Getting Divorced does NOT mean your Marriage Failed.
I first spoke with Helen* long before she hired me, and long before she actually filed for divorce.
*I talk about "Helen" a lot. She's not a real person and she's not a real client. She's more like a composite character. I will never reveal an actual conversation that I've had with an actual client. Ever.
I spoke to Helen many times because she had a hard time starting that process.
So, we would meet. Then many months would pass, and then we would meet again.
During our third meeting, Helen said that things seemed very complicated, like the money, the kids, the house, the retirement assets. It was all very confusing and Helen just didn't know what to do.
Helen's brain was lying to her when it said that everything was "confusing." Helen's brain was lying to her because it was trying to protect her.
It wasn't that Helen was unsure about wanting to get divorced. She was always very clear to me that she did not want to stay in her marriage.
It wasn't that she was concerned about the custody of her children. The older children were in college, the youngest was nearly 18 and Helen was confident that her husband would not contest the children living primarily with her.
And it wasn't the financial issues either. I laid all that out for Helen and told her how the money was going to land by the time she finalized her divorce.
"Something else is holding you back," I said to her during that third meeting. "Tell me about that."
Then Helen explained how she and her husband had tried couples counseling, but her husband didn't think there was a problem, so he stopped going. Helen's husband told her that, if she needed counseling, then she was free to continue, but it wasn't for him.
Helen told me that she was still going to counseling, which was helpful, but "it's like he just wants it to be me that files for divorce. I just don't understand."
"Yes you do," I said.
"Your husband is being very clear with you, and honest. He does not think there's a problem, so he does not think there's anything for him to change or any reason to end the marriage."
"So it makes perfect sense that he's not going to do anything. But you don't agree with him, do you?"
"No, I don't." She admitted.
So, what was holding her back? I'll tell you.
Helen had two competing thoughts. I could practically see them fighting inside of her brain.
One thought was "This is not going to change, and I don't want to stay."
"And the other thought that's holding you back is.. . .
. . . what?" I asked her.
"Just failing," she said. Those two words. They were so painful to Helen, she choked up as she said them and her eyes filled with tears.
That one tiny little two-word thought -- "I failed."
That was the source of all of Helen's pain, all of the confusion, all of the mental energy trying to make the "right" choice. All of it came down to two words.
That was why she was avoiding filing for divorce, and instead remaining in a marriage that she did not want to be in.
What if that one little thought wasn't even true?
We are not born married, of course. Our marital status for the first X number of years is "single."
Does changing a person's marital status from "single" to "married" mean the person "failed" at being single? Of course not. You would never say that.
So why does it have to mean that you've "failed" at marriage if you get divorced?
"You've told me about your children, and they sound like amazing kids. I'm guessing both you and your husband had something to do with that. Am I right?" I asked Helen.
"Yes," she said, as her face lightened and she just about cracked a smile.
"I call that a success," I announced. "Wouldn't you?"
She nodded, but I could see that her brain was still fighting for the "failure" story.
"That option is totally available to you -- to stay in your marriage," I reminded her. "You don't need my permission to do that."
I continued, "personally, having done this work as long as I have, I don't measure the success of a marriage by how long it was."
"If you want to call success being married for the rest of your life, and spending those years unhappy, you can do that. That is just not what I would label a successful marriage."
I mean, call me crazy.
"What if we just said your marriage was complete -- not a failure -- just complete?"
"Just like your singlehood was complete when you got married."
"Your marriage lasted exactly as long as it was supposed to last, and now it is complete."
I could see the heaviness drain from Helen, and her shoulders lifted just the tiniest little bit.
And, no, she didn't even file for divorce right away after that meeting. She needed more time, and that was okay, too. For the first time, Helen made a real shift.
All by examining one teeny little thought.
I promise you, my friends, I'm not telling you to get divorced and I'm not telling you to stay married. I would not presume to know the right choice for you.
If you come to me for legal advice, I'll tell you how the whole process works and what I'd expect to be the financial outcome based on your circumstances.
If I am your coach, I will show you how your own thinking about your circumstances is creating your results.
But I won't tell you which choice to make.
Because the truth is, there is no "right" or "wrong" answer to whether or not you should get divorced.
Just like there's no formula to determine whether or not your marriage was a "success" or "failure."
You get to decide, and that's a beautiful thing.
And I'll just be right here when you need me.
Take care, friend, and keep an eye on that sneaky brain.