What was the one experience which left them feeling alone and deprived?
What was not available to them individually?
It took them back to their first year of marriage, when they were both students, and found out they were pregnant. Both discussed pregnancy was not in their plan. They were struggling through studies, had part time jobs, and could not see themselves raising a child. The decision was made to terminate the pregnancy. She wanted him to say it would be okay, and they would make it work, and he wanted her to say this was not just her decision, they needed to make this decision together.
This set the pattern for the next 20 years. They both felt powerless because they did not communicate their need to be heard, understood, supported and protected. This created unrealistic expectations, irrational demands, and behaving punitively towards each other. She grieved for their child lost, and resented him for not protecting her, and their unborn child. He grieved for their child lost, and her not stopping for a moment to enquire about him; as if his grief and pain was less important, because he supported her decision. He was angry because of the shame and helplessness which comes when as a father, he failed to protect his family, especially his child.
THE REWARD OF CONSIDERING DIVORCE
This part of the process allowed them both to explore the deeper issue of the termination decision they made many years before. It finally surfaced, as it had been unnoticed, and impossible to deal with before. This was the reward of considering divorce for this couple. Once the original and true issue were understood, they had the opportunity to make an informed decision about their marriage. Instead of moving away from each other, thinking it best to work out their grief on their own, becoming lonely, angry, and resentful, they moved towards each other for the first time in their marriage. At this point they could consider whether there was a way forward for them.
Their way forward was one of acceptance, of intentionally considering how they would accept what happened between them, without the pressure to repair, and mend their marriage. They needed to forgive themselves, and each other. They could honestly communicate there was no going back, they would not be a loving, and intimate couple, and their marriage was over.
Supporting a couple through separation is very different from couples counselling. The aim is to provide a new perspective, a wakeup call, and create an urgency to see the true priorities in their lives, and to secure long-term happiness for them both.