“Why No One Regrets his Divorce” seems a peculiar statement coming from the author of Don’t Divorce. Isn’t the basis of my book that lots of people regret their divorces, and so there’s good reason to prevent it?
However, I’ve learned that already-divorced people–especially those for whom the experience is still fresh and painful–react strongly even to the two simple words on my book jacket.
Within a single Divorce Recovery Group, some get defensive: “You can’t tell me what to do. You have no idea what I’ve been going through.”
Some get angry: “How dare you foist your values on me!”
Some get irritated, motivated by guilt: “I had an opportunity, and I took it, because that was what I needed right then.”
And others are more sanguine: “Maybe I could have made my marriage work, but if I’d stayed, I never would have gotten to the point where I am now.”
Even people whose spouses dumped them, who suffer years of disorientation and emotional agony, tend to look back and know that their ordeal was required because of deep flaws of their partner, perhaps abetted by themselves.
Here’s the punchline: After the fact, hardly anyone regrets his divorce because psychologically healthy people take lemons and make lemonade. They look at the psychological growth they’ve experienced, and realize that the path to that growth may have been grueling, but the outcome is a higher awareness, a better place.
The big “however,” though, is that going through the divorce, and in most cases, the prelude to the divorce, was horrible. It is to minimize the miserable prelude and eliminate destructive and demoralizing divorce–for the partners and a host of friends and family, and most of all the children–that I wrote Don’t Divorce.
Don’t Divorce is for married people who might need a boost through a rough patch so they can repair problems and keep going.
One of the most encouraging parts of my book describes research on spouses who rate themselves as “unhappily married.” When surveyed again five years later, two-thirds in one study, and three-fourths in another, say they’re “happily” or “very happily” married. In other words, if couples just have the strength to resist the pro-divorce pressures around them, and affirm their commitment, they’re likely to rebound and find satisfaction in their marriages once again.
Couples in the midst of strife or stress also need to know what they’re in for if they do break up, because that can also motivate them to rebuild the relationship in which they already have a huge investment.
I’d be worried about already-divorced people who wallowed in the woe of divorce for extended periods of time. Certainly if abuse, addiction or abandonment occur, a divorce may be appropriate and inevitable–and even then usually brings sorrow and mourning. But then there’s healing, and an important part of that is to view the path to your present state as worthwhile, because it’s from this new vantage that you can envision a brighter, more aware future.
Recently I gave a talk in Los Angeles, and an attendee approached me afterward. “You may not remember me,” he noted after introducing himself. “I was your client for marital counseling about 20 years ago. I think about you often,” he said, “because though my ex and I did get a divorce, it was you who taught me how to be a better husband, and I’ve been applying it with my current wife for 18 happy years.” He was grateful because though it had been too late to salvage his first marriage, he turned a difficult episode into a pathway to development.
My message to married couples is that you don’t have to suffer a divorce to find happiness. Instead of applying energy to dismantling your marriage, put the same amount of effort into fixing your divisions. The results will mean the world to your children, and can make your world one with far less to regret.