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The Truth About Divorce for Women

The Truth About Divorce for Women

It’s unique for every couple and every individual going through it. You know that— with your head, if not with your heart. But the truth about divorce for women (and men) is painted with both broad and fine brushes. And seeing the big picture is as important as seeing the details.

Being lost in the microcosm of an unhappy marriage can be all-consuming. Little things are “everything,” and the thought of going through a divorce can seem as insurmountable as the thought of staying married.

You have friends and acquaintances—and perhaps family members—who have gone through a divorce. You see it played out on screen and in the tabloids of daily life.

And no doubt you have witnessed the full temperature spectrum of divorce, from amicable to contemptuous.

Even under the best circumstances, divorce isn’t for the faint of heart.

Nor is it for the unprepared.

Because SAS for Women is just that—for women—we will be discussing the truth about divorce for women specifically. The good. The difficult. The possible.

What Statistics Say About Women and Divorce

It’s important to revisit what you may find to be a surprising statistic: Women initiate divorce almost 70% of the time compared to men.

Add a college degree and that statistic skyrockets to 90%.

Why do women take the initiative to divorce their husbands more than the other way around? And why are the scales almost equally balanced when it comes to break-ups of non-marital relationships?

Obviously, there is something remarkable about the institution of marriage when it comes to uncovering the truth about divorce—for women, specifically.

In general, women are more vested in the expectations of marriage. Once-traditional roles are no longer applicable, especially as most women are pulling their weight both inside and outside the home.

They invest more. And they want more. The connection, the communication, the fidelity, all of it.

And education only makes them more astutely aware of what they can do and have in life and relationships.

It also makes them unwilling to tolerate less.

Education, after all, is as much about learning how to think and access resources as it is about stockpiling knowledge: a big advantage in today’s marriages.

Education is also a big advantage for women going through a divorce.

The Impacts of Divorce

When it comes to the truth about divorce for women, knowing how to create solutions and where to find help can be lifesaving.

And nowhere is that more true than in the areas of finances and single-parenting.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest shocks of divorce is what it does to women financially. All the upfront preparation often can’t prepare women for the long-term financial struggle they statistically face.

Countless factors influence this possibility, of course.

Women are far more inclined than men to sacrifice professionally in order to prepare for or raise children.

By the time they divorce, they have often lost critical years in the workforce. And they can’t make up for lost time on the earning-front—both in income and benefits.

This is why it’s essential that women have expert financial guidance and heed the most important financial steps after divorce. They have to think ahead to the unknown future in order to make wise decisions in the present.

Difficult as it is to face, the truth about divorce for women means they need to be savvy, both upfront and for the long haul. What may sound like a great settlement at divorce time may not be enough to secure even a comfortable lifestyle down the road without a struggle.

Single-parenthood can be another difficult reality check for women, especially if they’re already dealing with diminished financial status.

On top of doing everything alone, there is also the emotional component of not being part of their children’s daily lives.

And then there is the likelihood that their exes will find someone new to love and marry. And that means a new maternal influence in their children’s lives.

But the reality of divorce isn’t all bad. There is plenty of good on the other side of divorce.

Hidden Benefits of Divorce

If you’ve been trapped in a marriage that has suppressed your dreams and gifts, divorce can open the door to self-rediscovery. It can expand your consciousness of who you are and what you want in life.

Divorce can also offer exhilarating freedom. Not because marriage in and of itself is imprisoning, but because one or both partners can lose perspective of marriage’s liberating, elevating potential.

Perhaps the most positive truth about divorce for women is the sense of empowerment and independence it engenders.

Yes, you can come out of divorce struggling with your sense of self-worth, especially if your spouse was unfaithful, abusive, or neglectful.

But there is power—and potential—in knowing how long to stay and when to go. And being a steadfast advocate for your own dignity, even when it has suffered a blow, is a statement of promise for your future.

As you start to rely upon your own strength, ideas, and resources, in the context of your deepest values, your power magnifies. You realize there is more you can accomplish and dream about.

And in that reaching, stretching, and holding your own, you build resilience. You become an example, not only to your aspiring self but to your children and those who bear witness to your journey.

Divorce, even in the best circumstances, isn’t a do-over with a blank slate. What presents itself as new, free, and self-directed is still seasoned by marriage loss.

What you needn’t lose, however, are its lessons. And, out of its lessons, your resolve to rise, just as a tree adds to its rings while rising toward the sun.

The truth about divorce, for women on their way and women already there, is ultimately seeded in one unbreakable vow: to live into their highest selves for their highest good.

Notes

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and often complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule your free 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are coping with a divorce or are already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and learn from others. Choose not to go it alone.

Infidelity and Divorce

The Betrayal of Infidelity

It is possible to think rationally in the face of divorce… sometimes. The crumbling of a marriage is painful, of course. However, we can be logical about things like financial disputes, changing priorities, long-distance hardships, or child rearing. Infidelity, though? Not so much.

Hitting Us Where It Hurts the Most

The betrayal of infidelity is one of the top catalysts of divorce. In a recent SAS survey, we asked 100 women dealing with divorce to name the primary reason for their separation. Between 7-10% said adultery was the cause of their divorce, though it’s unclear from the survey who cheated on whom. That means cheating ranked as the number four reason for divorce, with lack of good communication, domestic abuse, and constant arguing ranking ahead of it.

When we discover that our husband* is unfaithful, sensible analysis and calm discernment take headers right out the window. There are other ways to break trust in a relationship, such as choosing an addiction over the relationship or hiding credit card debt. However, even these don’t hit as viscerally as cheating does. No other divorce catalyst is such an emotional hot button as the particular sting of disloyalty.

Most likely, it doesn’t matter how grounded we are or how well developed our self esteem may be. The betrayal of infidelity goes far beyond an emotional slap in the face.

The pain of adultery makes it difficult to hold on to a levelheaded frame of mind in the middle of that onslaught of pain, rage, bewilderment, and devastation. No matter what we read or who we talk to, there seems to be universal agreement that being untrue to the marriage vow of “forsaking all others” hurts the worst. It is also the most challenging bridge-burning from which to rebuild the trust that once existed between two people.

The Mortal Wounding of Infidelity

An affair: the term is a misnomer, really. Something that breaks trust so deeply and wounds on such an intimate, personal level shouldn’t also be a term for a lovely party. And the term “extramarital sex” sounds like a gynecological exam. It’s clinical and somewhat unpleasant, but it doesn’t conjure up the rage and bleeding-out-on-the-floor emotional havoc that the betrayal of infidelity wreaks. Finding out that your husband is two-timing you may sound like a country line dance but in actuality, it’s psychologically leveling for a period of time. Cheating is a spouse taking a hard look at the most vulnerable part of us and saying, in essence, “You’re not enough. You’re not good enough to merit my effort to stay true to you and to my word. You’re not worthy of the vow I said I would keep.”

The betrayal of infidelity shatters the commitment that the two of you made and throws a Molotov cocktail on your self-worth, the softest underbelly of who we are.

Cheating takes that vulnerable part of us, that part that we keep down in the depths that is the truest part of us, tosses it aside and says, “This can be replaced.” In North Carolina’s well-publicized case Clark vs. Clark case, one woman had to sit in the courtroom and listen to her Ex and his new wife testify that he never loved her in the first place.

Monogamous fidelity is one of the cornerstones of traditional unions, so the effect of an extramarital affair destroys an essential part of a married couple’s foundation. It takes a lot of work and support, and most likely, good professional help to rebuild that trust.

We May Not Forget but We Must Forgive

I was on the sidelines of an affair that involved a woman I know well, and so I witnessed the corrosion that a lack of active forgiveness can etch onto a marriage. The betrayal of his infidelity itself was gut-wrenching, but beyond that, it was frightening for her as a Stay-at-Home-Mom to be left with two young children and the prospect of raising them by herself. The two of them decided to remain married and work it out.

If that is our choice, we may not forget, but forgiving and consciously choosing to not punish him for the rest of the marriage is necessary for it to be a healthy one. It’s also necessary to take a hard look at ourselves and asking, “If cheating is a symptom of unhappiness, how did I contribute to the unhappy dynamic? And how do I address that now?”

That doesn’t mean taking all the blame. In fact, if you’re married to a narcissist or an abuser, you must be even more careful to not engage in the constant apology. Generally, though, looking honestly at ourselves does mean that we have to own our own behavior and how it affects the people around us.

The Metamorphosis of Marriage

It may be helpful to keep in mind that we are far from alone in this enormous challenge. Infidelity claims 25-40% of marriages, and the reasons for affairs range from resentment to stress to differences in sexual appetite, et cetera. In the younger generations, the percentage of women cheating on their husbands is now equaling men. Women in their 50s and 60s are also beginning to catch up with their male counterparts in the extramarital sex arena.

COVID-19 has also made it even more difficult for couples to sustain their togetherness. The National Institute of Health evaluated the effects of the pandemic on marriage in September 2020. The NIH found that the pressure cooker of sheltering in place may have made it harder to actually conduct a physical affair, but increased the numbers of people seeking them.

It may also be helpful to note that as “the done thing,” traditional marriage is beginning to take a backseat to new relationship paradigms. There is a growing recognition that the institution of marriage needs an infusion of flexibility and dynamism if it’s going to survive.

Couples are choosing to reevaluate their vows a few years into the union to see if they are still on the same page or if they need to make incremental changes. (Incrementally speaking, think screwdriver approach instead of a hammer).

Non-Traditional Approaches to Fidelity and Marriage

Married people are choosing to live in separate homes, a practice of “living apart together” in LAT relationships that honor the individual and help people in long-term unions maintain a “still-dating” romantic edge. And two weeks ago, the MSN home page featured a story on monogamy being “out of date” with a list of high-profile celebrities who include a little extracurricular activity into their happy marriages on purpose. They all had slightly different ways of handling it, but the message here is that some open relationships can lead to happier and more unified marriages.

The Metamorphosis of Self

It also takes support and, often, professional help if you decide that you don’t want to rebuild and choose instead take divorce by the horns. Leaving a marriage, especially on the heels of infidelity, requires a lot of us. It is just as much work as rebuilding a marriage. We enter a phase of partnering ourselves more effectively, and this means facing some uncomfortable truths about who we were in the marriage. We also must face who we are currently and who we are becoming. If we are going to truly evolve, we have to embrace the galvanizing effects of the pain and then move past it into self-honesty and forgiveness. If we can do this and truly let go, we find a whole new kind of freedom and self-commitment to celebrate.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

* At SAS, we support same-sex marriage. However, for the sake of simplicity, we may refer to the spouse as “he” or “husband.”

Why Women Initiate Divorce More Than Men

7 Reasons Why Women Initiate Divorce More Than Men

The wedding-day fantasy seems to be infused into almost every girl’s DNA. Fairy tales nurture it, movies exaggerate it, and shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Four Weddings flat-out exploit it. So it may come as a surprise that women initiate divorce more than men.

Perhaps you’re thinking it’s the hype of the wedding and not the marriage that makes women initiate divorce 69% of the time compared to men. They have a lifetime of dreaming and planning, then boom, babies, bills, and boredom.

But interestingly, the initiative is pretty equally split in non-marital relationships. This suggests that there is “something” about marriage that contributes to the statistical imbalance.

So what is it about tying the knot that pushes women to make a decision that often doesn’t fare in their favor? Women, after all, statistically struggle more than men with finances and lifestyle maintenance after divorce.

And, if they have spent years out of the workforce in order to raise children, they leave their marriages at a disadvantage.

Moreover, they rarely recover fully.

The reasons for which women initiate divorce are not formulaic or limited to those discussed here. But they do tend to fall under some broad categories of dissatisfaction.

Here are 7 reasons why women initiate divorce more often than men. See if any of them hit home for you.

 

  1. Women have high and complex expectations about marriage, and those get dashed.

    Today’s bride-to-be isn’t registering for aprons and cookbooks. She expects an egalitarian relationship with shared responsibilities and benefits not predicated on colonial gender roles. Chances are that she is employed or on a focused career path. So, she is making a contribution to the family that was once the sole responsibility of the husband.

    Women today expect more. They want emotional intimacy, communication, personal growth, and shared responsibility.

    When marriage starts to feel more like wash-rinse-repeat than the promised pursuit of dreams, disenchantment can creep in and take over. Once this tension sets in, women are more likely to feel its effects. Thus, women initiate divorce more often when this contradiction arises.

  2. Equality isn’t all that “equal.”

    Change may be the only thing constant in life. But that doesn’t mean it happens cleanly or logically. In the span of a handful of decades, the role of women in society has changed exponentially. Women are equally in the workforce, earning degrees, and taking on roles of tremendous power and influence. Women are notorious for braving the front lines of initiative and necessary change. Society and entities content with the status quo, however, aren’t always so quick to follow suit.

    Technology, media, education, and a shrinking world continue to expose the always-present powers and potential of women. And yet, acceptance of those traits doesn’t seem to have caught up with married and family life.

    Despite working outside the home just like their husbands, married women still do the majority of childcare and housework. So, while blazing new trails in the world at large, they are finding themselves stuck in traditional expectations at home.

    And many women are finding that this dynamic is holding them back in life. They are capable of and yearning to do so much more. But something has to give.

    Unfortunately, divorce in transformational times is another barrier that women are having to overcome. Equality, it seems, is ahead of its time.

  3. Women are still the emotional caregivers.

    Some things, like a woman’s proclivity for emotional expression and intuition, are a reflection of natural traits. But neither gender has a corner on the market of any natural leaning, especially when choice and effort can enrich it. And yet, when it comes to being sensitive, and responsive to the emotional needs of a family, the expectation still usually falls to the wife or mother. Men may have an inclination to be less emotive and communicative, but they can and often do exploit the stereotype. The weight left on the woman’s shoulders, then, becomes extremely heavy and draining over time. This weight may cause women to initiate divorce long before their spouses.

    It also contributes to women being held back by marriage, as there is often so little energy left for themselves.

  4. Women are more inclined to reach out for support.

    Perhaps it’s because they have so much on their plate (and always have) that women have a knack for building community. Compared to men, they are far more likely to reach out for support. While the voices of wisdom and support may advise a woman to live her best life, men are more likely to stay stuck. Conservatism and emotional closure contribute to their choice to stay in a marriage, regardless of its dysfunction.

  5. Women are getting more educated.

    In the based-on-a-true-story movie Dangerous Beauty, the Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco proves to be more than just beautiful. She learns that courtesans are the only women given access to libraries and education, and she devours the opportunity. In one simple statement to the wives of Venice, she makes the power of that distinction clear: “A woman’s greatest and most hard-won asset is an education.” Five-hundred years later, there is still truth in her words. Women are now leading the graduation rates for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. And college-educated women initiate divorce 90% of the time, compared to 69% for women overall. Yet another testament to the role education and exposure to “what’s out there” have on women stepping into their full potential.

  6. Women have more opportunities today.

    It’s almost surreal to look back on the roles of women in history. Misguided theories, restrictive laws, and male-dominated societies have all conspired to build walls that women are still breaking down. And yet, for all the opportunities and glimpses of equality that women in America have, women in many nations are still living in a dark history. We have only to look at the patriarchal systems of the Middle East to know that one woman’s journey may be world’s away from another woman’s journey.

  7. Women often have nothing more to lose.

    Sometimes being the underdog has its advantages. If a woman is being repressed, mistreated, abused, or neglected in a marriage, she may see no risk in leaving. The greater risk may come from staying. This “nothing left to lose” mindset can be energizing and may literally propel a woman upward.

When you consider all that women have had to overcome throughout history, it’s natural to marvel at their strength and tenacity.

The fact that, in our modern era, women initiate divorce more than men comes with and because of conflicting messages.

On the one hand, women are taking the blinders off and shielding themselves with their own power instead of fear.

On the other hand, sometimes the rest of the world isn’t ready for what can be… and should be.

Notes

Since 2012, SAS for Women has been dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Life After Gray Haired Divorce

Life After Gray Divorce: What Women Must Know

The wisdom of aging tells us just that—that there is wisdom in aging. You come to know and like yourself, pursue your passions without apology, and cherish your “me” time without insecurity. You have filtered through all the charades of youthful and professional pursuits—“been there done that”—and you know what matters. But life after gray divorce—that late-in-life, upheaving reversal of expectations—can change all that.

It’s a humbling reality check that today’s younger generations seem to have a better grip on marriage than their predecessors.

They’re marrying later (or not at all), and they’re staying married at a higher rate than their parents’ generations.

Toss in second and third marriages and the divorce rates for those over 50 skyrockets.

The term “gray divorce” was first used to coin divorces between couples married over 40 years. 

It would make sense to assume that those people were at least in their 60’s. If they weren’t already showing their gray, they likely were needing some assistance in covering it.

But the term has come to apply more broadly to couples divorcing late in life, i.e., after 50, vs. earlier or in the prime of life.

If you are a woman going through a gray divorce, you may have a couple of standout concerns:

  • What will life after a gray divorce be like, especially if you have been married for most of your life?
  • What does a gray divorce mean for you in terms of how to proceed and what to expect in terms of settlement?

The Baby Boomer generation is still the age group most affected by gray divorce.

Several reasons for gray divorce come up time and time again, and they reflect as much on women’s divorce recovery as on their divorce motivation.

Keep in mind that women of this generation lived through the civil rights movement, Woodstock, and the legalization of birth control. These women spoke their minds, were politically active, and believed they could “have it all.”

They left their mothers’ hand-me-down aprons in the drawer and headed off to college in record numbers. They entered the workforce in swells, and not just to scribble shorthand dictation for male decision-makers.

And they laid the groundwork for the liberated, independent woman with the same rights and opportunities as her male counterpart.

Like the inspiring women in this portraiture and interview series, they helped create the empowered, influential woman we associate with the 21st century.

And that spirit of being unchained by conventional expectations shows up in both the reasons behind and life after gray divorce.

Some of the most common reasons for divorcing late in life include:

  • Empty-nest syndrome: The kids are gone, taking that natural focal point and buffer for parents with them.
  • Increased life expectancy: Sixty-five may signal a bunch of age-related markers like retirement and Medicare. But it may just as easily signal the threshold to another 30 years of life. And who wants to waste that kind of valuable time being unhappy and/or unsatisfied?
  • The marital drift: Whether inspired by an empty nest or a stark difference in activity, health, sex drive, or interests, couples often “drift apart.”

The challenge of getting divorced late in life, and especially after a long-term marriage, is that everything is more complex. Like it or not, your lives have been interwoven, and those vines don’t pull apart easily.

Financial Recovery in Gray Divorce

Financial and material assets, such as retirement funds, inheritances, life insurance, and social security, can be very complex.

You can’t ignore the time factor in creating a settlement. Life after a gray divorce isn’t going to be the same as life after a divorce in your younger years.

Consider, for example, the woman who tailored her career choices around raising children while her husband charted a steady, upward course in his. She will never be able to recapture the earning potential from all her years outside the workforce.

For the gray divorced woman, the plummet in financial security and lifestyle can be shocking, even if it comes as no surprise. Having to suddenly make do with far less, for example, takes its toll. This is tough enough for younger divorcees, but especially so for those who don’t have the time, energy, or job skills to make up for major losses.

This is why it is so important to collect a team of experts to help you through the divorce process. And an experienced financial expert should be near the top of the list.

It’s not enough to think about today. You have to consider how the past has predicted your future income and financial security. 

And you have to see the “equitable” division of assets in the context of your state’s laws and a bigger picture you may not have considered.

The Power of Connection After Divorce

When it comes to adjusting to life after a gray divorce, women prove to be remarkably resilient. 

To their advantage is the fact that they are more inclined to maintain social connections. They may have been the social planners in the family, and reaching out for friendship and support comes naturally.

Their inclination toward connection can be a lifeline during the adjustments of post-divorce life. 

The consequences of isolation, to which divorced men are especially prone, reach beyond “social” outcomes and affect activity levels, health, depression, and vulnerability to addictions.

The importance of forging new friendships and being open to new connections and activities, therefore, cannot be stressed enough. A 2015 study by the University of North Carolina looked at post-divorce satisfaction levels of men and women who divorced after age 50.

The study showed that while divorcees among this age range could experience negative side effects from prolonged stress and pressure, the presence of a new partner or love interest yielded positive outcomes. Even strong relationships with one’s children and especially the forging of new friendships had significantly beneficial effects.

So what’s the takeaway regarding life after a gray divorce?

  • Expect unique challenges. 
  • Prepare yourself ahead of time, even if you and your spouse plan to part ways amicably. Surround yourself with experts knowledgeable in this unique category of divorce, and get support at the start of your process.
  • Work on yourself. What is essential to your happiness? What can you learn to live without in order to have what truly matters?
  • Stay connected. Make new friends. And keep yourself open to new love or different forms of companionship.

Finally, know that life after a gray divorce has the potential to be an awakening to your best self. Your mindset, resilience, and perseverance will ultimately write this next chapter of your life.

Notes

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional, financial, and often complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. Join us and other strong women for special invites to events, happenings, webinars, relevant articles & best of all, six free months of coaching delivered discreetly to your inbox.

Marital separation

Will Your Marital Separation Lead to a Divorce?

Is this a new beginning… or the beginning of the end? It’s the million-dollar question when it comes to marital separation. It is about space to figure things out or space to ease your way out?

When your heart is aching and your head is buzzing with what to do, you’re obviously in an emotional quandary: a separation or a divorce? Or can I somehow force myself to just stick it out?

If that last question causes a nauseous dread and quickly falls into the bucket of impossibilities, you have a couple of choices.

The Options Available to You

You can start a marital separation or you can go straight to filing for a divorce.

A natural question, however, is the statistical link between separation and divorce.

Is there a mystery connection there that you won’t know until you’re in it? Will you somehow be sucked into an “inevitable” divorce without wanting it or being prepared?

The answer isn’t as black-and-white as you might hope.

The “absolute,” therefore, is going to reside with you and your spouse.

You may be overthinking when to leave your husband. That’s to be expected, especially if you have been married a long time.

You may also have a lot of fear about stepping out on your own, either in a marital separation or a divorce. This is understandable, and you certainly aren’t alone.

But this is the fork in the road where your complete honesty—first and foremost with yourself—can ultimately be decisive.

Statistically, 80% of couples who enter a marital separation end up divorcing. And, on average, they remain separated for three years before finalizing their divorce.

On the other hand, 10% of those who separate end up reuniting, on average within two years.

Making Separation Work for You

And therein lies the call for your fearless and complete honesty, both with yourself and with your spouse.

If the two of you are struggling in your marriage but know you want to work things out, you can use a separation to your advantage.

That means you will have to be clear about the rules of engagement—and disengagement.

If you’re truly separating to work on your marriage, then you need to separate and work on your marriage. No dating, no accepting fix-ups, no singles functions, no online dating apps.

In that scenario, it will be important to keep children’s routines as close to normal as possible. Those details will also have to be worked out in advance.

Who is going to leave? Where will that person live? Will the kids go back and forth, or will you switch homes every other week so the kids can stay put?

And, if you’re committed to your marriage, despite the loneliness and uneasiness of separation, will you be going to therapy? Individual, couples, family—all these forms of therapy may be warranted to give you the best tools for healing your marriage and family.

But let’s go back to that 80% because that’s where you may be if you’re vacillating in your thoughts and decisions.

There are very good reasons that most separations end in divorce. You may not want to fess up to them at this point in your journey. But read on and contemplate the truth for yourself.

By the time most couples separate, at least one person has had one foot out the door for some time.

Let’s say that person is you.

You don’t know if you should seek a separation or divorce. You don’t know if you can handle “finality” right now.

Follow Your Intuition

It’s all (understandably) so frightening. So many moving parts. So many things to think about. There are so many things you can’t undo once they’re done. So many things you can’t predict.

But chances are you already have a strong hunch about where this is heading.

If your husband wants to stay married, but you’re staking your claim for time and space alone, you probably have your answer.

Have you been fantasizing about life on your own? A place of your own, a schedule (mostly) your own, a chance to fully express your own tastes, your rules? Is there an Inner Voice talking to you?

Even the mental escape can be a detour from marital dissatisfaction. The mind is very adept at finding ways out of pain.

Without realizing it, you end up nurturing a new mindset that doesn’t include your husband. You have a head start to the door, even if you don’t want to fully admit that’s where you’re going.

The danger of a separation to the possibility of reconciliation is the loss of proximity and contact. You’re either working back toward one another or you’re not.

And the assurance of a separation to the probability of a divorce is the loss of proximity and contact. Again, you’re either working back toward one another or you’re not.

So what happens with that 80% of separated couples who end up divorcing?

Probably the biggest factor is the tendency for at least the partner who initiated the separation to become comfortable with (perceived) singlehood.


If you are thinking about divorce or separation, or even, beginning the process, you may wish to know about Annie’s Group, our powerful, virtual group coaching program for women only.

Read more about Annie here


Side Effects of Separation

You start focusing on only the bad parts of your marriage to justify how you feel and what you want now.

You get used to seeing your kids on a set schedule and having time to yourself.

Maybe you feel excited by the prospects of a new relationship—or even an occasional dinner date.

You get used to operating on your own clock and calendar. And the thought of going back to whatever your marriage has come to represent to you feels imprisoning.

And, finally, you are away from the stimulus—or at least the reminder—of your unhappiness.

Basically, you create and get used to a new reality. And going back would be like…well, “going back”…

…or maybe just backward.

What’s important to take from this article isn’t a green light to go sign a lease on a jazzy new apartment. It’s the awareness that, through all the uncertainty, divorce guilt, and yearning for happiness, you really do have the power.

Your responsibility is to be honest—to yourself, to your children, and yes, to the marriage you entered all those years ago.

Because, if you don’t confront your truths (and personal accountability) at this moment of consequential choice, you will confront it at another moment.

And this is one of those major life journeys that a divorce coach can help you navigate.

Whether you stay in your marriage or move on to grow on a different path, coming to a place of conviction within yourself will dramatically influence your future happiness.

And there is always help for you to get there.

 Notes

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are thinking about divorce or already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and not go it alone.

Cheating wife

The Cheating Wife Phenomenon

Move over, husbands with lipstick on your collars, and give the ladies some room. The cheating wife is the latest trend in women’s sexual evolution and the numbers are undeniable.

Globally, Ashley Madison membership numbers nearly match the number of married couples in the United States, and women make up half of the members on the (cheating) app. Think of that: there are enough unfaithful in the world to fill the third-largest continent — and half of them are wives. Ashley Madison, the world leader in married dating websites, had 60 million registered members worldwide as of 2019. In comparison, 62.34 million married couples exist in America as of January 2020.

Looking for Greener Grass

This means that at least 30 million women across the world are looking for sex with someone other than their husbands. And Ashley Madison is just one site. Their numbers don’t include the people on dating sites like Match, Bumble, and Tinder who are lying about their “single” status in order to land lovers on the side. That estimate is one in six. With those numbers and the topic “cheating wife” netting 5,400 hits a month on search engines and divorce sites, a new picture of sexual relationships is emerging.

Not only is cheating big business, but it isn’t just for husbands anymore.

Even the infamous 2015 hack into Ashley Madison’s database didn’t deter new users for long. Ashley Madison’s net worth added up to $1 billion six years ago—right about the time the hack occurred. As breaches go, it was explosive. Hacked information doesn’t get much more sensitive than a database full of cheating spouses, and members’ desire to maintain that secrecy doesn’t get more emotionally loaded. The hack exposed an estimated 32-37 million members’ intention to cheat, but the company boldly added another 30 million members—effectively doubling their numbers. Before the breach, they were signing about 30,000 new members every day and were back to adding about 22,000 daily just four years afterward.

The Cheating Wife & The Gender Gap

In essence, the numbers show that people are willing to risk a lot for sexual satisfaction and there is no current difference in cheating rates between the genders. But that equality has been a long time coming. Among Baby Boomers in the 57-75 age range, 25 percent of men and 10 percent of women have infidelity in their interpersonal portfolios. Just two generations later, among Millennials aged 25-40, females outnumber their male counterparts for infidelity with 11 percent of women cheating versus 10 percent of males.

So, while spouses may lie, the numbers don’t. An equal number of women and men are putting their marriage vows, family solidarity, financial well-being, and emotional equilibrium on the line for sexual expression that is fully joyful. In short, they’d risk upending their lives for the sake of feeling alive.

The questions women are asking ourselves and each other is: Why? If we are unfaithful, how do we live with it? And where did we get the idea that women feel less sexually motivated or “more monogamous” than men?

A Powerful Motivator

In the cheating wife trend, we are seeing sexual stereotypes debunked. The dusty old beliefs that women aren’t as interested in sex as men, or are motivated to have extramarital affairs because they want emotional intimacy rather than great sex, are getting exposed as a myth. Social norms made these false or only partial truths appear to be the “Truth.” Generally speaking, women didn’t want to rock that boat and men wanted to command it.

In my experience and from the woman-to-woman conversations I’ve heard, we are just as interested in sex as men are, if not more so. Our conversations about it tend to be much more explicit, as well. The current research, articles, and statistics match that impression.

Women might be more aware than men of the potential impact of sex since we bear the consequences of it in the form of pregnancy, childbirth, and most of the child-raising. We’ve also experienced sexual shaming across many world cultures. Historically, sexually free women get slapped in the face, stigmatized, or killed. (Sexually free men? A slap on the back and a high-five are much more common than recriminations). But women risk it. Women don’t go lightly into affairs, either, but they do it. When they do, it’s often because, despite therapy and many attempts at communicating their needs, they are still not reaching the intimate connection or orgasm that they seek with their husbands. While some may love their husbands and want to save the marriage, years and years of emotional or sexual flatlining is intolerable. The joy of intimacy is something they decide they want.

Sex and Emotions

In my opinion, the story that women have sex to forge greater emotional connections or are more aroused when they do feel an emotional connection has truth to it. And so does the story that we love variety in our partners and great sex—both of which motivate women powerfully. The larger, more compicated “Truth” usually lies somewhere in the middle.

“One reason women cheat is that being new to someone, being seen as interesting and desirable exactly who we are at the time, is really important, and so is being with someone who delights in us,” said one friend. “We’re not the same old person to someone new and they’re new to us. We’re not being compared to who we were 20 years ago.”

And of course, there is the added titillation of doing something forbidden.

What happens when we are denied something? It becomes more desirable. Add that zest to the spice of variety and you have a strong motivator despite the risk of being caught and despite the risk of divorce. Among “ever-marrieds,” 40 percent of those who cheated are divorced, compared to only 17 percent of the faithful being divorced. Factoring in the adrenaline of danger adds even another degree of excitement.

Guilty Pleasure or Good for the Goose and Gander?

There are also the more emotional consequences of cheating, but even those aren’t nearly as clear-cut as you’d think. One Catholic-raised friend who did cheat on her husband felt guilty about it but also knew she was unhappy in her marriage to a controlling man. Like many women, she used the affair to leverage herself out of the marriage.

The only thing that her guilty feelings really impacted was the financial fallout from her divorce.

“My mistake was that I let him make me feel guilty enough about cheating that I didn’t seek more of a settlement of what I was legitimately entitled to,” she said.

You might think that guilt would stop women from being untrue to their mates. However, a lot of us do not feel the guilt and shame that society taught us to feel or have inflicted on each other.

Reported Benefits of Infidelity

“For these women, the release they experienced through sex with an affair partner saved their marriages. Prior to participating in an affair, they doubted their own ability to stay in the marriage. They simply didn’t know how much longer they could live sexlessly or with a sex life absent pleasurable release. However, the thought of dissolving their marriages evoked sadness and despair. But the sexual relief of being a cheating wife made them feel capable of continuing to stay in those marriages—something they very much desired,” writes Alicia Walker, Ph.D. in her article “The Secret Lives of Cheating Wives.”

“With their sexual needs met, at least periodically, they found themselves better able to endure the daily frustrations of a shared life. They could overlook an unequal division of household labor, irritating habits, and even inattentiveness, in part because they kept such a large, stigmatized secret from their spouse. Many pointed out that when they got angry with their husbands about something small, they checked themselves with some version of the thought: ‘I’m a cheating [b-word].’ But aside from the guilt about their behavior, the sheer power of having their sexual needs met enabled them to be a more gracious version of themselves.”

Her Story, Not His-Story

What we are seeing as women become primary breadwinners, business moguls, national leaders, and power brokers in greater numbers is more than a sexual evolution. It is a resurrection of women’s original sexuality.

Look back at the Goddess-centered cultures that covered the globe for the Paleolithic period. There was no passage of property linked to children, who were only guaranteed to belong to one man by control over his wife’s sexuality. Wealth, the means of making it, and children belonged more to the cooperative group than the ruling few.

It wasn’t until the much later and much shorter epochs that cultures became more hierarchical and violence-dominated. Wealth moved upward to a chosen few male leaders and their consorts, instead of funneling down and out to the greater community. (This is kind of the “One Ring to Rule Them All” model). Those few men of means began to want a guarantee that their children were theirs before making them their heirs. So, women became property, and their sexual power came under control, scrutiny, and often, punishment in one form or another.

We have since learned to normalize that control and the resulting muffled female sexuality. It clearly isn’t natural. When we look at how much longer the Paleolithic lasted than later periods, and the sexual norms that went with it, the rising tide of “cheating wives” seems to indicate more of a return to nature rather than an aberration.

What we are seeing in the cheating wife trend may be disturbing to some and vindicating for others. Regardless, it is an indicator of women taking their power back and re-writing their story themselves.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com.

Since 2012, SAS for Women dedicates time and effort to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusion afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

How to tell if you're in a bad marriage

How Do You Know You’re in a Bad Marriage?

So, you had a fight. All couples fight now and then. So, you can’t remember the last time you had sex. You have young kids and a full-time job, and you’re exhausted. So, you don’t talk about anything but work and the kids. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Is all this normal, or does it mean you might be in a bad marriage?

For all the bliss and pixie dust that locked you into saying “yes,” you know that marriage isn’t a fairy tale. It’s hard work—boring at times, lonely at times, even briefly regretful at times.

But you’ve known enough couples happy in their lifetime marriages to know that the work is worth it. Marriage fulfills, heals, teaches, and gives life.

And yet, you’ve had this inner voice nagging you for a long time. Something’s not right. Why am I having doubts? And why am I so unhappy? Why do I feel so unloved? Who is this person I’m living with? How will I survive ‘forever’ like this?

You know better than to say anything to any of your friends and neighbors because all they see is a happy couple. Everything looks great from the outside, so saying anything would just rock the boat.

But they don’t see your life on the inside. They don’t feel the little blows of disrespect and sarcasm. They don’t see the physical and emotional distance that has become your norm.

Besides, your husband doesn’t even know that you’re struggling inside and wondering if you’re in a bad marriage. Would saying something make him angry, hurt him, make him not trust you?

Where to Turn for Support

If this is your first marriage, you have no prior experience for comparison.

If your parents were divorced or had a bad marriage, you have that negative modeling rooted in your psyche.


Should You or Shouldn’t You Divorce? Watch our free video class for ways to understand yourself.


How, then, are you supposed to figure out if your marriage is just going through a predictable phase or is actually a bad marriage?

Thankfully the internet has infinite choices for reading up on relationship problems and how to deal with them.

But, in the long run, it’s that same inner voice that’s making you question your feelings that’s also going to lead you to answers.

That’s not to say you have to find those answers on your own. At a time when your self-doubt is mounting, you need to have reliable sources of wisdom and guidance.

That may be your best friend who knows you better than you know yourself. It may be a therapist or divorce coach capable of listening for critical cues and giving you feedback on what’s “normal” and what’s not.

What’s important when you’re questioning yourself and your marriage is that you seek the help of someone with expertise and wisdom.

Can this person look beyond the veneer of your life and reach into the deeply planted seeds of discontent?

Can this person help you discern the difference between a bad marriage and a marriage that simply needs help?

A Word of Caution: Talking to Your Parents

One suggestion worth considering: You may have a close relationship with one or both of your parents. But unloading your marital concerns on them can actually work against you.

The fact that they’re from a different generation than you means they made decisions and life choices in a different context.

And the fact that you’re their daughter means they will instinctively side with you to protect you at all costs.

That alliance may feel good, but it won’t help you examine yourself and your marriage objectively. And it can also cause your parents to worry about you and/or view your spouse differently.

So how do you figure out if you’re just in a rut or actually in a bad marriage? Isn’t there a spectrum of “good and bad” for marriage? “Wonderful, great, good, OK, needs some work, all about the kids, unsatisfied, unhappy, miserable, afraid”?

There are definitely predictable signs to look out for. But no single sign is going to point to divorce. (You didn’t think it would be that simple, did you?)

You may want to start your query with a legitimate marriage quiz from a reputable source. Knowing the right questions to ask is a huge step toward satisfying that unsettled inner voice.

Below are several signs that your marriage may not be as happy as it should be.

(I’m being careful not to use the term “bad marriage” here because most marriages—even deeply happy ones—experience some of these symptoms.)

  • You’re not having sex anymore, or only infrequently. 

Physical intimacy is one of the exclusive gifts of marriage. It elevates your relationship above all others. And it’s an essential part of the connection between spouses.

Is one of you avoiding sex? If so, why? Are you exhausted from raising kids and working a full-time job? Do you not feel good about yourself and therefore don’t feel sexual?

Do you and your spouse discuss your sex life openly, or do you keep your desires and dissatisfaction to yourself?

Have you experienced sexual abuse, either from your spouse or from someone else?

There can be a lot of reasons for a decrease in sex. But an honest examination of and discussion about those reasons is essential to restoring this important part of your marriage.

  • There has been an infidelity.

Does having an affair mean you will divorce? Not necessarily.

Believe it or not, affairs can happen in a happy, “good” marriage just as they can happen in a bad marriage.

So, as heart-shattering as an affair is, it doesn’t necessarily point to divorce. It may be the impetus needed to learn the skills necessary for communicating needs, wants, complaints, and love in a healthy way.

  • You fight all the time. 

Living that way is exhausting. The volley of shouting, blame, and criticism can make you walk on eggshells and wonder why you’re even together.

  • You have stopped fighting altogether. 

Fighting, however, isn’t bad in and of itself.

It’s how you fight, when you fight, and especially why you fight that matter.

If you’ve muted your interactions in an effort to avoid the altercations, you may have decided you don’t have anything worth fighting for. 

  • You don’t feel heard. 

Marriage is supposed to be that safe haven where you can bare your soul and at least feel heard on a heart level.

Couples don’t have to agree on everything in order to listen from a place of love and concern for one another person’s highest good.

Not feeling heard—or feeling you just get “blah blah” lip service—is an important sign to pay attention to.

Likewise, are you listening to your spouse or shutting him out?

  • You don’t feel respected. 

Couples can go through tough times but still feel and demonstrate respect for one another.

When sarcasm, negative body language, interruption, control, and other disrespectful behaviors creep in, it’s time to pay attention.

  • You daydream about life without your spouse. 

Having the occasional thought of “What would my life be like if I hadn’t married?” isn’t unusual. Nor is wondering what it would be like to be one of your single friends.

But fantasizing about life without your spouse or with someone else points to deeper issues that need to be addressed.

Confiding in a therapist can help you determine if, for example, an underlying issue like depression may be affecting your perspectives.

  • One of you has an addiction. 

Addiction can’t survive without an enabling environment.

If one of you is an active addict, your marriage is inevitably riddled with codependency.

And, if your marriage is going to survive, you will both need to get help.

  • There is abuse. 

As with addiction, abuse can’t continue without an underlying dynamic to support it.

Domestic abuse is not something you can figure out or solve on your own.

If you and/or your children are being abused, it is imperative that you seek professional help and safety immediately.

  • The Four Horsemen come riding in. 

No one has done more research on the predictability of divorce than John Gottman.

If your marriage is being visited by what he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling—pay attention. These are definite signs of an unhealthy marriage pointed in the wrong direction.

No one walks into a marriage with a perfect formula for making it work. But everyone who walks into marriage does so with a moving truck of history, experience, and learned behaviors.

Some issues, like addiction and abuse, demand immediate action and professional help.

Other issues, however, aren’t always so obvious.

If you and your spouse don’t have the communication skills to discuss them in a healthy way, that’s part of the issue. Communication is the issue.

You’re the only one who can decide if your marriage is worth saving. No one else can look at your life and tell you you’re in a “bad marriage.”

It’s your intuition, your desire, your choices, and your commitment that will ultimately direct you.

It really does come down to YOUR inner voice.

Listen to it.

Notes

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

 

Tips for Amicable Divorce

Top 6 Tips for an Amicable Divorce

In the minds of many people, divorce and court trials are inseparable like smoke and fire. A few decades ago, this was the case. Fortunately, there are other options nowadays, namely an amicable divorce, where married couples don’t have to wage war against each other in court.

After the adoption of the no-fault divorce law in 1970, the divorce rate skyrocketed. A 2019 University of Virginia research report revealed approximately 3 divorces per 1,000 married women in the 1960s. In the 70s, this figure rose to 4.5, and 5.5 in the 80s.

These results suggest that divorce was increasingly viewed as a viable option for women; they were feeling more empowered, making more money, and feeling like they had more choices.  In the latter scenario, these divorces can likely be uncontested or amicable.

What is an amicable divorce?

An amicable divorce is not about being best friends with your (soon-to-be) Ex and liking each other. You wouldn’t consider divorce in the first place if your relationship was a loving one.

In the context of ending your marriage, “amicable” means “civilized.” It’s about resolving disputes in a nurturing and productive environment.

A peaceful divorce is actually not that hard to get to if both sides are willing to make an effort. You’ve probably heard of Conscious Uncoupling, for example, or divorce mediation, or Pro Se (DIY) divorces. To learn if one of these alternative processes is right for you, consider these six key steps to ensure a smooth and amicable process–and don’t forget to ask yourself: are you and your spouse capable of them?

1. Have an open mind for negotiation

Honesty and openness are the foundation of a successful negotiation. If one of the parties starts hiding valuable information, assets, income, etc., it’s not going to work. Agree from the very beginning to be truthful about all the aspects of your divorce. Otherwise, all your efforts will be pointless.

SAS note to women: It’s one thing to say you both will be honest, it’s another to know that you both will be. If your spouse has a record of deceiving, betraying or hiding things from you, go for a more traditional approach to divorce. Hire a lawyer who is a good negotiator on your behalf.

Naturally, in any divorce, neither of you will get precisely what you desire. Don’t expect your spouse to agree with everything you suggest just because you think it’s reasonable. Sometimes their point of view may differ from yours, and you’ll have to accept that.

During negotiations, the most vital thing is to stay focused on the key points that hold the most significant interest to both of you. How much money would you need to meet your needs after divorce adequately? Could your spouse (or you) afford to pay alimony (spousal support) and child support? You and your partner need to carefully approach all the details together and make a joint decision. That’s the essence of peaceful negotiations, right?

2. Focus on the desirable result.

Can you remember why you got married in the first place? You were in love and full of hope to walk hand in hand through life until death separates you. Unfortunately, not all of us can reach that distant goal.

Nothing has changed since then except that your goals are now different. Have you already determined what you really want from this divorce? If not, it’s high time to start figuring it out. But if you know where you’re heading, don’t let negative emotions lead you astray.

An amicable divorce is all about attitude. Reduce the tension to a minimum, and keep your eyes on your goal.

Take time to ponder over your life post-divorce. Do you see your Ex in it? After an amicable divorce, many couples remain friends and even sometimes spend time with their children as a family unit. You must agree that such a scenario is more pleasant than fighting endlessly over all sorts of things.

Act based on what is paramount to you and ignore everything else. Work through any disputes peacefully and make sure your communication is positive.

3. Treat each other with respect.

An uncontested divorce is only possible with mutual respect and politeness. Both you and your spouse are adults and can behave accordingly. It’s not as challenging as you might expect.

Start with getting into a positive state of mind and remain focused on keeping calm. Also, listen attentively to your spouse and contemplate their suggestions. Don’t let your emotions take over.

Whenever you feel like losing it to anger, take a deep breath and pause before saying or doing anything. Consider the consequences in the long run–will your current action improve the situation in any way? If not, give it up. Neither you nor your spouse will win if you keep insulting each other instead of resolving disputes.

Show civilized behavior. Don’t badmouth your partner in front of your children and relatives. And especially, don’t gossip about them on social media. You’ll only entertain the public and receive even more negative feelings back. Such actions also won’t help you to maintain an amicable divorce.

4. Think about your children’s needs.

Divorce affects everyone in your family, and especially children. They are very sensitive to any changes in mood and attitude between their parents. Remember yourself in childhood and what acute sensations of the surrounding world you had.

Now imagine how terrifying it is for a child to go through a family breakup. You don’t want to aggravate the situation even more by fighting with the other parent, do you? On the contrary, you want to protect your children and make them feel loved by both you and your ex.

Learn to trust yourself to be a good parent. The same goes for your partner. It’s time to loosen your grip and stop controlling everything and everyone around. Every good parent brings up their children with a position of love and a wish to make their lives happy. You will never be able to communicate well with your ex if you do not trust them with raising children.

And since we have touched on the issue of healthy communication, children need to see their parents find common ground and behave in a civilized manner whenever they meet. It can make a huge difference in a child’s emotional health.

5. Get an educational consultation with an attorney: don’t rush to hire one.

You cannot become your own divorce lawyer fast enough, despite what Google makes you believe. If you are thinking about divorce, and especially if you have children, assets, and/or debt, we encourage you to draw up your questions and consult with an attorney to hear what the law says about your circumstances. Do this before you commit to “how” you will divorce, or even, “if” you will divorce.

After you are informed about the law, you can decide if you will pursue DIY divorce, mediation, an online divorce, or a more traditional approach of you hiring an attorney and your spouse doing likewise.

Consulting with an attorney does not mean you are necessarily getting divorced. It also does not mean you are seeking to be adversarial or un-“amicable.” It means you as a woman are getting educated on your rights and what you are entitled to before you act.

It’s good practice to consult with other experts, too. For example, you may want to keep the house but need to learn if it’s really in your best financial interest. Consult with a financial advisor to learn the optimal longterm play for you (and don’t rely on an attorney for this.) You might consult with a parenting expert if you have concerns on what the best custody arrangement will be or how to support your kids through the divorce. Throughout the process, you might recognize that you are feeling overwhelmed and need to get strategic and healthy in your approach to all things “divorce”, in which case your best move is to schedule a free consult with a divorce coach.

The Legal Takeaway

Keep in mind that in divorce, you won’t always get what you want. The ability to find compromises is what makes a divorce amicable. On the bright side, you will be able to control the outcome by at least 50%. If you go to court, you will have to surrender to the will of the judge.

Do you trust absolute strangers to decide your fate, or do you prefer to do it yourself? Get informed, double check information, and choose wisely. It’s you and your children who will have to live with the consequences, not the lawyers and judges.

6. Forgive and forget.

You probably think, “How can I forget all those times when I was wronged during my marriage? And why should I? Now, I want justice.” Well, guess what? Such an attitude will bring you nothing but more suffering.

There are no winners in divorce. And you won’t feel any better if you keep blaming your marriage breakdown on your partner. Be wiser than that. Does a butterfly think about the time it was a caterpillar? No, it spreads its wings and flies. So, instead of focusing on your past and arguing over it, choose to take action to help yourself recover and move forward. 

Learn how to help yourself grieve the losses you experience, choose to live in the present, and plan for the upcoming future.

Is it worth the try?

An amicable divorce is a conscious choice. It can’t be involuntary, and it doesn’t work for everybody. You have to decide for yourself what type of separation you want and stick to it. Just keep in mind that no matter what method you choose, going down the hateful path only brings more negative feelings into your life. There is always a way to go about any situation productively. You can choose less stress and fewer expenses with a more positive experience by opting for an amicable process.

Jamie Kurtz is a divorce attorney and a member of the State Bar of California. She’s a co-founder of a law company helping people with uncontested divorces and a contributing writer for OnlineDivorce.com, a web-based service for divorce papers preparation.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Toxic marraige

27 Cautionary Signs You’re in a Toxic Marriage

Just like the proverbial frog in the pot, it’s nearly impossible to tell when you’re in the midst of marriage conflict that’s gone from warm to boiling, or when that humorous bite that initially makes for playful conversation begins to break the skin instead. There are the occasional stings of a partner who’s had a long day, and then there are the continual sniping, punitive remarks that spill over into damaging abuse, making your marriage toxic.

We’re hearing the term “toxic” a lot these days, referring to everything from environments to people to work places to marriages. Toxic simply means that something is poisonous, or has become so. Each of us can probably identify and add some of our own particular twists on what toxicity looks and feels like, or how it’s showing up in the people around us, or within ourselves. (We all have some toxic traits. No one is without a shadow side). It’s worth spending some time thinking about toxicity, because the more examples of it we identify, the more we can define this concept and see its insidious nuances and impact. When it comes to our relationship, understanding what constitutes a toxic marriage will help us decide if we’re going to leave the marriage or find a way to turn down the heat.

Check out the following 27 markers of a toxic marriage and consider their examples.  As you read, determine how present each one is in your life and what you will do  about it.

1. Excess Defensiveness

Perhaps you’ve tried to be patient: “Your husband is just acting this way because he’s* feeling vulnerable or stressed or working too hard these days,” you might say to yourself in the face of yet another snide comment. When your non-confrontational responses meet with repeated jabs, it’s hard not to get offended. And when you or your spouse hear criticism in even innocuous statements and questions, it becomes impossible to communicate. Moreover, constant defensiveness usually means your spouse has stopped taking responsibility for his behavior. It’s like trying to enter the flow of traffic next to a driver who only speeds up or slows down in order to block your efforts to merge.

2. Dismissiveness, Contempt, Condescension and Chronic Impatience

We can all get cranky, be less than tolerant, or even lose our tempers, especially under prolonged duress. But there is a demeaning quality to these communication styles, an implied attitude of superiority that suggests that the other person is beneath notice, not only not to be taken seriously but really seen as less important, less intelligent, and unworthy. Contempt diminishes—whether it is eye-rolling, smirking, sarcasm, or a blank stare followed by curt dismissiveness. Whatever the strategy is, the means of communicating these attitudes are myriad, and they are designed (consciously or not) to make the person on the receiving end feel stupid, worthless, or to undermine their confidence in their position.

Defensiveness and contempt are two of the four communication styles that the Gottman Institute identifies as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” for a marriage. However, of the four, contempt is identified as the attitude most likely to lead to a divorce or split. The other two of the four horsemen are criticism and stonewalling.

3. Criticism

Criticism goes beyond just voicing a concern or complaint, which tends to happen on a case-by-case basis. It is more apt to be ongoing, and is directed at the other person’s character rather than at their behavior. It is often an assertion of an agenda and is generated in part by the same need for control that is at the root of contempt. Constant criticism is a practice of routinely finding something wrong with or in need of improvement in the other person. You might say that defensiveness and stonewalling are the toxic responses to contempt and criticism.

4. Projection

Projection is the result of anticipating criticism before it happens, or hearing it when it doesn’t exist. Defensive redirection is a version of the idea that the “best defense is a good offense”, but it occurs when there’s not actually a reason for it. Projection is one of the responses to childhood psychological trauma, where unpredictability and chronic undermining of confidence or other dysfunctional patterns create a running inner dialogue that is turned outward, like a song on repeat. A spouse may ask a perfectly benign, kindly intended question about how “a projector” is liking work these days, and hearing an echo of that inner critic, “the projector” might put some edge in her voice, or snap, or ask why they want to know or stonewall with a monosyllabic pout, thus putting an end to the conversation and alienating her spouse.

Projection is turning that negative inner voice outward. Instead of recognizing that the voice is our own, we unconsciously “hear it” coming from others. By making the “attack” come from someone else, we avoid the understanding that the person we actually need to confront is the one in the mirror.

5. Addiction

Addictions include dependencies on food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, exercise, gambling, sex, anger or even a belief system. It can be an attachment to status or social media. Addiction is a common reason for divorce and it really doesn’t matter what the addiction is. When an attachment to something overrides your ability to be constructively present to yourself and your partner, to the point that you or your spouse chronically and compulsively choose whatever that thing is over the marriage, it is a form of infidelity—an emotional affair.

An addict will face losing you and choose that thing over you anyway. They will usually find a way to justify it until they reach a point where they can’t cope with the consequences any more. At this point, they have to address their addiction and give it up, or keep doing it while giving up other parts of their life, from jobs and friends to spouses and children. Losing a spouse who you love is a consequence, but sadly, looking down the barrel of that loss is often not enough to keep the addict from engaging in the behavior. It’s never too late to give up an addiction, but it is sometimes too late to repair a relationship with a partner who came in second place to that addiction one too many times.

6. The Need to be Right

This tends to go beyond a partner who is just being a Know-it-All. There is a profound and constant need to be right, to be the “good guy” in the dynamic that seems to come from a deep-seated need to be in a position of authority, stemming from a need for control. It isn’t necessarily something the person is conscious of and can originate from trauma hangover, fear of loss, and/or a deep-seated, foundational insecurity, etc.

We might think of it as “White Hat” or “Podium Syndrome”, and it seems to incorporate everything from chronically talking over the other person in a conversation to condescension or maintaining an attitude that they know you better than you do. Inexorably analytical, the need to be right is defensiveness with a Ph.D. It is a polite war of attrition. It is scrutiny that’s done its homework.

7. The Power Differential

We live on a dualistic little planet: male-female, good-bad, dark-light, Republican-Democrat, God-Devil, happy-sad, yin-yang, dominant-passive, and on and on. We embrace shades in between; far more mainstream now are third and fourth gender assignments, the value of a multiple-party political system, the concept of many paths to “God” or however we define divinity, or don’t, and on we go. But we humans love our compare-and-contrast. In that vein, there may be a leader in a relationship, one partner who may be more alpha, or who has more influence in the ways we assign practical power. But unless that comes with an equal balance of power in the other partner somewhere else in the relationship, the scales are tipped to one side.

This hallmark of a toxic marriage leaves one person to stand and beat their chest, and the other to hobble along or be carried. If the more powerful partner seems to be actively engaged in maintaining a position of authority and keeping the power differential tipped toward them, this is where the marriage becomes toxic. Conversely, if the less dominant partner is engaging in learned helplessness or playing the victim–thereby wiggling out of carrying their share of the relationship’s workload, that is also toxic.


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8. Cross-Examination vs. Conversation

There are questions of interest and mutual understanding, and a give and take in an exchange of ideas, plans, thoughts, observations. Cross-examination on the part of a spouse, however, is not a sign of interest. Rather, it’s the mark of someone who not only has something to prove, but also who believes themselves to be in a position of authority. There’s room for rhetorical questions in the context of a philosophical debate or sharing of perspectives, but a constant barrage of “point-proving” questions—whether they are rhetorical or cross examining—has nothing to do with wanting to understand someone better. It’s an extension of the power differential, and another sign of a toxic marriage.

A cross-examination takes the fun out of relationship banter and backs a spouse into a corner. This disempowers and confuses. It creates self-doubt and only gratifies the ego of the questioner.

9. Insecurity

It doesn’t matter what form insecurity takes, and we all have a sense when we’re being insecure. Insecurity is the Wendy Whiner Within, it is the chronic need for reassurance. We all have insecurities; we all need occasional reassurance. Occasional. The trick in being healthy about our insecurities is to talk ourselves away from them rather than constantly asking our partner do it, or ask them to curtail any activity that “makes us feel” that way. (Keeping in mind that we are making ourselves feel that way more often than not). Sometimes we need a boost, yes, but the operative word there is sometimes. We are responsible for our own insecurities; our partner is not. And in fact, there is no way to make up for foundational insecurities.

For example, a husband’s insecurity shows up as a fear of his wife cheating. As a result, he insists that she is cheating, thinks about cheating, wants to cheat, used to cheat, and therefore will again… you get the picture. Sometimes, the more she tries to reassure him, the worse the insecurity becomes, because he then starts to wonder why she’s trying so hard to convince him and twists that into further “evidence.”

Trying to fill the hole of insecurity is like trying to dig quicksand out of a pit. If it’s a chronic issue, you just have to step out of the role of filling it and say, “I’m sorry you’re contending with this, but it is yours.”

10. Jealousy

Jealousy is a symptom of insecurity and can include jealousy of someone outside the relationship or inside it. Most of us can relate to the concept of jealousy, and if we’re not personally familiar with the scenarios that draw it forth, we can imagine them. Perhaps you may have a good male friend and confidante whom your husband doesn’t like you spending time with. Perhaps your husband has an attractive female boss or student he spends time with, both at work and in networking after hours, and you don’t like it. Or perhaps you are under-realized professionally and your husband lands a promotion or makes a creative move that ends up being wildly successful while you continue working in a job you barely tolerate.

You may do a fairly good job of showing enthusiasm on his behalf and pride in his accomplishment, which would be a healthier way of responding to your jealousy. On the other hand, perhaps you undermine his joy by pouting or drawing the conversation back to you by saying something like, “Well, I’m glad one of us is making it,” with a tremulous half-smile. That is a mark of toxic jealousy in a marriage. Also, it’s an act of putting a negative spin on your partner’s positive accomplishment and making the situation about you when it is not about you at all.

11. Manipulation

Manipulation is another off-shoot of insecurity or fear. Sometimes an abused wife may have to use subterfuge or manipulation to extract herself from the situation, which we might think of as justifiable manipulation. But other times, manipulation is dishonesty in a pink bow. For example, a wife might say, “Well, I just want you to think I’m pretty” when her husband asks why she spent $300 from their monthly budget on a pair of jeans. She wanted the jeans but made a desire to please him the reason for the purchase–and put a little dollop of guilt on it just for good measure.

Sometimes a manipulation is relatively benign and in fact managing people or personnel has an element of manipulation to it. The definition of manipulation is bending or shaping something to achieve a desired effect, which doesn’t have to have malignant intention. In a toxic marriage, however, manipulation often has malicious intent, such as controlling your partner physically or mentally, or prioritizing your own needs over theirs.

12. Testing

A form of manipulation, this is where one person—unconsciously or not—creates a highly charged scenario almost guaranteed to push a partner’s buttons. When the reaction occurs, the other person steps back and remarks on how uncalled for it was, even though they intentionally created the scenario. This is closely related to gaslighting, and is a form of emotional manipulation aimed at making a partner mistrust their own feelings so that they must rely on their partner’s version of reality.

13. Lying

If you have to lie to your spouse just to navigate the relationship, that’s a fairly good indication that, at the very least, there’s an imbalance. As with manipulation, a woman who is trying to extract herself from an abusive marriage may have to lie in order to achieve that. However, if you are lying to avoid day-to-day truths you don’t want your partner to know, such as flirting with an ex-boyfriend on Facebook or applying for a new credit card because you know you just maxed another one out, this is feature of a toxic marriage. Whether it has immediate negative consequences or a build-up of disrespect for yourself and your partner over time, this level of toxicity can become very destructive.

14. Walking on Eggshells

You avoid talking about something, meaningful or otherwise, simply because you fear your partner’s reaction. Perhaps you went to lunch with that male friend of yours who your husband is jealous of and you decide on your way home not to tell him, but he sees the restaurant receipt in your purse, and now you’re holding your breath in anticipation of a tantrum or an accusation that you’re attracted to your friend, or worse, cheating.

Or perhaps your husband doesn’t tell you about getting passed over at work for a promotion because he knows you will spend the next two hours taking it personally, and then the next few years nagging him about why he didn’t get it. Those are eggshells.

Either way, this withholding of information is a sign that your marriage may have become toxic, perhaps with other factors playing into this dynamic.

15. Anger

It’s one thing to get angry at something your partner does that hurts you or is unfair. This may include getting mad over the disregarding of a boundary you’ve established in your relationship, or something that has a detrimental impact on your children or your household. We all get angry from time to time. But if anger is your go-to emotion, if that’s your regular modus operandi, then you will have a corrosive effect on everyone around you. It’s also an element that can quickly contribute to creating a toxic marriage.

16. Passive Aggression

People employ passive aggression when they want to look like they’re taking the high road but are really taking the low road and hiding it under a layer of soft-spoken words. These words often point indirectly to the source of resentment without someone actually saying what’s on his or her mind. These can be couched as jokes or light commentary but are actually designed to be punitive. Because passive aggression can easily be denied, it’s often used as a covert way to do damage without taking blame for it—a hallmark of a toxic marriage.

17. Resentment

Resentment is often at the root of passive-aggression and usually has its root in anger over an issue that’s not been addressed. It could also be part of an underlying jealousy in the relationship or perceived imbalances in power. Either way, resentment (like contempt) is a highly damaging element of toxic marriage and needs to be resolved for the relationship to survive.

18. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a toxic behavior that’s complex enough to need its own article. This is an insidious and subtle form of emotional and psychological manipulation aimed at causing an individual to mistrust their own self-worth or emotions. A gaslighter invalidates their partner’s feelings and perceptions and instead forces them to rely on the gaslighter’s version of reality. This form of psychological control is a highly damaging sign of a toxic marriage.

Named for Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play “Gas Light,” in which the husband’s character kept dimming the lights in the house and telling his wife it was her imagination until she went insane, gaslighting is the province of someone who has a deep-seated need for control. Sometimes it’s purposeful manipulation and sometimes it’s the unconscious defense mechanism of one who needs to be right and has a difficulty taking responsibility for their own damaging behavior.

Gaslighters need to be right and may have a difficult time accepting they are capable of hurtful behaviors. Their strength is knowing their partner’s insecurities and areas of self-doubt; they can be very clever at leveraging those to undermine their partner’s perception, judgement, and self-confidence.

Common gaslighting phrases can be things like, “It’s just your imagination,” “I never said that,” “That was never my intention,” etc.

Whether it is purposeful or not, gaslighters employ subtle wordplay to resist having to acknowledge that they, like everyone else, have issues that need to be addressed. Sometimes, we are being too sensitive and sometimes a joke is just a joke, and that is where it gets tricky with a gaslighter. This is why this particular form of toxicity is difficult to combat.


For more information on how to access your marriage and your own sense of worth, read our popular  “Overthinking When to Leave Your Husband”.


19. Never Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Behavior

This sign of a toxic marriage shows up in many ways, by gaslighting, redirecting, playing the victim, making excuses, or playing the martyr. Those who do not take responsibility for their own behavior project an attitude of “being exempt.” It’s difficult to maintain a healthy relationship when one half of that relationship can never take responsibility for their actions.

20. Sabotage

Sabotage in a toxic marriage can have many forms. You drink too much to spend time with your partner, and then are too hungover the next day to help around the house. You promise to go to an event with them and then work out so hard that you injure yourself and can’t go. Maybe you promise to contribute to a household expense, project, or gift and instead spend the money on something frivolous for yourself then claim you forgot. You procrastinate to the point that you lose opportunities and income, thereby negatively impacting your family and everybody’s hopes for moving ahead.

You commit to an event but create so much drama around it that you end up not being able to participate after all. Your partner has an important interview coming up, but because you fear he might actually get the job and thereby rise and become successful and leave you in the dust, you purposely pick a fight with him the night before so he’s too disturbed to study or even sleep. Clearly, this toxic behavior is not healthy and can cause a lot of damage in a marriage.

21. Exclusion

Do you get the impression that your spouse’s co-workers don’t realize you exist? Does he take vacations and trips home to see his family without you, spending money on unnecessary collectibles instead of offering to buy you a plane ticket? Does he leave you out of his Facebook page? This is a bit of what exclusion looks like, and is an indication that there may not be full commitment, that he’s hiding the relationship from others or just himself. It is not so much a sign of disrespect, but more one of disregard or lack of cherishing.

22. Ignoring Your Own Self-Care

Perhaps all of your time and attention gets pulled into managing and meeting your spouse’s needs, to the point that you continually push aside the healthy practices you’d normally engage in—working out, preparing healthy lunches ahead of time, going to your women’s group, meditating, or journaling.

We all cycle through phases with our self-care, but when it’s chronically shunted aside, or you are clearly trying to keep up the practice but your partner evinces a cavalier or even insulting attitude about it, this is not only a sign of disrespect on their part but also a self-centered lack of love or caring.

For example, you are trying to come up with a time to complete a task or do something together, and when you ask for a different start time in order to work around your women’s group and they make a cutting remark about it. That is a clear sign of a toxic marriage. Or, you might be a Stay-at-Home-Mom, whose entire day is subject to the schedules of your children. You know you have a certain time to get the kids to school and then hurry home to complete household chores. You also know that the only time you can possibly go for a jog (your mental, physical, and emotional outlet) is during a particular window of time each day.

But your husband calls you when you’ve just laced up your sneakers, wanting to remind you to process the health insurance bills today. You are quick to say you’ll get to those bills but right now, you need to go for your run. Your husband stops you cold with, “How selfish of you, prioritizing yourself again.” You hang up the phone. Do you go for your run or do you angrily go find the health insurance folder?

23. Physical Illness

Stress can cause physical symptoms, whether that stress stems from emotional, circumstantial or self-created situations. For example, physical illness may occur in the form of a migraine or low back pain when one person is doing the bulk of the work in the relationship and is the only one putting forth the effort to move it forward. Perhaps everything in the household revolves around an illness-prone spouse whose “flair-ups” somehow occur whenever something that threatens her sense of control or need for constant attention happens. The other spouse then has to take up the slack, and in the face of the added work and pressure, overdoes it and ends up with a slipped disc, pneumonia, or adrenal fatigue.

Physical illness is often the cumulative result of chronic stress and living inside a toxic marriage. (Tip: Schedule a doctor’s appointment.)

24. Draining

Self-created, physical illness is one way that married people can drain each other. We often create our own illness with our lifestyle choices. For example, a drain on the marriage might be a husband or wife who continually engages in self-sabotaging behaviors, like over-consumption of alcohol or unhealthy foods. You know this will make you feel lousy and lead to things like sleep deprivation or excessive weight gain, thus negatively impacting your relationship and yourself, but you do it anyway. That is a drain. Likewise, corrosive emotions like anger that are a constant presence are also draining. A chronically negative, bitter, or pessimistic attitude is draining.

Talking over your spouse, to the point that you drown out what they are saying so that you don’t have to face an uncomfortable truth about yourself, is draining. Other drains might be having to provide constant reassurance to an anxious spouse; catering to one person’s chronic and bottomless need for admiration, affirmation, attention or rescuing; constantly interrupting; brow-beating; playing the martyr; playing the victim…

25. Lack of Empathy

All of us can be selfish, and the ability to see and feel the truth of something from someone else’s perspective is sometimes hard-won, especially if it means we have to take an uncomfortable look at ourselves. There are people, though, who either can’t or won’t take any interest in what someone else might be experiencing. They see those around them as only existing to serve them.

Not only do they not care about the feelings of the people in their lives but they often see those people as characters in their play, so to speak. You might know them as narcissists, a well-known buzz word these days.

26. Exploitation

The same individuals who lack empathy or feel entitled to the spotlight may even co-opt a spouse or a child’s accomplishments as their own—seeing the people around them in supporting roles only. If the people in their lives stop performing well—thus reflecting on them poorly—or balk at serving their agendas or their needs, they withdrawal love, withhold approval, or issue some other consequence. Narcissists often form relationships on the basis of how the dynamic will serve them. They also do not possess the ability to see their own narcissism.

27. Lack of Listening

If one person in a relationship is doing most of the talking, particularly if they are “always right,” it’s probably going to be difficult for them to hear from the people in their lives that their behavior is hurtful. We all have behavior that is toxic or hurtful at times, so the ability to hear others when they ask us to address our own behavior is foundational to healthy relationships. Toxic behavior involves telling other people how they can improve but showing inability to take direction.

Despite all the ways that people and relationships can be toxic, though, they can heal, provided both people commit to doing the work. Whether it’s couple’s counseling or self-help, both parties must be willing (and able) to do the work required to negotiate healthy boundaries and communicate in a way that makes everyone feel valued.

Notes:

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

 

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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”