David Frenkel is a lawyer at Gelman and Associates practicing exclusively in the area of family law for the past 10 years.
The waiting room in our family law firm is an interesting place. The men and women that come in for the first time often have this aura of embarrassment about them. They divert their eyes. They shift in their chairs. It is almost as if they are hoping that we, the lawyers and staff, do not realize that they will soon be talking with a complete stranger about their failed relationship. They fill out their intake forms, wondering “How did I become just another statistic?”
And then the potential client starts to have other thoughts: “I have young kids. I may no longer spend the time with them as I did before. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are no longer going to be celebrated with my spouse at my side during brunch. I won’t be celebrating my children’s birthdays in one loving household. I will be a single parent wondering where it all went wrong.”
Well that’s one way to look at it, but divorce lawyers see it a bit differently.
Divorce does not break up families, although it often requires the removal of pictures of smiling and happy people from Facebook and Instagram: pictures that include people who can no longer bear the anguish and turmoil, who live in loveless marriages and who have slept in separate bedrooms for years on end for the “sake of the family.”
A relationship in which a child grows up witnessing parental conflict or sees one parent degrading the other is not one to hold on to. It is a situation to run away from – as fast and as far as you need to until reaching some sort of help.
But people continue to suffer and agonize. They remain in the marriage. The couple think they may get better. However, once it reaches a certain point, it rarely does. They think they can hold on until the kids get older before breaking up. But children are smarter than parents think. They know something is wrong when it starts going wrong. It just becomes the elephant in the room that no one is talking about but everyone wants to. The children want the parents to separate but are just too scared to tell them. Both feel helpless.
So what does divorce offer instead?
Divorce can be viewed as the legal manifestation of natural selection for marriages. It is a way of removing toxicity from the home. It is a way of expelling dangerous influences. It is a way of protecting children from poor role models and examples that would otherwise continue if not for the divorce.
Divorce also stops extramarital affairs. Affairs occurring as a way of avoiding the bigger problems. As an escape. As a way of not facing reality. It is not easy to pack up and jump without a financial safety net and enter into the abyss of single life again, but the choice to cheat is often a difficult one filled with regret and remorse.
Instead, divorce allows for personal evolution. It allows one to become stronger and more courageous. It permits an individual to reconnect with oneself and to find out what are the obstacles to their happiness.
The key is not to wait. Avoidance will generally makes things worse. Every day that one delays in addressing the underlying reasons of sadness is a day that could have been utilized in reaching one’s goals and potential. What couples fear are loneliness and more rejection. But often that fear is not real and is simply a psychological barrier to happiness.
If therapy or counseling is not an option, then divorce may be the next step. The initial consultation in our family law firm provides information about divorce law and how it affects children and finances. However, the information that we offer is not just about the law, but also about resources in dealing with abuse, neglect and psychological issues that are oftentimes found in marriages. The first meeting can be pivotal as it allows a person to rethink how he or she has been dealing with inner turmoil, but in a more practical and proactive way.
Historically, divorce has been viewed negatively and with connotations of guilt. However, it may be time to more closely examine the individuals or institutions that promoted such viewpoints and question the underlying assumptions of those opinions. I propose a different perspective: Namely, that divorce provides a new opportunity to no longer be a passive observer in a relationship that has fallen apart. Divorce, in the right circumstances, permits an individual to let go of the shame and not just survive, but to live, evolve and flourish.