July 15, 2024
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How Can I Start a Sweet New Year When I Am Planning to Divorce?

Dear Dr. Chani,

As I approach the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I feel really unsettled. My wife and I are going through a lot of trouble with our marriage and I feel fake going to shul. To the outside world, we have a happy marriage. I am an outgoing guy, and my wife has a friendly personality. But at home, we barely speak to each other. Deep down, I feel like a bad person.

Throughout our marriage, we had tension. Yet we stayed together for the sake of our children. About two years ago, after our youngest child grew up and was out of the house most of the day, we had less pressure to fake a close relationship. So we tried to avoid each other as much as possible. We lead parallel lives and have little to do with one another. When we speak, we have a lot of disagreements about unresolved conflicts and disappointments. It is pretty clear to me that we are going to get divorced. It is only a matter of how and when.

When I first started mentioning the idea of divorce as a real plan, I felt so much relief. But my wife panicked and begged me to go for couple’s therapy. I hoped that therapy would change her but it’s hard to change a person. She tells me that she is making an effort to work on our relationship but I gave up on that a long time ago. Even if she theoretically does change, I cannot forget about the years of friction and frustration. It is difficult for me to move past the sad and angry parts of our history.

I am looking forward to starting a new life with a new wife someday. This time, I plan to find a woman who will accept me for who I am and not make demands on me. I really do not want to have to live my whole life with a critical person.

But I still feel terrible about making my wife and family go through a divorce. I wish this did not have to happen. I wish that things could have been different.

How can I start the new year off on the right foot? I want to feel like I am doing the right thing, but this is such a difficult situation. I just do not see how I can make everyone happy. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Honest

Dear Honest,

You have suffered for years in a difficult relationship, yet managed to hold your marriage together. It’s not easy to feel misunderstood and alone, yet, at the same time, give the impression to your friends and family that you have a fine marriage. You are longing to break free from the pain of your past issues with your wife by getting a divorce. Yet something in your letter tells me that you are wise enough to look before you leap.

You realize that getting a divorce does not solve all of your problems, and it may introduce new ones. You sense the negative impact it will have on your wife and children. Yet you struggle to find direction.

As I read your letter, I noticed some points that jump out from your description of yourself and your relationship. You are concerned that deep down you are a “bad person.” You also mention that your wife has been very difficult to live with. I’m wondering why you would consider yourself a bad person if you are trying to break away from your current situation and it is so untenable.

Maybe you had thought that divorce was best for both you and your wife until you presented the idea to her. Yet, you were surprised to find that she was not enthusiastic. If so, you might feel guilty about planning to divorce when your wife is willing to go for relationship therapy and work through your marital issues. You might be asking yourself if you are focusing on your own needs without considering the needs of your wife and children. With this background, it makes sense that you are not completely at peace with your decision to get a divorce. Feeling that you are a “bad person” may be your way of expressing your conflicted feelings about your plan.

You mentioned that part of the reason that you decided to get divorced was that there is too much water under the bridge. Your description of your wife as being critical and of you having a pattern of “unresolved conflicts and disappointments” underscores that you both have not understood and appreciated each other for a long time. There is so much pain, hurt and miscommunication that you cannot imagine staying married.

You would like a second marriage with a fresh start. That makes sense. There is so much negative history with your wife that it seems easier to begin anew. You might anticipate the potential and excitement that a different relationship would bring. Yet, you know things are not simple. New relationships can also lose their luster as time progresses. Sometimes you unwittingly fall into the same patterns that you experienced in previous relationships. Changing your partner does not necessarily solve your problems.

You are wondering what might be “the right thing to do” at this point. What would happen if you picked someone you already know to marry for your “second marriage”? Your current wife. You need to put a lot of effort into a new relationship. Why not consider putting that effort into creating an entirely new relationship with your current wife?

It is hard to know the potential for you and your wife to rebuild your marriage based on a moment in time. Even though right now you feel like things will never change, you will never know what your marriage could be like if you go for therapy unless you walk down that path.

You don’t know what you will discover. Through individual therapy and couples therapy, you might each gain a better understanding of yourselves and be able to communicate more effectively with one another. You can figure out how your marriage went awry and gain insight into how to breathe new life into your relationship. You might learn how to manage your conflicts and grow in your appreciation for each other. On the other hand, you might determine that your issues are unresolvable and proceed with your plan to divorce.

As you approach the Days of Awe, consider your plan to get divorced and perhaps create a second marriage. Yet, expand the possibilities to include giving your wife (and yourself) a second chance.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

By Dr. Chani Maybruch

 

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