I, along with a panel of counselors, was recently interviewed by Equitable Mediation divorce mediators located in New Jersey and Chicago.
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What advice would you give to an individual whose marriage is clearly beyond repair, yet despite unhappiness and desire to divorce, they take no action to start the process and instead remain miserable for months, or even years, frozen in fear?
It is understandable that it would feel in many ways more comfortable to remain in a broken marriage than to leave and have to deal with the unknown.
Instead of looking at it as a leap into a completely different (and possibly) worse life, it is helpful to see the change as one that can be leaned into deliberately with the goal of transforming that fear into greater freedom and joy in life.
It is also important to remain clear on the reasons for leaving the marriage and let those lead the person in purposeful, conscious action. Individual therapy may be needed to address issues of self-esteem and self-worth that may be holding the person back.
Writing down all of the fears on paper in order to begin addressing them one by one in tiny, manageable steps can also be helpful.
Finally, getting a solid support system in place is crucial. Making a list of people that are currently supportive as well as those that may be of support, and how, can be extremely reassuring.
What are some signs that progress is being made in marriage counseling and the marriage is back on track?
The greatest barometer for how well couples counseling is working is how the partners are feeling both as individuals and as members of a whole. Can they identify new tools and techniques to communicate their needs effectively? Are they able to hear their partner out without feeling the need to defend or judge? Do they feel greater personal sovereignty and authenticity as a result of the inner work they are doing as a couple?
Oftentimes children are exposed to dysfunction in their parents' marriages and later in their own personal relationships. They enter their marriage without the skills to engage in the relationship in a conscious, just, open-hearted way. Counseling is a way to build the foundation they may never have had in the first place.
How would a couple know if the marriage isn't working and it might be time to end the marriage?
The decision to end a marriage is intensely personal. One needs to look at the benefits of staying in the marriage and how they compare to the benefits of leaving it. In which scenario would the person feel more whole, more authentic, more free? Are the issues that are leading them to consider leaving the marriage insurmountable?
Many people enter couples counseling hoping to change their partner. However, it is crucial for each member of the couple to take an honest look at their role in the conflict and the shame/blame cycle.
In other words, is this marriage still serving you? If not, and it is clear there is no way for it to serve you and fulfill you in the way you need to feel whole in the future, it may be time to shift the conversation to how to step away from the marriage.