Debra Messing recently expressed guilt over her divorce and the fact that she and her husband couldn’t give her son “the fantasy” that her parents gave her in a marriage that was now ending. She said she and her husband both wanted to make it work and last forever but weren’t able to make it “go the course.” If you and your spouse are uncertain about whether you want to end your marriage, there are resources for you to use before making the final decision about a divorce. This is not marriage counseling for people who already know they want to continue their marriage and need help in making that happen, but ambivalence counseling which helps couples figure out whether they really want a divorce. Some trained mental health professionals who do this work in the collaborative divorce community are Brian Burns and Karen Haase. If you ultimately decide to get divorced, this ambivalence counseling work may help you understand each other’s perspectives about what happened during the marriage and the differences that led to your decision to divorce. Ambivalence counseling could also result in your decision to stay married or hold off the divorce. If, after counseling on your uncertainty about whether or not to be divorced, you decide that you do want to be divorced, don’t dwell too much on guilt or past mistakes in your marriage. Yes, you can learn from mistakes made, but assigning guilt made for past mistakes won’t be a strong foundation for final agreement in your divorce. You may have different memories and perspectives about why the marriage ended and may not reach agreement on these issues. Instead, you should focus on the present and future issues you face – where you will live, what your parenting schedule will be, how you will pay for your living expenses in two households and how you will divide your assets and debts. Focussing on the future and problem solving about these issues will be more productive for your family than attempting to assign blame or allow guilt to guide your decisions in a divorce. During the collaborative divorce process, these feelings of guilt or anger are acknowledged and addressed but don’t drive the process. A couple who had these feelings of guilt and anger during their collaborative divorce have shared their experience in a video which follows the steps in their divorce process.
I read an interesting article in the Star Tribune this week, “Till Debt Do Us Part,” about the challenges faced by newlyweds with student loan debt, particularly when one partner has more debt that the other. This got me thinking about the strong connection between money and divorce. Money issues are the number one reason clients give me for the failure of their relationships. Debt is usually a contributing factor. In my career as a collaborative divorce attorney, clients have shared their very personal stories with me. Sometimes the story-telling is tearful and filled with regret. Other times it is angry and filled with resentment. Tension over finances can evoke negative emotions and poison otherwise loving relationships. In some cases, money issues are caused by factors outside of anyone’s control, such as job loss, a tough economy, or illness. The resulting instability can be temporary or long-term and affects the entire family. In my experience, however, disagreements about money arise when parties come into marriage with different attitudes and feelings about money. These differences gradually reveal themselves over time, eventually affecting other aspects of the relationship. Even marriages of caring, committed spouses are at risk. So how can divorce over money be avoided? Awareness is the first step. Each of us grew up in a family with its unique money culture. Whether we realize it or not, our ideas and values have been influenced by our childhood experiences. Many parents are reluctant to talk openly with their children about money, leaving the children to unknowingly form their own set of beliefs. Failure to recognize these hidden internal attitudes and assumptions in ourselves and others leads to misunderstanding and blame. The good news is that open discussion of money matters can help couples identify their differences and protect their relationships. Key questions include:
- How will we manage our day-to-day finances?
- How much should we be spending vs. saving?
- Which budget items constitute “needs” vs. “wants”?
- Will all of our money be considered joint or will we each have our separate funds?
- How does each of us define “financial security”?
- What are our retirement goals?