Family, Self

The Most Important Thing To Try Before You Sign Divorce Papers

Photo: getty
The Most Important Thing To Try Before Signing Your Divorce Papers

In my more than 20 years as a licensed psychotherapist specializing in marriage, family and child counseling, I have observed that almost all of the clients coming in who wanted to get divorced had one thing in common — they were pointing at the other partner as the cause of the problem. 

Yes, I understand that when someone cheats on you, it appears to be all of their fault, yet even in this situation, I have noticed that there is as much for the cheated on person to learn.

Here is the number one, most important thing I recommend you do if you want to know how to save your marriage before you call it quits: Go to counseling.

RELATED: 7 Last-Ditch Ways To Save Your Marriage (When You Feel Hopeless)

Make sure you have done your work before you decide to break up your family. What do I mean? I mean find a counselor who specializes in family systems and have them to help you evaluate where you came from. 

Where you came from is why you see the world the way you do. It’s where your expectations and values and images of how relationships are supposed to be, came from. In other words, it’s where the ideas that you have about you got developed. 

Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family systems psychotherapy, showed that the meanings we make about ourselves are first formulated in our early childhood experiences, and science now shows us that that may even start in the womb. 

Quite often as we grow up, if there are stressors (and what family doesn't have some of those?) we compensate according to what is going on. The younger we are, the tougher it is on us. 

Even if our parents abuse us, we are likely to blame ourselves — in other words, make a meaning about ourselves such as, "I am not important or I don’t matter.”  Why do we do that? Well, we can’t run off our parents, we are too small, and we need them to survive.  So if something is wrong, we put it on ourselves. 

Now, what does this have to do with you deciding whether or not to get divorced? Everything! When your partner pisses you off, if you check the meaning that you make in that stressful situation, I would wager that you are making a meaning about you that goes something like, "I am not important."

Yes, it’s the same exact one that you developed (not consciously) when you were young. 

RELATED: 8 Incredibly Simple Ways To Save Your Marriage

Because this is how you see yourself (you probably don’t realize it, though) if you leave, you will likely find someone new — and guess what? You’ll find that you have the same ideas about you as before. 

Yuck! You just broke up your family for nothing!

Now for the good part, these meanings are formulated and processed inside you. That means that if you do your work, you'll find a way to make a different meaning for yourself in any situation. 

Now hear me out — when your partner pisses you off and you (if you’re honest) make the meaning "I’m not important" or "I don’t matter" it’s you who is doing this to you. 

Becoming more of an adult means learning to challenge these meanings.  It’s not your partner’s fault that you make the meanings you do. If you could ask yourself in the heat of the moment, “Is it really true that I’m not important or that I don’t matter?” the answer is always “no” and always has been and always will be.

Do you really want someone else to be the source of whether you matter or not? Would you teach that to your kids?

As a child, you didn't have much choice in the matter since you were dependent on your parents, but you are an adult now (hopefully) and you can build the character (get help with this) to be in charge of your own worth no matter what your partner does. 

Is this easy to do? Absolutely not. But if you get the right help and start to transform the old ideas you have about you, you will see a huge difference in your situation, even if your partner doesn't change at all. 

Remember that in systems, if one part changes, the rest of the system has to change. Imagine the pressure release for your partner when they don’t have to try to figure out how to make you feel better about yourself when they make a mistake — this makes huge impacts on relationships. 

If you figure out and be responsible for what meaning you are making about yourself in stressful situations, you will know why you feel the way you do. 

Once you learn how to do this, then decide what to do about your marriage.

RELATED: 5 Signs You're Trying Way Too Hard To Make A Bad Marriage Work (And Should Probably Give Up)

Steven Keeler, international psychotherapist, consultant, and bestselling author, is an expert in the field of human potential and transformational change. His successful private practice, A Better Life through Therapy and Healing, has helped thousands of people, as well as multiple organizations, around the world, including more than 23 different military assignments. His bestselling book Leap: But How Will I Live, Eat or Pay for Gas? is available on Want to connect? Contact Steven at

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.