Alternatives to Divorce?
7 Tips to Remember as You Make the Drastic Decision about Separation
When Oprah Winfrey aired an episode about open marriage in fall 2007, it made headlines.
Print and online articles asked questions. Did Oprah endorse open marriage? Was she afraid to condone it? Or is open marriage not so taboo anymore? “However you slice it, it’s pathetic, it’s perverse, it makes marriage into a joke…and why exactly is the patron saint of yentas and bored housewives promoting this sort of garbage? Are ratings getting bad?” asked RightWingNews.com, after the Oprah episode debuted on Sept. 25, 2007.
Tamara Cosby wondered about the issue on her blog, CosbyFamily.WordPress.com. “What about an open marriage is a marriage? I believe a marriage is something you do to be with one person for the rest of your life,” Cosby writes. “How can you say your wedding vows and then say, ‘It’s OK if you want to have a relationship with someone else.I will be here while you do this and when you finish”¦I’m not sure I understand.”
When looking for an alternative to divorce, open marriage is unpopular because of personal and health reasons. “People usually get territorial about the people they’re sleeping with, and then of course, there’s [sexually transmitted] disease,” says Ky Resh, a social worker in Tuscon, Ariz. “Personally, I don’t understand why a lot of people get married,” he says.
Ric Wailes, a social worker in Salt Lake City, Utah, uses his own marriage as an example of why he disapproves of open marriage. “My wife and I have been married almost10 years now. She does things that are very irritating at times.When she’s done, most things that irritate me turn out nice,” he says. “And if I don’t do anything it turns out nice. Painting the room pink, for example. I didn’t like it, didn’t want to do it, but it turned out nice.
Wailes says that disagreement doesn’t translate to a situation of an open marriage. “If she was to go out and find a boyfriend, that would be another story, because that’s a violation of our contract we had when we spoke our vows,” he says.
A much healthier option, experts agree, is either staying together or in a few cases, a trial separation. “I don’t think it [trial separation] always leads to divorce, but it’s not something that I personally recommend,” says Wailes. “It appears a lot of people who get separated do get divorced because they get used to living on their own again and aren’t ready to share again. It depends on how much people are ready to put into the relationship.”
Another suggestion is to remain in the same residence but divide the home. “Living in the same house separately is an idea.I’ve heard of one person living upstairs and one living downstairs,” Resh explains. “People do keep everything the same, so they don’t have to lose their health insurance and lose their property,” he says.Resh believes that there are some circumstances when it is best to get a divorce. “Staying together for the kids is usually awful. When people talk about how divorce is damaging, a lot of what they’re seeing is what happens to the kids during the marriage. When they see their parents fight, it [divorce] is really better for the kids. It’s better for people, to be quite honest.”
Resh believes that there are some circumstances when it is best to get a divorce. “Staying together for the kids is usually awful. When people talk about how divorce is damaging, a lot of what they’re seeing is what happens to the kids during the marriage. When they see their parents fight, it [divorce] is really better for the kids. It’s better for people, to be quite honest.”
“My feeling about divorce is, what’s good to try is to make it a win-win situation so they both get what they want. How can we make this work?” Resh suggests. “Well, hopefully, people will have tried marriage therapy first so they can start talking again, and even if they end up in divorce, people can stay married if they fight,” he says, “but if they stop talking, that kills the relationship.”
Ric Wailes says that the way to avoid problems in any marriage – open, traditional or nontraditional – is how someone reacts to arguments at home. “When I’m working with people on marital therapy, it’s kind of an individualized approach. How do you deal with that? Wow, that’s where it gets to be hard. I look at it in this light,” he says. “It’s not what the other party does. It’s how I react or choose to respond to what the other party does.My behavior will give the other person an opportunity to choose,” says Wailes.
“If my behavior’s appropriate and in bounds, I’m probably going to want you to stay. If they choose to leave otherwise, and my behavior is not harmful, that’s my pain. There are some times where there are some relationships where I just can’t become comfortable with other people’s behavior. If they don’t alter it, I will choose to leave.”
Ky Resh cautions people that divorce is also not the immediate solution. It should remain an option only after people have studied other ideas, like therapy, and realizing that small conflicts are not a reason for divorce. “It’s better to try to work it out so both people get a fair deal. Usually, people get divorced because of domestic violence, addiction, things like that. They usually don’t get divorced for small reasons.”
He recommends that if a couple has reached the last resort of a trial separation, they must try it for six months to see if the arrangement works, explaining that “it takes a while to get used to things on your own at first.” “People really don’t have to live together. Sometimes, living together is a stress. You might like someone, but living together can be hard,” Resh says.
Interestingly enough, when Oprah polled her viewers via her web-site, she discovered that 20 percent of them believed that an open marriage could not only exist, it could be a happy marriage. However, only seven percent of the women polled were actually in an open marriage, leaving people to wonder if sometimes, it is better to try something else.
7 THINGS TO REMEMBER
Important advice before you make any drastic decisions:
1. Remember the basic options of any relationship before you make a move. “You have three choices in any relationship,” explains Ric Wailes, a social worker in Salt Lake City, Utah.”One: do nothing, and nothing improves. It probably gets worse. Two: I change my behavior because I want to, so I can be comfortable.Three: I pack my bags, and I leave my relationship.”
2. When you or your spouse change behavior, do it because you truly want to help the marriage. Do not change if it won’t mean anything to you. “They must alter it, because they want to,” Wailes says. “If I change for someone else, it’s not a permanent change. It’s not driven by me inside.”
3. Wailes suggests questioning your arguments with your spouse. Are they over important issues or something ridiculous? “The longer you’re with somebody, the more we tend to develop expectations. I need to look back and say, ‘How real were my expectations? Were they worth a fight? Perhaps not. Perhaps they are.”
4. If your partner changes and you are stilling fighting, don’t forget to do your part. You must make changes in your behavior as well, if you want your marriage to work, according to Wailes. “People say, “Change them. and everything will be fine. That doesn’t solve anything.”
5. Calm down before you make any serious decisions regarding your marriage or separating.“Make a decision on how to handle it. Most people tend to react. Sit down. Think it through. Say, ‘What about this kind of a change?'” says Wailes.
6. Face the facts. When you enter a trial separation, you most likely will get divorced.“Most of the time, trial separation ends in permanent separation,” says Ky Resh, an MSW and LCSW in Tuscon, Ariz. “When people separate, they usually stay that way.”
7. If you do choose trial separation, carefully explain the situation to your children. “Always let them know, ‘This is not because of you or anything you’ve done. Let them know that you’ll always be in their lives, and my personal feeling is it’s good to try to stay close,” Resh says.