As discussed in the opening section of this chapter, the process of deciding whether to divorce can be filled with ambivalence and anxiety. When the decision to divorce is reached, however, it also can be a time of relief.
Barry Lubetkin and Elena Oumano wrote a book on the psychological aspects of divorce called Bailing Out (Fireside Books 1993). Early in the book they comment, "'[B]ailing out’ when you know your relationship is no longer viable can be one of the most affirmative, liberating acts of one’s life. Bailing out can be a wonderful growth experience if you use this period of your life as a time to explore, discover, and evaluate beliefs that have determined your behavior. . . .The irrefutable fact is that staying with someone in a miserable or indifferent relationship, whether in a marriage or a live-in situation, erodes your self esteem."
Ann Landers echoed part of that view in The Ann Landers Encyclopedia A to Z : "Life is too precious to waste years in a joyless marriage–or, worse yet, in a miserable one."
When you have decided to divorce (or have a strong inclination to divorce), a question of timing may remain: When do you announce the decision or take additional steps such as separating or filing a legal action? The answer lies in balancing the stresses of maintaining the status quo versus the benefits of waiting.
Sometimes it is best to wait. If you are feeling emotionally spent and do not have plans on how to proceed, it may be useful to pause while building emotional energy and planning the next phase of your life. Steps to take include:
- deciding where you want to live;
- figuring out options on custody if you have children;
- determining if changes related to employment are likely to be necessary
- planning a budget (or range of budgets, depending on how the divorce proceeds);
- lining up a lawyer if one is necessary; and
- cementing ties with friends, family, and other support networks during your time of transition.
The list of issues on which to work may seem daunting, but when they are taken one step at a time, the issues are manageable.
Talking with friends who have gone through a divorce can be helpful. In addition to providing emotional support, friends also can offer perspectives on how to cope with the changes.
Advance planning has psychological advantages. A study of a group of women found that the length of time between the decision to divorce and marital separation was positively associated with the ability to adjust to divorce. In other words, the longer the period between the decision to divorce and separation, the better the adjustment (although it is possible to have a good adjustment in a short period of time too).
Embarking on a new path is a time for renewal. Most people in an unhappy marriage at some point stopped being involved in certain activities that once brought them pleasure, or they did not pursue other activities that they always wanted to do. Now is the chance to pursue those activities.
The new outlets may be a recreational activity, a college course, theater, more time with friends, or just quiet evenings at home by yourself.
Divorce is a beginning as well as an end.