By Amy P. DeShong, Esq. | Wisler Pearlstine LLP | AAML Penn 2022 - 2023 President
After 28 years of handling divorces and counseling clients, I am able to identify ten common mistakes that clients make when they hear that their spouse wants out of the marriage.
1. Thinking that guilt will keep your spouse with you.
Guilt has its limits. If one party is made to feel guilty and stays from that sense of obligation, the relationship is going to remain unhealthy for each of them. If your spouse has betrayed you, whether by cheating or hiding a spending problem, you've got to identify and understand the source of that behavior before you can move on together. Shaming, as tempting and temporarily satisfying as it may feel, will cause your spouse to turn on you later on. The more you lecture your spouse about marriage vows, the obligation to stay with you forever, and your gift of "the best years of your life," the faster he or she will head for the door.
2. Assuming that your spouse really wants to divorce you.
Don't take your spouse at his or her word or start packing your bags when you hear "I want a divorce" or "maybe we should separate for awhile." These words often mean "we are in trouble and I don't know what to do" or "help -- I am not happy and you must be the problem" or "this threat to divorce is the only way I can get your attention!" In either case, seeking some professional help can get the two of you back on track.
3. Badmouthing your spouse to friends, family, and coworkers at the first sign of trouble; oversharing personal information about your marriage.
Don't betray yourself or your spouse by doing too much talking, whether by phone, in person, or online. Once you figure out your feelings, you will only have to "walk back" a lot of what you've said. If you've done too good a job at alienating people from your spouse, they will wonder why you've grown a second head when you take him or her back. You will have to do repair work plus you'll have to hear everybody's advice which may include "I told you so."
4. Lying about your feelings in order to make things easier for your spouse.
Do not lie and do not make false promises in order to get your spouse to stay. You may well be unhappy in the marriage. Maybe your spouse had the courage to speak up first, but now the opportunity for change lies before you both. You do not owe your spouse what he or she wants to hear: you do owe your spouse as much honesty and direct explanation as you can muster. Give yourself that respect.
5. Trying to appease your spouse in order to keep him or her in the marriage.
Do not agree to have another child, add onto your home, buy a second or third home, or take an expensive vacation in order to "fix things" and/or "make him/her happy again." Do not buy cars or boats. Seek out the professional and do the hard work of identifying and then discussing, directly and clearly, what you want from yourself and your spouse.
6. Using food, drugs or alcohol in ways that lead to excessive weight loss, weight gain, or addiction.
The occasional binge with well-meaning friends or that date with the ice cream carton is to be expected. Not eating for three days is something altogether different. Be aware of any changes in your eating or drinking habits. Is addiction among the reasons your spouse wants out? Don't hesitate to seek help: do what you need to do in order to protect yourself. Whether or not your marriage ends, you are worth the effort.
7. Relying on the Internet for legal advice.
No one wants to pay legal fees. But when you are in real trouble, there is no substitute for learning about your legal rights, options, and obligations from an attorney with expertise in divorce. Just as medical websites can educate about ailments you can learn about family law on a lot of websites, but only an attorney who knows your situation can put the big picture together for you. Invest in a one- to two- hour consultation in order to give yourself peace of mind and power.
8. Expecting that the law will require your spouse to take care of you forever.
Learn about and make sure you understand your financial picture, especially if you are the spouse who is financially dependent. Whether a divorce is in your future or not, do not allow yourself to be economically vulnerable.
9. Using sex, especially without protection, to keep your spouse in the marriage.
Intimacy is one thing. Ending up with a disease from a cheating spouse or an unwanted pregnancy is quite another. Resist any tempation to engage in "mercy sex" with your spouse because it may serve only to upset and confuse you. Avoid any sexual contact with a spouse whom you suspect may lie to you about the use of birth control pills or devices. Avoid any possibility of contact that could complicate your own decision making.
10. Thinking you can punish your spouse by alienating you kids from him or her.
When you are hurt, it is tempting to overshare your feelings of anger and turn your kids against the other parent. I will spare you the obvious "best interests" message, because you already know that your kids need both parents in order to grow up well. I have observed a much more immediate consequence: if you succeed in getting your kids to hate your spouse as much as you do, they will turn on you when they reach their late teens.