As a divorce mediator, I regularly meet couples who disagree about selling the house, dividing the retirement accounts, or sharing parenting responsibilities. From time to time, I come across a couple who do not agree they should be getting a divorce.
When a couple has grown so accustomed to avoiding difficult conversations, they may stop talking at altogether. With connection being a a core need in a marital relationship, it proves difficult to maintain that connection without communication.
Shutting down and avoiding conversations is actually rather common. I usually ask people at the beginning of my conflict resolution skills trainings how they approach conflict. While most attendees include business and professional people who handle conflict daily, they often say that at home they “withdraw” or “shut down.”
I get it. Home is the safe, comfortable space where after a long day one may feel too exhausted to deal with dishes, bills, transporting kids, or fixing the broken whatever, let alone being emotionally available. To add to the challenge, these days there may be little or no separation between work and home. Yet, close personal relationships tend to be the most important. While it may certainly make sense to not want to “argue” about small stuff, engaging in conversation plays an important role in maintaining connection. When couples choose to have the hard conversations earlier on in their relationships, the relationships sometimes continue or change in a more amicable way.
Whether divorce is the best option is a very personal decision. Sometimes one person does not want to be connected to the other person “in that way” anymore. This may or may not stem from a feeling that the other person does not value the connection. Maintaining a connection means holding important conversations, particularly discussing personal needs (usually needs for connection, affection, mutuality, support, or understanding). Most people would never say “I would rather get divorced than tell my partner I need affection or support,” yet often when the conversations do not happen, divorce does.
Ending a marriage meets a need as well. Considering whether that is the best way to meet the need may help. However, remember ending the marriage may not necessarily end the relationship. Today, ex-spouses may continue as co-parents, business partners, or friends. Choosing to have the hard conversations and showing up with clarity, compassion and curiosity allows each member of the couple to understand each other’s needs and find a way forward whether together or apart.