Ending a marriage is never easy. Even if you find yourself in a union that seems to have run its course, the prospect of walking out can be daunting. Before you go looking for attorneys, you and your spouse should consider alternatives to divorce. Who knows you may find a way out that saves you from an emotionally and financially draining legal battle.
That being said, we want to reiterate that seeking alternatives to marriage separation and dissolution is a viable option only if you’re in a largely functional marriage that may hit rocky waters due to emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual or lifestyle differences or owing to external factors and stresses.
If you’re in an abusive or toxic marriage, the disadvantages of divorce fade in comparison to the benefits. You must prioritize finding ways to protect yourself and heal from the traumas that you’ve been through rather than look for alternatives to divorce.
Now that we’ve cleared that, let’s also turn our attention to why you need to explore these alternatives to divorce in the first place? If a marriage isn’t working out, why not just walk out and start afresh? Can alternatives to divorce help salvage a broken marriage?
We turn to licensed therapists, who specialize in divorce and relationship counseling, to find the answers for you.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Divorce?
When you’re stuck in an unhappy or loveless marriage, the prospect of ending it can truly seem like the light at the end of the tunnel. But is it really so? If your marriage doesn’t fall in the aforementioned abusive or toxic categories, is divorce really the only way out. Shazia Saleem (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in separation and divorce counseling, doesn’t think so.
Having counseled people before, during and after the end of their marriages, Shazia firmly believes that the disadvantages of divorce often get obscured by the pain of an unfulfilling relationship. By the time people realize that going through a divorce isn’t any less challenging than making a marriage work, it’s already too late. That’s why she wants you to consider the following disadvantages of divorce before deciding whether ending a marriage is truly the best recourse available to you:
Related Reading: Rebuild Your Marriage During A Separation With These 13 Tips
1. Divorce isn’t easy
“Even if your marriage is troubled or is going through a troubled phase, know that divorce isn’t going to be any easier,” Shazia says. Apart from the emotional toll of ending a relationship that has been such a central theme in your life, divorce can also be financially draining on both partners.
In the US, for instance, the average cost of divorce is $15,000 per partner. Not to mention the ugly battles over custody, division of assets, alimony and such can be a scarring experience in itself.
Shazia advises, “The decision to end a marriage should not be taken in an emotional state of mind. Don’t let your anger, hurt, frustration fuel your decision to divorce your spouse because emotions are never static. When the rush of emotions fades – be it a day after the divorce or 5 years down the line – you may regret your decision.”
2. Divorce ends many other relationships
One of the lesser considered and talked about disadvantages of divorce is that it doesn’t just end your relationship with your spouse. Many other ties are snapped in its wake. For instance, say you are extremely close to your husband’s sister or your wife’s father. In the event of a divorce, you’re likely going to lose that special bond you share with them.
“Since a married couple shares their lives intimately, much of their social circles become intertwined over time. In the event of a divorce, families, friends and acquaintances might be at stake because they might take sides with one or the other spouse. So, you have to be prepared to lose more than your spouse,” says Shazia.
3. It is not an instant fix to your issues
“A divorce is not an instant fix that will put an end to all your troubles and miseries. It’s a process in itself, and one that comes with its own share of challenges, roadblocks and exasperating moments. If the path to divorce isn’t going to be an easy one, why not channelize that effort into making your marriage work instead.
“The bond between a couple requires work, and that work has to be done every day and not erratically or when you feel like it. So, before considering divorce as a way out, take a close, hard look at your problems and see if and how you can address them,” says Shazia.
4. Negative impact on the children
If there are children involved, the negative impact on them is undoubtedly among the biggest disadvantages of divorce. “If the children are younger, the parent’s divorce has a bad effect on them 100% of the time. There is a sense of insecurity, pressure and fear about the kind of uncertainty a broken home would plunge them into. The deep-seated impact of divorce on children must be taken into account.
“They’re too young to see their parents as two adults with issues or flaws of their own, or understand why their parents may consider divorce as the right decision for themselves as well as the family. Add to this the fear of judgment from peers or society, and parents’ separation can prove to be a scarring experience the ripples of which can be felt way into their adult life as well,” explains Shazia.
5. Starting afresh can be intimidating
“When your lives are so closely intertwined, peeling them apart and starting afresh can be intimidating,” says Shazia. Where do you begin picking apart the life you’ve built together, brick by brick, over the years? Who gets to keep the first couch you bought at a garage sale? What about the photos on the nightstand? What would it be like to live in a new house after all these years? How do you find your identity as a single person again?
Related Reading: 10 Things To Do When You Are Thinking About Divorce
6. Loss of trust
One of the most crippling disadvantages of divorce is that a failed marriage can leave you riddled with deep-seated trust issues. Even more so if the reason for the divorce is betrayal – be it in the form of infidelity or lying.
“A divorced person may find it extremely hard to trust another romantic partner. This, in turn, can impede their ability to form deep, meaningful connections and start afresh,” says Shazia.
7. Challenges of single parenting
Again, if there are children involved, the parent who gets the primary or sole custody has to grapple with the myriad challenges that come with the territory of being a single parent. Managing everything from their schooling to extracurricular activities while also juggling a career and social obligations can be an exhausting and lonesome journey.
You may well have to put several aspects of your life on hold until the child(ren) is grown and relatively independent. This is why dating as a single mom or dad seems like a distant dream to many divorced people. The consequent lack of an intimate connection can further augment the feelings of loneliness that come in the wake of a divorce.
5 Alternatives To Divorce You Can Consider
Considering these disadvantages of divorce, you may want to explore lifestyle alternatives to divorce or expert interventions that can help salvage your bond with your spouse. Of course, provided your marriage isn’t completely dysfunctional and unhealthy for everyone involved, including the kids.
Psychotherapist Dr Aman Bhonsle (PhD, PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, lists 5 alternatives to divorce that you can try, depending on the state of your marriage or the issues you’re dealing with:
1. The Rediscovery Approach
Dr Bhonsle says, “Often, marriages come to the brink because partners lose touch with each other on account of being consumed by the mundaneness of keeping their lives functional. Before they know it, all they ever talk about are the children, grocery lists, bills, errands and so on.
“It is only natural for feelings of discontentment to seep into such a relationship dynamic, which can become a trigger for constant bickering and frequent fights, causing a couple to believe that the marriage is doomed and a divorce is the only way out.
“In such situations, when exploring alternatives to marriage separation that may end in a divorce, it’s best to start with the lowest hanging fruit. Make the time and effort to rediscover and understand each other and re-explore the chemistry that you once shared by taking frequent breaks, going on holidays, scheduling date nights that are about you as a couple, and just generally prioritizing each other.
“Now, I’m not saying that going on one holiday can necessarily prevent a divorce. However, often when boredom in a relationship is the underlying issue, it can help both partners see that ending the marriage isn’t the only recourse available to them. This is among the simplest lifestyle alternatives to divorce that must be explored before acting on your instinct to walk out.”
Related Reading: 9 simple things that can divorce-proof your marriage
2. Counseling for divorce
If your differences or issues are more deep-seated or chronic than just being out of sync with each other, then seeking counseling for divorce can be a viable alternative. “Talk to an expert who can understand your differences and conflicts and also make you understand where they’re stemming from and what you can do to resolve them.
“Counseling for divorce or couple’s therapy can be one of the alternatives to divorce where the marriage is plagued by issues like different parenting styles or polar opposite lifestyle habits and personality traits. For instance, if one partner travels a lot for work and the other doesn’t like to travel, the constant distance can drive a wedge between them.
“Likewise, if one spouse is extremely outgoing and social and the other is not, the mismatched needs and expectations can become a source of constant conflict. Working with a trained and experienced counselor can help you figure out a way to work through these differences,” says Dr Bhonsle.
3. Divorce mediation
If counseling doesn’t seem like the right fit or both spouses are not on the same page about it, divorce mediation can also be helpful. “You can turn to an experienced family member or a trusted friend that you’re comfortable with and seek their advice on how best to work through your issues.
“In case working through your issues doesn’t seem a realistic option, this person can also help you find meaningful alternatives to divorces such as living separately or altering the terms of your marital dynamics, and so on.
“It’s, however, crucial that the chosen person is someone who can help bridge the gap and not widen it by bringing their own judgments and baggage into the situation. Someone sermonizing or simply telling you to toughen up and endure is the last you need when your marriage is on its last legs and you’re considering alternatives to marriage separation,” advises Dr Bhonsle.
4. Redefined marriage
According to Dr Bhonsle, the importance of clear and honest conversations cannot be emphasized enough, no matter what stage of the relationship you’re at. “Just the way in workplaces you have state of the union meetings where different stakeholders get together to take stock of what’s working and what’s not, have status check conversations with your spouse.
“How is each of you feeling financially, emotionally, physically, sexually? How has your status changed? Are there any mounting stresses at work? And so on. This is crucial because people grow and evolve with time, shaped by their experiences. If you’ve not had these conversations in the past, it’s quite possible that either of your needs, wants, expectations and desires may have changed completely and the other person is completely unaware of it,” he adds.
As they say, better late than never. Have this status check conversation now and perhaps you will find common ground to redefine your marriage in a way that’s acceptable to both spouses. Those redefined terms can be as bold as trying an open marriage as an alternative to divorce.
Or more unadventurous such as being in a parenting marriage – where you decide to stay together for the sake of the kids, living apart but together – where you live separately but still function as one family unit, or living together but apart – where you still cohabitate but lead individual lives beyond certain mutually agreed upon aspects.
Related Reading: Does Marriage Counseling Work In Solving Relationship Issues?
5. Trial separation
If all else fails, you can try a trial separation as one of the alternatives to divorce. Temporary separation is one of the most strongly recommended courses of action when a couple is contemplating divorce because it gives you a sense of what not being together would feel like before you put a legal stamp on your decision.
“Stay away from each other for a while. One of the spouses can move out, and they go without seeing or talking to each other for a mutually decided upon period. This will give you a chance to introspect and mull over your decision pragmatically rather than act in the throes of emotion,” says Dr Bhonsle.
Perhaps, you will see that divorce isn’t necessarily the only way out for you. Or the trial separation may convince you that ending the marriage is the right thing to do. Either way, you will be certain about the final decision you make.
Just the way not every marriage can be saved, not every marriage that is riddled with issues needs to end in divorce. These alternatives to divorce can give you a chance at a new beginning or at the very least make the process of separation less painful.