When a woman first walks into our office, she often appears visibly tense and emotionally buttoned-up. Once she realizes that she is in a safe place in which she can speak freely about something as private as the problems in her marriage with no repercussions or judgment, she relaxes and cuts to the chase.
“Just tell me! Should I get a divorce?!” she might beg.
When you are in painful moments of considering a divorce, it is hard to see what’s really going on in the big picture from 30,000 feet up.
All you know is that you want the pain to stop.
When your marriage is struggling, your vision is blurred. You’ve invested in each other, in your home, and in a shared identity. You’ve created a common outlook. This common view is reflected in your prospects for the future. It’s entwined and enshrined by the birth and growth of your kids.
You’ve worked so hard at your marriage. How could it be going wrong?
You feel as naive as a little girl, and you want someone with the wisdom of a sage to make the decision for you. You feel tortured and you are tired of being blamed.
You want relief. You need a break.
You are stuck in the spin cycle.
This inability to see straight, think clearly, or imagine how life might be otherwise for you is one aspect of what we call the "Spin Cycle" of divorce.
As educators who have studied how women navigate crisis in their lives, we've identified the Spin Cycle as that particularly insidious phase where you know on some level that something is irrevocably wrong in your relationship, yet you feel unable to do anything meaningful about it.
This is a place far too many women remain stuck for years — or even, forever.
Women remain here considering divorce but never speaking with anyone about it because they want so badly to have hope that things will change. It’s a place where women hide, over-think, and feel ashamed as they Google for answers in the dark. All the while, the same old problems keep repeating and nothing actually changes.
The Spin Cycle is a place of utter powerlessness.
When one of these women finally manages to extract herself from the cycle and seeks help from someone with the knowledge and credentials to guide her in her decision, we think of Albert Einstein's famous definition of insanity:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
And then we want to give her an enormous sisterly hug with congratulations! Because it's done!
By crossing the threshold and talking to someone, you break the cycle. Once a person has stepped out of the torturous spin setting by connecting with a witness, you are finally doing something differently — getting help from a professional to confront that dragon called divorce.
This move takes tremendous guts! To own that there are problems and discuss them with a stranger means you have been in so much pain that you are willing to break the pattern of insanity in order to find a new perspective and seek solace.
Part of you may be even looking for more. Part of you is likely looking for "permission" to divorce.
And if you are like a lot of women, part of you might be seeking permission to divorce, too.
You want someone to judge your circumstances, and like Solomon, tell you what is right and what is wrong.
Women do this because the answer is almost never clear. Divorce is so messy and seems so unnecessary ... if only you could fix things.
When it comes to divorce and decision-making, it’s important for you to know these feelings of wanting someone to save you or decide for you are ENTIRELY normal.
Whether it is in our DNA, gender packaged, or something we imitate doesn’t particularly matter. Humans regress when we are forced to face scary stuff, and the prospect of divorce is scary.
So stop beating yourself up for feeling afraid and unsure of what to do. Just because you feel that way, doesn't mean you have to dwell in that space.
In our work with women going through a divorce, we help them understand that we each have control over our own responses. We also remind them that when we defer our decision-making to others, we allow them to treat us like children, which only further perpetuates an unhealthy cycle.
Ask yourself these questions about the nature of your current relationship:
- Who has the power?
- Is it shared?
- Are you frustrated because you don’t feel seen or heard?
- Is your habit of handing over decision-making part of the problem that landed you here?
When they ask themselves these tough questions, our clients learn that women who have never advocated for themselves in the past, and have always put the needs of others their own, can find it difficult to assert their rights and to ask for what they need now.
But YOU must.
You don’t need anyone else's permission to get divorced.
No one can “give you” or any other person “permission to divorce.” For one thing, it’s taken. It’s not given. And secondly, what would better serve you and lessen your anxiety about the D question is to simply re-frame the question.
Ask instead, "What is possible for your life?" — and then get educated.
The best way to improve your circumstances and stop the spinning is to get educated about your realistic options, and the best way to do that is to meet with someone like a divorce coach (no, that doesn't mean you are definitely getting divorced) or a therapist who has experience in break-ups and divorce.
You should look for someone who:
1. Regularly helps people understand their feelings and goals, then helps them follow through with practical, actionable steps.
2. Has the knowledge and expertise to offer you feedback regarding the legal, financial, and emotional issues at play.
Of course, speaking with a lawyer is a great idea, too, but a lawyer’s time costs more and his/her expertise is in the possible legal dilemma you face rather than in the comprehensive life questions you have concerning your family, your fears, your heart, and your social dilemmas.
“The question isn’t who’s going to let me. It’s who going to stop me.” — Ayn Rand
You don’t need permission to divorce.
You need permission to consider yourself worthy and deserving of achieving what is possible for your life.
Learn how to stop the spinning of your brain and heart. Get educated on what doors are standing in front of you. Talk to a professional who can help you learn what lies beyond.
Once you know your options and what possible scenarios might be for you, you can choose to separate, divorce, maintain the status quo, or renew your vows — based on what's right for YOU.
SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience. Start getting educated now and take advantage of SAS’ six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, your family, and your future.