Can your marriage be saved if you’re fantasizing about divorce?
I admit it. I have fantasies. I daydream about all kinds of things, and no I'm not (necessarily) dreaming about sex all of the time. I imagine what it would be like to win the lottery, what it would be like to actually see the top of my desk and what it would be like to be divorced.
In my first marriage, I used to fantasize about divorce all the time. I'd imagine how if I got divorced, I wouldn't be lonely any more. I'd dream about how I'd be able to come home and be thrilled to see my dog and cats because we had missed each other while I was at work all day. I dreamed about the things that my marriage wasn't giving me despite repeated requests, the help of a marriage counselor and my own therapy. I daydreamed about having my marriage filled with loving, human contact that just wasn't happening with my husband despite all my efforts.
In my current marriage, I still fantasize about divorce occasionally. Although these days, my divorce fantasies are not constant, but rather seem to coincide with "discussions," between me and my husband; in other words, loud conversations where we hurt each other's feelings and then have great make-up sex.
And I'm not the only one who has these divorce fantasies. As I'm sure you can imagine, in my work helping people who are questioning whether divorce is the best answer for them, I hear all kinds of divorce fantasies. Some people dream of a better life , where their basic needs are met. These fantasies are much like the ones I had during my first marriage. The people who have these daydreams have been putting in the effort and asking their partner to help them make their marriage better. Despite these efforts, though, the marriage just isn't improving and it's destroying these people.
Other people I work with have been through divorce once already and get scared when something unpleasant happens in their marriage. Their response is often that it would be easier to divorce again than have to deal with whatever the issue is. I can sympathize with this feeling. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I forget it's a whole lot easier to work through the problems in a good marriage to make it even better, than it is to get divorced. Luckily, I eventually remember (or my husband remembers) and we get back to solving problems instead of living in a nightmare.
Then there are the people who dream of divorce solving other problems in their life. I remember one woman I met at a talk I was giving about the realities of divorce. I mentioned how Texas (where I was speaking) is a community-property state, which means that all of the marital assets and debts would be divided equally during the divorce. It was at this point that the woman asked me in an incredulous tone if marital debts really did get shared during divorce. I said yes, and then she stood up, loudly announced that if she had to take some of the debt it wasn't worth getting divorced and stomped out of the room. Can you imagine what her fantasy must have been? She was dreaming, at least in part, that divorce would solve her financial troubles. I'm glad she realized divorce wasn't the answer for her.
Other people imagine that life with someone else will automatically be better than the life they have with their spouse. One fellow I know imagined this so completely that he decided to have an affair. Unfortunately, his affair was the catalyst for his divorce. In hindsight he realizes that he had a part to play in creating his unfulfilling marriage and he often wonders how he might have created a better marriage with his ex instead of divorcing her.
Divorce fantasies that are supposed to magically fix problems like debt, boredom or poor communication are lethal to marriages over the long haul. Even if these fantasies don't help fuel a divorce, they will definitely help fuel misery. However, these marriages can be saved if both spouses are willing to do the work to solve the issues. The first step in that process is not to obsess about the occasional divorce fantasy, but rather to consider what thought or action triggered that fantasy. If you know that, then you are on track to figure out what you need to do to make your marriage better.
The Functional Divorce Assignment below gives you some ideas for figuring out just what your divorce fantasies might mean about your marriage.
- What are your dreams about divorce? Be brutally honest here. Are you thinking about divorce because you're feeling sexually attracted to someone else? Are you thinking about divorce because you and your spouse have forgotten how to communicate? Are you thinking about divorce because you've given up on being you for the sake of the marriage?
- Do your divorce fantasies involve the divorce solving another problem? After you've figured out what the themes of your divorce fantasies are, ask yourself if you think divorce is just the quickest answer to solve another problem. If this is the case for you and your spouse and the problem isn't something where your or your children's lives are in jeopardy, then there's probably hope for your marriage. It will just take some work.
- Are your divorce fantasies about having your basic human needs met? If your basic needs aren't being met in your marriage, it's time to start working with a therapist and/or a marriage counselor. With the help of these professionals, you'll be able to get a better idea of whether or not your marriage can be saved and how you can get your basic needs met.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.