DIVORCE: THE FINAL OPTION
Divorce often happens in years 6 to 10. research finds year 8 to be ordinary. In the 50s, it was called “The Seven Year Itch’. If your relationship is struggling in these years, it is an ordinary development. I can’t say that enough. It is ordinary to struggle in years 6 to 10 because all the illusions have been erased. I believe the essence of real love is wanting to be a better person. When someone turns their back on doing the work of change and growth, that’s what repair of a relationship requires, then in my mind, they are unwilling to do the work of real love.
Rhoda: On average, a first marriage that ends in divorce, lasts about eight years, which fits with my message on many episodes, that problems often arise in years 6 to 10, which is a rite of relationship evolution. I found this very interesting; a person with a close friend who gets divorced is 147% more likely to get divorced themselves. Couples who live together prior to marriage, increase their chances of divorce by 40%. For people aged 50 and older, the divorce rate has doubled in the past 20 years. 25% of those who divorce are over 50.
Overall, the rate of divorce in America is falling as well as the number of marriages. The gay divorce marriage rate was broadly the same as the heterosexual divorce marriage rate. And my final statistic, women drive 75% of divorce.
One dating question I encourage my clients to ask, especially if they’re listening to their date dump a lot of blame on their ex is to ask: ‘What was your part in the problems?” I suspect that those who cushion themselves in a cocoon of, “It’s all the other person’s fault,” are the ones with a higher divorce rate in second marriages. I suspect that divorce offers an opportunity to everybody to learn and grow, and those that are willing to look at themselves, would be more successful the second time around.
Besides the second marriage divorce statistic of 60%, it is the fear of being alone that makes the thought of one’s first divorce, such a frightening and overwhelming possibility. So, let’s reframe being alone as an opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself. If you are in a relationship that squelches your spirit, like Jackie Rohr’s wife in Showtime’s, City On A Hill, where Kevin Bacon plays the despicable husband, then divorce could be reframed for his wife as freedom to find out more about herself.
Everyone should be able to spend a weekend alone, an evening alone. Everyone should have ways they pursue pleasure as an individual. What nourishes you and replenishes your energy? What brings a smile to your face? What is quietly satisfying to you when you are alone? Though, these are questions everyone over 28 should have some answers to. Everyone needs to balance attention to others with attention to themselves. Some people get so lost in caretaking of others, that caring for themselves is labeled as ‘selfish’. It is ordinary to care for others. And if you do that for yourself, you will be a better caretaker. That’s really the God’s honest truth.
It is ordinary to struggle in years 6 to 10 because all the illusions have been erased. And now there is an opportunity to do the work of building a substantial infrastructure. It’s a chance to be honest with each other about what problems there are and to learn how to be a team rather than getting stuck in power struggles.
I discouraged divorce in year 6 to 10 because it’s a chance to learn and grow up together. Divorce often ends being seen as right, wrong, black, white, 1, 10. Instead of recognizing the grey, or the four, or five and six that’s in between these polarities. You have to recognize the complicatedness. The truth is, even if you are the betrayed partner, you had a part in the demise, at minimum 10%, and perhaps, all the way up to 40%. It’s very difficult to recognize harsh realities. And it’s so much easier to just simply pretend that things are good enough, when it’s clearly not true. Avoiding those hard conversations that I keep talking about, contributes to your 10% of responsibility.
So, let’s just imagine, there has been an affair and no sex for six to nine months prior, the partner who has been wrong had a part in what went wrong by staying silent. The even deeper betrayal is when the partner who had the affair does not express remorse and is not interested in repair of the relationship. The grief that is unleashed because there is no interest in fixing the problems, becomes the second profound blow. That’s when hope is extinguished and mourning begins.
Grieving the loss of your couplehood or your intact family is a huge part of divorce. And you’re not going to get over this loss in a week and a half; it may easily take a year and a half. So, give yourself the room for that path of pain.
I believe the essence of real love is wanting to be a better person. When someone turns their back on doing the work of change and growth, that’s what repair of a relationship requires, then in my mind, they are unwilling to do the work of real love. Everybody gets some of the pieces of the pie. Nobody gets them all. Maybe you were lucky enough to have a terrific childhood, and you were unlucky in love.
My last pearl of wisdom about divorce is that I’ve witnessed many, many men becoming far better fathers after divorce. Now I’m going to interview Meghan Freed. She is the co-founder of Freed Marcroft Law Practice in 2012, an LBGTQI and friendly divorce family law firm, focused on helping people process their divorce easily and get their lives back. She believes it’s up to you, whether you use it to intentionally create the life you want to live. She believes that it can often be an opportunity for growth and joy for both sides.
Meghan: Thank you so much for having me, Rhoda, I have to tell you that you nailed our mission in two sentences. Sometimes it takes me two paragraphs. So, thank you for having me, and thank you for that.
Rhoda: What can people do to improve their situation before an actual divorce? For example, should they collect as much recent financial information as possible? Is that ever helpful? I’ve heard from several clients that they wish they had done so.
Meghan: Yeah. So, here’s the key. The advice for this, I think is good, it’s good for everyone, whether you’re happy in a relationship, whether you decide to work on it, or whether you’re getting divorced. One of the things that we see is particularly in couples where they divide their responsibilities so that one person is primarily responsible for like the household bills, and another person’s responsible for other things: kids’ schedules, working outside the home, whatever it is, doesn’t matter how you slice it up.
But if you’re the person who’s less familiar with how the finances work, you’ll be a lot happier in happy relationships, if you know that. So, like, if you think about 20 years ago, a statement came in the mail and you noticed the bank account or the American Express bill or the retirement account. Now so much of that is online and so much of it gets delivered to one person’s email address.
This isn’t about one person hiding information or not, right? I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. But most cases, it’s just, if I, Meghan, handle the finances, it probably comes into my email address. This is a good time to suggest like a family email address, not for the kids, for the two of you, where it’s like, ourbills@gmail or whatever, so that there is just an exchange of information.
Not taking over the finances, if that’s not how you’ve chosen to divide things, but a knowledge and information, a sense of like, “Gee, what account, do we even pay the Visa bill out of?” Things like that. And not coincidentally, yes, having access to that information, and understanding how the financial dynamics of your family works, yes, it will help your divorce.
Rhoda: Yeah, I think that many women in my generation in particular, really paid no attention. And boomers, that is a real problem. But they participated in that as well. And so the culture is changing, and I appreciate the younger energy about paying attention.
Meghan: But you know what, I mean, the piece of that is it goes back to our earlier discussion about being responsible for outsourcing that to your ex—well, your spouse, right? And having it not be like a see no evil, hear no evil relationship right? You want to be aware, even though it’s not your primary responsibility. Just like if someone else is in charge of what summer camp you pick for the kids, you kind of want to know which one is. Even you weren’t the one involved in the details of it.
Rhoda: Yeah, I agree. What are the risks involved in leaving the marital household before the divorce? Or is that a state-by-state issue?
Meghan: So, it’s definitely state by state.
Rhoda: That’s what I thought.
Meghan: Yeah, it is. And I’ll give you a—we practice at Freed Marcroft across Connecticut, so I’ll give you a Connecticut example. If you leave the home prior to filing the divorce, it might mean that you don’t have the same kind of access to the home that you would if you had stayed, right?
Meghan: To some people, that matters; to some people, that doesn’t matter. Obviously, for safety, if there’s a safety concern, the most important thing is taking care of your safety. It’s just one of the things that we like to make sure that people know, right, understand the impact of moving out before you do it, before you file. I often wish—and it’s actually part of why I love being on podcasts like you yours—I often wish people, “just because you call a divorce lawyer does not mean you’re getting a divorce. It’s just, we should be the first to know.
Rhoda: I say that to people all the time: information is power, it doesn’t mean you’ve made a decision, you’re exploring, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Meghan: Yeah, I agree.
Rhoda: The statistics say women in divorce face more financial hardships than their spouses, what is your advice to my audience about facing that fear and dealing with it?
Meghan: This is really related to the gathering of financial information discussion we had.
Rhoda: Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Rhoda: So, I think some of this is fear of the unknown, really. And the more you’re empowered with information, both about the inner workings of your family’s financial life, and about the realities of what a reasonable settlement might be, what a court might do, it makes it much easier. I mean, this is just education, education, education, something that really is painful when working with women, particularly women who were lower earners or didn’t work outside the home, is they stay in marriages out of fear that they won’t be okay financially. And as a divorce lawyer, I know that they would be. I just never want someone making decisions based upon inaccurate information.
Meghan: It’s just fear.
Rhoda: I had a woman who kept insisting: “I don’t want to eat ketchup sandwiches.”
Meghan: Yeah. And this is something that the higher earner sometimes uses as a manipulative tool as well, right?
Rhoda: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes, there’s a lot about manipulation, there really is. I’ve had men in particular catered to their partners to be generous about the kids. But in the end, they set up a precedent that leads to them not getting—here in Pennsylvania, it’s pretty easy—50% custody. Is this the case in most states that you should be careful about how generous you are in order to not set up a precedent?
Meghan: Yeah. So, in most states, there’s some version of a default that there’d be joint parenting.
Meghan: And obviously, that’s not always the case. But we’re really not operating in a world anymore, where in most cases, kids are with the mom during the week and see dad every other weekend and dinner on Wednesdays, right? That’s just not really the universe anymore. I think one of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they think that they need 50% custody or 51% custody in order to avoid or decrease child support.
Meghan: Yeah, and I think we really want to see parenting relationships, or parenting structures that support the children’s lives with both parents. So, if you have an—I’m going to deliberately not, I’m not going to mom/dad this, right? If you have a parent who’s an emergency room doctor who doesn’t know what their schedule is going to be from a given week to week, that parenting plan is going to look a lot different than if you have one stay at home parent and the family’s committed to that person staying home. Or if you have two parents that work traditional sort of nine to five schedules. It’s really like, who are these little people that we have to raise and what will our lives look like as we raise them?
Rhoda: I suggest often to people, try to live in the same neighborhoods so the kids can run back and forth. And I only have had one person take me up on that, in 40 years of work. And the kids were happy, the parents were happy. It really was a great situation.
Meghan: Yeah, for some families, that works great. I’ve had more than one-
Rhoda: That’s good.
Meghan: -where people wind up in the same neighborhood. Yeah, it really is like that. Especially, they’re just all sorts of tools to help people structure things in a way that really work for their family. Now, a judge ruling isn’t going to be able to do that, right? That’s something that takes a lot of work and both parents being a really active participant in designing a future for how their family is going to co-parent.
Rhoda: What can people do to protect themselves in a particularly ugly divorce?
Meghan: Okay, so one of the things that we talk about with our clients a lot is how we are all responsible for 100% of every relationship, not 50. So, what I mean by that is, I’m responsible for my 100% of my relationship with you, and you’re responsible for your 100% of your relationship with me. When you have a high conflict partner, someone who is probably on the narcissistic spectrum, diagnosed or undiagnosed, you are in for a rough ride. And we are going to do everything that we can to support you in that ride, to give you context about why things are happening, to help you not take the bait when you’re being,
Meghan: All of that stuff, where you know how to play your own game. But I think that one of the critical pieces to that is making sure that you have mental health professionals on your side that understand what life with a narcissist is like and understand what exiting a relationship with a narcissist is like, that’s really the critical tool.
Rhoda: I would agree. Yeah, that’s great. In your opinion, how do people make divorce harder on themselves, besides the role of victim that you mentioned earlier?
Meghan: I think that many of us are much better giving advice to friends, than we are, making our own decisions. And one of the tools I encourage people to use is that “what would I tell my friend” advice. And one of the things where I think people can particularly suffer is revisiting past decisions. A divorce as a series of decisions. It starts with the decision of whether or not to get divorced, whether to leave the house, whether to let him stay in the house during the divorce, whether to let the kids go to France with him or stay home for the summer, there is just a series.
And the second guessing the revision loop is really hard for people. I think that what you need to know as you go through your divorce is: I made the best decision I could with the information I had, at the time that I had it, next. I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time that I had it, next, give yourself a break.
Rhoda: That’s great. That’s really good. I like the succinctness of it. Finally, could you offer any last words of advice to those in my audience considering seeking a divorce?
Meghan: So before—this is a blatant pop culture reference, but it’s one of the best things I’ve heard recently—before Kim Kardashian decided to file her divorce, there are a bunch of articles about how she had a divorce plan. So, let’s think about who she is. She’s a woman with small children in a relationship with what I think appears to be a complicated personality, possibly with some abuse or problem with some substance abuse issues, right, or something. She met with a lawyer, she got together a plan. And in case of emergency, she was ready to break glass, right? Where am I going to go? Who am I going to call? Who are my babies going to be with? I’ve got a mental health person on dial up. I know that I’m going to go to my mom’s for a weekend and then I’m going to stay in a hotel. She had a whole plan in place in case couples counseling didn’t work or the situation became untenable or someone’s health decreased to the point that it wasn’t healthy for her children.
That piece, the notion that you can decouple what you’re going to do if you decide to get a divorce, from the divorce itself, I think gives you a lot of peace of mind and frees you up to really work on the marriage if that’s what you choose to do, that you have a backstop.
Rhoda: Yeah, that’s good. Is there anything you want to tell us about getting in contact with you if people are interested?
Meghan: So, we are a Connecticut Family Law Firm. Our name is Freed Marcroft. We do divorce and all of the other types of family law. If you live in another state like Pennsylvania, New York, California, you name it, we know a lot of like-minded attorneys. If what I said appeals to you, I probably have someone for you to talk to. So, if you’re Connecticut, I’d love to help you. And if you’re not, I’d love to get you in touch with someone who can help you. Freedmarcroft.com or 860-560-8160.
Rhoda: Thanks so much, Meghan. I really appreciate you sharing with me and my audience today.
Meghan: It was a pleasure.