According to researchers at the University of Washington, March and August see the largest spikes in divorce filings. Because the holidays tend to make marital difficulties seem so much worse, people decide in January that they’re done, then take a month to get their affairs in order and file in March. August is big because, again, summertime is vacation time, and troubles in the home tend to be harder to escape. Having experienced another frustrating summer, parents want to get filing out of the way before the school year starts.
If you or someone you love is at that place where they feel they have suffered enough in their marriage and think that there is nothing left to do but divorce, I am truly sorry. That said, no one gets married with the dream of one day going through a big, expensive divorce. Before you sign those papers, I respectfully ask that you take a moment to pray about the following.
Get the right help
Here’s something most people don’t know and most therapists won’t tell you. You just can’t go to any counselor who says they “do marriage counseling.” You have to go to a therapist who is marriage-friendly and has received actual training and ongoing supervision in marital therapy. Individual therapists often say they “do marriage counseling,” but because they have not received adequate training and supervision, their success rates tend to be around 30 percent. By contrast, research on marriage-friendly therapists (for example, ones who believe marriage is worth saving) show that those who have received formal training and supervision in marital therapy tend to have success rates around 95 percent. It doesn’t matter if the therapist claims to have “done marriage counseling for 20 years.” If they haven’t received formal training and supervision, then they probably have been doing it wrong for 20 years.
Similarly, talking to your pastor is good. Your pastor can do an excellent job helping you connect with God through your trials. But guess what your pastor can’t do? Marriage counseling. Because he isn’t trained to do it. Training matters. Get the right kind of help.
Keep at it
Some couples are so demoralized by the time they go to counseling that they attend two or three sessions and quit. Assuming you are working with a trained, marriage-friendly therapist, you need to commit to at least 12 weekly sessions. The first session or two is just assessment. The third and fourth sessions are goal planning. After that you can start learning new skills, but you’re going to need some practice to see if things are making a difference and that the changes stick. By 12 sessions you should know if it’s worth continuing, but if you haven’t given it at least 12 sessions with a trained, marriage-friendly therapist, then no, you haven’t tried everything.
Solo-spouse therapy works
So many spouses believe there is no point in seeking counseling because “my spouse won’t go.” Here’s the surprising truth. Your spouse doesn’t have to go to counseling for the marriage to improve for both of you (not just the one in therapy). Chances are, your spouse doesn’t want to go for therapy because the marriage is working just fine — for them. Solo-spouse marital therapy (aka “systems therapy”) will help you learn how to thwart your spouse’s inappropriate behavior while still respecting the integrity of the marriage. Usually, that will make them want to work with you to create a more mutually satisfying change.
Most can be saved
In the last 20 years, research has shown that people don’t just luck into successful marriages. Happy couples have certain skills that unhappy couples don’t. And those skills can be taught.
My book “When Divorce is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love” (Sophia Institute Press, $19.95) discusses eight of these most important habits in detail. But any trained, marriage-friendly therapist can help you learn how to practice these skills in your relationship. The vast majority of marriages, especially the ones where couples have “tried everything,” can be saved with the right approach.
Help isn’t expensive
OK, marriage therapy costs money. Twelve sessions might cost between $1,200-$2,500 up front, but for many, insurance will cover at least a portion of the cost if there is a diagnosis. By contrast, an average divorce costs $20,000 up front and continues to affect your finances for years to come. Getting good help is a bargain.
I understand if you’re tired. But I can tell you both from research and from my own work with couples that unless you are in a physically abusive relationship, divorce causes more problems than it solves. Especially if you have kids together, even after divorce you are going to be in each other’s lives forever — except you’ll have less say in what the other parent does. Your marriage can be fixed, and it is worth fixing. You didn’t get married to get divorced. Yes, your pain is real, but the right help will make a difference. Get it and get back on track for your sake and the sake of your kids.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the founder of CatholicCounselors.com and the author of “When Divorce is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and NurtureLasting Love.”