“I hate you!” vs. “Everything looks fine.” : The Two Types of Divorcing Couples
Vassilia Binensztok, PhD, LMHC, NCC
Filing for divorce can be a daunting experience. You might be afraid to hurt your partner or children and be nervous about breaking the news to family and friends. Family members and friends who have been largely unaware of your marital problems might be particularly difficult to announce your divorce to. You might fear judgment and questions and be unsure about how much to reveal about your marriage and divorce or separation. Be prepared for some people not to agree with you and question your motives. But also be prepared to be pleasantly surprised as you might receive support from those from whom you least expect it. In any case, it helps to understand what kind of divorcing couple you are to understand how to address these issues. Most couples fall into the following two categories.
The Couple with Visible Conflict
Couples who fall into this category usually have their marital problems on display, at least to some family members, children, or friends. These couples may have openly argued or snapped at each other on multiple occasions in front of family, children, or friends. They might have complained about their partner or confided about serious marital issues to their loved ones. These couples often spiral into arguments about the past when triggered by small events. They show contempt for each other or passive-aggressive behavior openly by insulting, criticizing, mocking, dismissing, or rolling their eyes at their partners publicly. They might argue publicly or even on social media. These couples have often talked about divorce openly with each other and even consulted with friends or family about divorce. Partners might have spent nights apart during arguments and engaged in bashing their partners to other people. These couples rarely show affection to one another or may swing between showing lots of affection and withholding affection.
The Outwardly Happy Couple
Couples who fall into this category typically appear to be a happy couple on the outside. They keep their problems a secret from family members, friends, and children. They might actively try to portray a happy marriage and the image of the “perfect couple” publicly and on social media. These couples do everything they can to hide their disconnect like engaging in family events and outings while laughing and smiling and posting happy photos online. This couple might not fight or bicker in front of others but also typically does not show much affection either. Family, friends, and children might be surprised to find out that this couple is getting a divorce. Usually, these couples grow further and further apart emotionally and lack physical intimacy but tolerate their unhappiness because they are afraid to rock the boat and rationalize their reasons for staying together, choosing to avoid confronting the reality of their unhappy marriage.
While those in marriages with visible conflict display anger and sadness outwardly, couples in outwardly happy marriages endure as much suffering if not more. Keeping the pain to themselves can make couples who pretend to be happy feel extremely lonely and isolated. They might build up in their minds the negative reactions they expect to hear from loved ones and feel completely invalidated in their experiences. Because no one knows of their unhappiness, they might feel like they are in the wrong or like they are the only ones who have experienced these emotions.
Couples with a lot of outward conflict might have an easier time announcing the news to others. Some loved ones might even find it a relief that the couple is finally getting divorced. The criticism they might face is when people ask them why they tolerated so much arguing and did not get a divorce sooner. These couples must understand that their experience is their own and while people can offer opinions, only the parties in the marriage can decide when to get divorced.
Couples who appear outwardly happy can have a more difficult time announcing the news of their divorce to others. They often build up their fear of their loved ones’ responses in their minds. This can make it feel like it is impossible to reveal the truth. Upon announcing divorce, these couples might be met with a lot of questions and confusion. People can underestimate the severity of their problems and ask why they cannot work out their differences and love each other through their problems. These couples might feel they are letting everyone down but they must realize that some people might have picked up on the unhappiness or disconnect in their marriage already. These couples must understand that other people’s opinions are not well-informed and that not everyone needs to understand and validate their reason for divorce. It’s ok to get divorced even if other people are confused or disagree. The happiness of the two people in this marriage is of higher importance than other people’s understanding.
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