Will our children Survive our divorce?
This question really sums it all up, doesn't it? The idea of divorce when children are involved feels like a risk too great - like skydiving without testing the parachute.
Especially when your partner is not aligned with the decision to divorce. Especially if your partner is actively resisting the idea of divorce. And most especially, if your partner is aligning with the children in his or her language about an imminent divorce.
There are telltale signs that a divorce is going to be as risky and trecherous as you feared. It is, understandably, difficult to start a conversation with someone about ending a partnership that was meant to last a lifetime. Here are some things to look for that indicate that your journey into dissolving this marriage may be rockier than average:
- He/she bypasses sadness and goes straight to anger, or feels sad for an instant but then moves into anger, which then becomes vengeful. Either way, the person I'm describing is not at all comfortable feeling vulnerable (sadness). This type of person struggles with allowing him/herself to feel exposed, or vulnerable. What is underneath that, as Brene Brown's research indicates, is shame (watch Ted Talk here) https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability. Shame-based individuals (as opposed to shame resilient) are highly triggered and unable to manage the idea of abandonment. It's a primal fear that we all struggle with, but shame amplifies and makes it 100x more painful. These people have an unresolved core belief that they are unworthy of love.
- He/she uses the children as a means of defending their position that divorce is wrong and unnecessary, thereby guilting you. By this I mean he/she uses language such as "we" rather than "I" when referring to the idea of divorce. For example, "How can you leave us?", rather than "me"? This person aligns with the children as a defense against the inevitable truth - that divorce is a legal process that is between husband and wife. Children are both a joy and a stressor in a marriage - however, they are not the solution nor are they the problem here. The breakdown is between husband and wife and within their intimate relationship. This one is a BIG red flag for those who must continue to co-parent younger children after divorce.
- He/she catastrophizes about the idea of divorce - as a scare tactic. It's quite a normal initial reaction to feel fear when divorce is put on the table, for anyone. What makes this reaction different is that this person doesn't make any attempt to allay his/her fears, but seems instead to fan the flames. This can be done in word and deed. I've seen people make things much more difficult than they had to be - just to prove that this is going to be "hell for everybody". Even if it means putting the kids through the same hell. A great example of this is letting kids forget things at the other parents' home (when there is a separation) and refusing to help them retrieve them. The covert message is "See, if we were all living together, things wouldn't be so hard for you. It's because mommy/daddy wants a divorce."
- Everything is your fault. There is no willingness to take any responsibility for his or her part in the breakdown of the marital relationship. Often, there is also denial that there has been a breakdown at all. This person was "just fine" with the way things were going. It makes you wonder whether they were ever really present to begin with. This stance allows him/her to look like the stoic "good" one when the divorce goes public. It's all on you then - you now have to explain to the inner circle of family and friends all the way out to the school and soccer team captains that there is going to be a divorce, and you will have to answer all questions. You can count on this person to look dumbfounded, shrugging his or her shoulders, playing the martyr or fool. This person will not go willingly into negotiations either, because he/she "didn't ask for this".