Infidelity doesn’t necessarily lead to divorce, there are many factors that determine if a couple can successfully stay together or not. When couples come in early, there are less layers of resentment, mistrust and hurt, so decisions and forgiveness are not terribly traumatic.
However, when couples come to therapy years after their relationship has been hurt, there are also years of emotional scar tissue. Often, people already know they want a divorce, but are scared of the change or don’t want to be seen as the “bad one” who terminated the relationship. Also, even when the romantic love has faded, long term couples are usually very attached to each other. Attachment is an emotional, intellectual and physiological process, so uncoupling after years together is not easy. All of those aspects–heart, mind, body soul and lifestyle– that have been part of the relationship need attention and “uncoupling.”
My goal for those contemplating divorce is to know why they want to pursue it and what they hope to gain, so when they take action, they can exit feeling less ashamed and clear. Our job is to work together to assist each person involved to be able to look at themselves or into their children’s eyes and understand their decision and feel okay. Research shows that when there is a “good divorce” in this way, people heal faster and are more prepared for a positive future relationship.
When people exit a relationship that they are still confused about, feel victimized by or conversely, carry the burden of guilt and shame there is a great deal more suffering. Sometimes, if a person can’t tolerate facing these feelings, a self-sabotage or punishment cycle can unconsciously become established. A person can unconsciously seek out negative or improbable partners or relationships that provide more stress and burden in their life. Becoming aware and conscious while the divorce is happening often alleviates this more negative outcome. Support for grief and loss, a place to understand what happened and a non-judgemental person can all help both parties involved.