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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Divorce in Slow Motion: How to Live Together Until You Sell the House

Two couples getting divorced: the first was able to complete the process in about 60 days while the second took over four years. The first was a sprint and the second a marathon. Since 2008, many divorces have become like the second example, a marathon or stand-still due to financial issues.
This isn’t the first time in American history that divorce rates have slowed. If the Great Depression came to mind, you’re correct. During the Depression, the divorce rate dropped significantly, but desertions or abandonments sharply increased.

Today, the primary problem is that no one can sell their home without owing large chunk of change; and with inflated legal fees – there’s not much money left to pay the bank. So, the divorce is either stopped or in moving in slow motion.

Divorcing couples need to minimize tension in the home
during the long-term divorce. It's necessary for the kids
and for their own health.
The American family has morphed almost every decade. The 1950s was the one decade in our history where the ideals of our country’s religious leaders and politicians were achieved. Most Americans tend to believe myths about the family that come from this long lost decade, for example, the myth of the two-parent home with one breadwinner, one homemaker, 2-4 children in school, and a dog. This image of marital bliss is indelible.

The American family is not the “bedrock” of our society.
The truth is that it’s more like a wind-sock, bending and shaping
in reaction to the direction and force of the winds of
politics, economy, wars and disease.

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What is best for the American family is largely based on what is best for children; what is best for children is largely based on what children need in order to achieve economic success. Educational needs have grown substantially since 1950. However, throughout our history, the idea of what a family “should be” has changed. In the early 1900s, one new idea was that husband and wife should always be friends and lovers (the majority of Americans didn't graduate high school in 1900). So now, in your spare time after working a full time job, parenting and managing a household, you must find time to be friends and lovers with your spouse. Good luck making that work!

Changing expectations lead to increasing disappointment (Betty Friedan wrote about this in her famous 1963 book). So many women repeat the mantra, “if we’re not going to be friends, then we’re certainly not going to be lovers, so I might as well parent and run the household without him around.” And that’s fine. Too bad society didn’t allow that before. Why do people have to get married, have kids and realize this 10-15 years later and then divorce? What’s good for the individual isn’t necessarily accepted by society. But the mass of individuals is growing and it will soon reach a tipping-point – if it hasn’t already.

But where do we go from here? “Our house is full of so much tension… I have to get out!” You have to think outside the box. If you only see two options, then you need to go back to the proverbial drawing board. Option 1: divorce after we sell the home and in the meantime tolerate the tension; Option 2: he or she should move out while we wait (usually him because I’m going to be taking care of the kids anyway). We Americans hate gray areas – why is that?

Anyway, there are other options. One option is for one of you live in a different room of the house: pack up your stuff and turn the basement or office into your bedroom. If he won’t do it, then you can.  “What will the kids think?”

If the kids don’t already know by now then that’s
a problem that you need to address now.

The kids may think all sorts of things if you move out of the bedroom. But, as a parent, you have control over two things: teaching your kids what to expect and teaching your kids how to interpret the meaning of something. So, applying that knowledge to this situation: tell your kids that one of you might move out of the bedroom, and that it means that you’re trying to reduce the amount of tension in the home, as well as get used to new routines.

This option applies to couples who can agree to continue living in the same house. You have a right to stay in your home – you can’t kick out your spouse or them you. In fact, leaving a home too soon may cause other legal and financial problems (of course this doesn’t apply to cases of violence).
You should never be afraid to ask your spouse to consider the option of one of you moving out of the bedroom. Sleeping on the couch in the family room or other common areas is probably not a good option (martyrdom is not respected and it looks slobish). Definitely avoid sleeping with the kids. I’ve known far too many moms and dads to sleep with their kids, on the floor or in the bed. It can contribute to other problems, such as, increasing child dependency, parent-child enmeshment, separation anxiety, allegations of sexual abuse (a common allegation during custody disputes), allegations of parental alienation, and a sore back.

During the slow motion divorce, it’s may be a good idea to initiate and adhere to a visitation agreement. This kind of change can be something that is shaped over time; if family time is not an option due to tension (parents who just can’t help themselves from saying negative things), then you can institute it sooner. A visitation agreement while in the home can look something like this: mom has kids Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 5-9, dad on Wednesdays. While mom has kids, dad stays in his room or out of the house. It doesn’t have to be adhered to perfectly, but as a general rule. For example, dad and mom would have to figure out when and where they would eat dinner on these nights, since at some point, family dinners would be stopped.

Mom and dad need to agree on rules of engagement. Usually the respondant in the divorce will want to talk about things or express their anger about getting divorced and have difficulty containing their emotions. They may not be willing to agree to rules of when to talk about things, if at all.

If things are getting complicated, you should probably consider
divorce counseling, either for yourself or for you and your spouse.

Sometimes children and some spouses have a difficult time with the slow motion divorce. Everyone’s at home and seems to be “getting along,” so, “why get divorced?” They mistake the copacetic environment as meaning things are okay. Children probably aren’t aware of certain things (or shouldn’t know) like infidelity, gambling addictions, shopping addictions, the specific irreconcilable differences, drug addiction, and so on. Unfortunately, children have to learn to tolerate the not knowing all the details.

Mental Health and Legal Disclaimer: The information included in this post and blog are for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional mental health treatment, legal, or medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her mental health provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a mental health or medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a therapist-patient relationship. The author is not a lawyer and is not providing legal advice.

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