What it Means… When the Word 'Divorce' Pops in Your Head
In the heat of an argument, things like divorce may enter your head. Here are three ways to help leave the "D" word at the door.
The evening was going great until Katherine said to Dan, "I know we have plans for Friday night, just the two of us, but would you mind if we included our neighbors for dinner? I ran into Jan today, and it was good to see her, so she and I thought it would be a great idea to make it a foursome."
Dan’s first response was, "So you changed our plans without asking me? You know how I hate it when you do that. I don’t understand why you’ve put me in this position again when you know how I feel."
Katherine raises her voice in total frustration, "Well, I didn’t actually confirm the plan, so it’s not like it’s set in stone, for heaven’s sake! All you have to say is you don’t want to do it."
"Are you kidding me?" yells Dan. "You know you’d resent me for saying no, and for you to have to call her up now and say that I’m not interested, makes me the bad guy!"
And on the fight goes, escalating to where Dan accuses Katherine of not making him a priority, and Katherine accusing Dan of never wanting to go along with the plans that she makes.
Katherine doesn’t want to fight anymore, so she leaves the room, finding refuge in her bedroom. As she sits there hurt and angry, she doesn’t really feel the love for Dan in that moment, and the "D" word enters her mind…divorce. But as soon as it enters her mind, she dismisses the thought because, after all, she loves Dan and couldn’t imagine her life without him.
When Katherine is no longer mad at Dan, divorce isn’t even in her vocabulary. However, she goes to this place where she feels guilty for thinking such a thing in a fit of anger, because she knows she’s not even close to wanting a divorce. She wonders if anyone else ever thinks these thoughts when they’re angry, or if she’s the only one?
Believe it or not, thinking about divorce when you’re angry is quite common and normal. Why? Because you can love, be angry, and even feel hate simultaneously. Just because you might feel hate in the heat of the moment, doesn’t represent your overall feelings for your spouse. So feeling angry enough to think about divorce doesn’t mean you’ve stopped loving your husband or wife, it could just mean that you’re stuck in anger and hurt in that moment, believing that that state of mind is permanent. But most of the time, it isn’t. However, thinking about divorce could also be a wake-up call that your fights are becoming more frequent and severe, with the potential to start causing damage to the marriage.
So if the "D" word has popped in your head, here are some things to put into action:
1. Set up a time to talk. The purpose of talking to your spouse is not to say you’ve been thinking about divorce, but to express your feelings so they won’t fester and become bigger than they need to be. So approach your partner when you’re not angry and tell him or her that you’d like to set up a time to talk about your most recent argument. Be specific so as not to cause alarm in your spouse. Katherine could say, "Dan, do you have some time soon to talk about the argument we had yesterday? I really want to clear the air between the two of us, so we can understand what happened and try to resolve the conflict."
2. Effectively communicate. Talking about the argument can be tricky because you could get into another argument, which is what usually happens. So agreeing on some ground rules before you talk is essential. The ground rules include no interrupting while each of you speaks for three minutes, and no shaming, blaming, attacking, defending, or the need to be right. After each of you has had your turn speaking, have a discussion about what you heard and observed while you were quietly listening. This form of communication will hopefully make each of you feel safe, heard, and understood, which then builds intimacy and trust.
3. Before the next argument… Write down what you can do differently when you become angry with your partner the next time. This includes writing about what you observed and heard from your partner when you effectively communicated in your last discussion. Writing helps cement your new realizations, with the higher likelihood that you’ll be better able to put them into effect in the next argument. Remember, it just takes one person to do one thing differently to break the argument cycle.
When we’re angry and upset, we imagine all sorts of things in the safety of our minds. However, there’s a big difference between just thinking about divorce versus asking for one in the heat of the moment. Thinking doesn’t damage the relationship; verbalizing it does. Once you’ve said it, you can’t take it back, and doubt has now entered the marriage and it starts diminishing the level of trust with your spouse. But if you’ve just thought about it, though normal, it is a sign that you’re at a level of frustration with your partner that needs to be addressed before it slips out of your mouth.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com and follow her on Google+.