When Divorce is Not Yet A Financial Option

Finances are the number one reason couples fight. Money, and the way it is spent, can reveal underlining value differences, life goals, and images of who we are or want to be. Despite being the source of many relationship arguments, financial troubles can actually prevent couples who want to separate, from doing so.

If you aren’t able to physically separate from your spouse, but would like to, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind, as financial fate forces you together for a while longer.

(1) Resist the Temptation to Be Sadistic

Even health marriages has, what David Schnarch calls “normal marital sadism.” Normal? That’s the aggravation of living with someone who just won’t do what you ask them to do, and the pleasure you get when bad things befall them, as a result. Not really horrible things, of course, just things that prove you were right all along. When couples are at the point of divorce, they are usually full of animosity, and this can deteriorate into deliberately doing things you know upset your spouse. This is counterproductive, even IF you imagine they are torturing you by their actions.

(2) Set Up Ground Rules, Right Off,

…that gives you each a regular chance to sit down together and resolve any problems of living that arise out of your current arrangement. Keep these conversations restricted to the issue at hand, and present-oriented. Avoid phrases like “always” or “never,” or inflammatory language that’s designed to upset.

(3) Use this Time to Learn about Yourself.

People tend to choose someone by personality features that will be the same characteristics that will later drive them to divorce. The “carefree & spontaneous” dating partner becomes the “unreliable & flighty” spouse. Those who divorce, without a very clear understanding of why they chose their partners to begin with, and what went wrong, are likely to repeat the same mistake with the second mate. Think back on what attracted you to this person, and consider how these very same qualities now make it “impossible” to stay married.

(4) Consider Your Contribution to What Went Wrong and Make That the Focus of Conversation

It is a useful lie to consider every marital dissolution a “personal failure.” It’s easy to focus on your spouse as the source of all of your problems, but this does little to assure that you won’t make the same mistakes twice. Really take time to listen to your spouse’s complains about you, and own up to those features that even “might” be true of you. While it is very hard to listen to criticism, most people begin to soften their complaints when they sense that the other person actually CARES what they have to say. Ask repeatedly “Was there anything else that made it difficult for you?” and be sure you understand what your spouse is saying, not just what you imagine they mean. Keep this same focus with your family and friends, and resist the temptation to demonize your partner.

(5) Try and Be Equitable, Not Equal, Financially

An easy way to consider doing this is to take a look at what percentage makes up each of your income, and pay expenses based on that figure. For example, if the husband makes 53% and the wife 47%, divide the mortgage/rent, utilities, etc by those figures. Start separate bank accounts, if you only keep one joint account, and write down each persons contributions to daily living. Agree ahead of time, how much each of you can afford for food, and share as much of this cost as is reasonable.

(6) Work Together to Save Up for Divorce Expenses and Separate Living Arrangements

It actually IS cheaper to live in the same place, but if your heart is set on living apart, this is one thing you can both agree on. Set aside a goal for how much money you can part with each week for a “separation fund,” and keep this amount in a separate savings account for each of you. If you are both working toward the time when you can resume separate lives, it might make it easier to tolerate your time together.

(7) Keep the Kids Out of It

As a psychologist trained as a marriage and family therapist, I can’t emphasize this point enough. Don’t move into a bedroom with one of the kids, because that’s the only room available. If you have two children with separate rooms, either put them together, or one of you take the couch or a room in the basement. Don’t expect your kids to be “go betweens” carrying messages between you, and don’t let them take sides (even if it feels good to have an understanding ally…) These are ADULT problems that children aren’t emotionally or intellectually equip to handle, so don’t involve them.

(8) Acknowledge the Repetitious Troubles that are Causing You to Split

…and try to keep a sense of humor about it. All couples have these ‘chronic troubles,’ but the successful ones don’t take it personally, and try to acknowledge to themselves and their partners that it isn’t “personal.” You like things neat, and you married a slob. Or he loves to socialize, and she’s a stay-at-home. Accept these things as a “given” and let them just “be” without constantly revisiting them. Each will probably maintain those traits long after you’ve split up.

(9) Stop Extra-Marital Affairs Until the Physical Separation Happens

If an affair caused you to want to divorce, now is not the time to pursue that outside relationship, even if it is irresistible to do so. If this new relationship is “meant to be,” they will clearly understand why both of you have to “cool your heels,” until you are able to properly terminate your primary relationship. Here is where the Golden Rule, “Do unto others” comes into play. If the shoe were on the other foot, would you want to watch your spouse spend time (and possibly scarce money) on someone else? Devote all of your time to saving money, or finding ways to make more money, so you can properly close this relationship, before starting (or continuing) the next one.

(10) Treat Each Other Like College Roommates

At least at this point, you haven’t chosen to live together, but you are currently stuck with one another, at least for the time being. Say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ Ask for favors nicely. Be more considerate than you did even before you decided to call it quits. Agree to how you want things to be, and give in a little, if you disagree.

Finally, if you are able to accomplish all of the above, try and talk about how you ideally would like to relate to one another, after the separation and divorce is complete. What would be best for the children? Would it be best for everyone to sell the house, or could you afford to keep it? How do each of you imagine living differently, once you are alone? How could you begin to live that way, today, without disrupting the household too much?

You might find that this “force togetherness” will allow each of you to get some distance, that will either cause you to reconsider the split, or facilitate the divorce (while minimizing the costs).

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