Divorce: the dreaded word

Although divorce is extremely painful, it gives the couple an opportunity to live a better life

Husband and wife with disappointing face

Divorce deserves to be discussed in detail, because of the different dilemmas it throws up, if and when it is contemplated. Couples often throw the word divorce at each other in the midst of a conflict, but a serious contemplation of the same, and the actual movement towards divorce is dreaded the most.

Real-time incidents

Vikram was 10 years older to Tina. Their marriage was based on him having a beautiful young girl on his arm to show off, while she wanted a Prince Charming doting on her and spending romantic moments with her. But later, her disillusionment went to such an extent that she suffered an eating disorder, got severely depressed, and attempted suicide, twice.

In another incident, Alka had a persecution complex and would be paranoid about Hemant’s interactions with his family. Even though she had attempted suicide twice, she would not acknowledge that she needed psychiatric intervention. After once such attempt, Hemant finally decided that it was time to call it quits.

Samir and Priyal had different aspirations, and their own childhood traumas to make peace with. Both realised that their marriage was not working out and the strain was showing on both of them. Although the topic of separation had come up from time to time, they clung on to the marriage supposedly for their daughter, till one day Samir, suffered his first major and fatal heart attack and was no more. He was just 35.

Choosing the lesser evil

In all the above cases, the couples could have parted amicably. But they stuck to the marriage and dreaded the mere thought of divorce. Eventually, they were existentially pushed to a separation. This brings up some significant questions:

Is it better that the marriage ends in a court, in a mental asylum, an ICU or the morgue? Or is it better to part amicably after having an emotional closure on the relationship, by wishing each other well? Or remain locked in a painful loveless and bitter bondage with both actively or passively aggressive with each other?

Is it better that the children get caught in a bad marriage and stay with warring parents under the same roof, or that they stay with either one with visits to the other?

Remember, the question here is not about providing oneself, the partner, the relationship and the children, but about which is the lesser of the two evils?

For the sake of your children

In the course of our practice, we have interacted with hundreds of couples in bad marriages, and also children caught in the crossfire. All of the children who are witness to the verbally or sometimes even physically violent scenes, initially innocently seek to fix it by appealing to both parents to stop warring and make amends in their own simplistic way of looking at things. That is how children treat their own friendships, where they are ‘best friends’ one day, enemies the next and then ‘best friends’ again.

However, children whose appeals fall on deaf ears, and who continue to witness the escalating conflicts, often tell one or both of their parents to separate and put them [the children] out of their misery.

Once the children are grown-up themselves, and are able to understand how miserable both parents are together, they often advise one or both of the parents to leave the agonising relationship for their own sake, and find peace with themselves, away from each other.

Children, under the whose guise couples desperately hang on to a failing marriage, are the worst affected. They are victimised and scarred permanently with having to hear derogatory words. They feel torn and forced to take sides. This behaviour on the part of parents is the responsible for the children having low self-worth, and making self-defeating decisions in their own man-woman relationships in the future.

Are the pay-offs really worth it?

People hang on to bad marriages that have no hope of improving simply because of some pay-offs that either one or both the partners receive by remaining in the marriage—however unfulfilling or painful the marriage may otherwise be. Besides financial gains and a social standing because of the marriage, very often women remain in the marriage because they do not have cordial relations with their own family and do not want to go back there. Low self-worth, which makes people believe that they cannot do better than what they have, also makes them dread a divorce.

Sometimes it is the sheer laziness of beginning a new life that could make different physical, mental, emotional, social and financial demands on you, that keeps people in painful marriages.

Whatever be the reason, the bottom line is that it is a sick dependency on the marriage and the insistence of finding the ideal solution that keeps people in self-defeating marriages. And it is the job of the counsellor to confront and present them with a reality-check of all their pay-offs. They usually come to a counsellor only to vent their frustrations and expect the counsellor to wave a magic wand and somehow change their spouse and their relationship for the better. They hate the counsellor for showing them that they are in a marriage of convenience and cannot postpone the inevitable ‘dreaded divorce’ for too long.

At such times they are suggested a trial separation so that they can either make some genuine and radical changes in themselves in order to relate harmoniously with each other and start afresh in the marriage. Or experience the peace away from each other and know that they can survive without the marriage and may even be happier alone.

Need for a reality check

If you are honest with yourself, this period also helps to integrate what has been seen and heard throughout in the marriage. Here, the non-verbal and verbal data in the relationship is correctly interpreted, alone or with the help of a counsellor. This accurate interpretation is important because, very often, one believes what one wants to believe, and remains in an illusion.

When the husband says, “Darling, I really care for you and I can’t bear to see you hurt”, the wife hears, “I love you with all my heart, I am attracted to you and will remain a devoted husband, and I will do nothing, which could be remotely hurtful in this relationship”. However, what the husband really means is, ‘I care for you only as much as any non-sexual friend. However, I can’t find the courage to say this to your face. But I feel guilty for not loving you in the way that you insist that I do, and therefore, I need to have some physical and emotional distance between us’.

This painful, yet accurate interpretation of the husband’s words is often the dirty job of the counsellor, when the wife chooses to delude herself into believing that her failing marriage can be rescued, even with evidence to prove otherwise. This painful truth has to be revealed to free her from illusions. She has to be given hope that though painful in the short-term, she can live a better life by making wiser choices today.

Sometimes, divorce is the only option, and though it is not the ideal life you had envisioned for yourself, it still might be the lesser of the two evils. If you cannot live together harmoniously, it is better to live harmoniously apart.

This was first published in the February 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


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