THE BLOG
12/23/2010 07:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Hardest Thing About Divorce Is the Loss of Hope

Marriage is all about gaining. You're getting a partner to go through life with, someone you hope to share everything with, for better or worse. Dealing with the good times is the easy part, it's getting through the bad times that create the continuing challenge for every couple. As I have seen clearly with my patients over the years, it is impossible to be part of a "we" without having a laundry list of grievances about what the "me" is missing out on. As the dirty laundry accumulates, and each person feels there is just too much to sort through, it is only a matter of time before people stop wanting to make it work and find themselves at the divorce station. That's the last stop where each person digs their heels in and says, "I'm not giving up what I need in this marriage any longer."

When this happens, people often think that taking that next step will mean another gain, a new kind of gain, the gain of no longer having to compromise. The problem, however, is that the opposite is achieved. Loss, certainly not gain, is the essence of divorce. It is exactly what each partner is looking to avoid--losing out even more than they already feel they have. Divorce is all about letting go of your life as you have known it to create a completely new version of your world, from your family to your financial situation to your social relationships. And if that is not daunting enough, you are now going forward solo, without the support you have had, be it ever so little, within your marriage.

What makes it so incredibly difficult is that you reach the point of ending your marriage by way of feeling deprived, perceiving that you have been wronged by your spouse, who of course continues to cast you in the role of being the depriver and wrong-doer. But moving toward divorce doesn't make all of that go away. The blaming that was already taking place still comes easily and perpetuates a bad marriage living on as a bad divorce. People think that their partner will now understand how they wronged them and therefore be willing to "work it out." This give and take translates into how you sort out and work through your divorce settlement. For some reason there is this hope that now that you are divorcing, you won't argue, you'll be adult and figure out a fair balance that works for both of you, and especially for the kids.

This is where everyone going through a divorce has a lodged bullet. Each is looking for damage control, to have their heart unbroken. Each continues to look to their spouse to give them some compassion and understanding that they fell short on delivering a thousand promises back.
Each person still continues to seek validation that they are "right" in how they feel and in what they need because being right translates into feeling good about themselves. This is the sand trap that so many divorcing couples fall into and get stuck in. To get through your divorce and move to higher ground really means letting go of the hope that your partner will be reasonable, that they will finally "get it" and start to relate to you in a more positive, thoughtful and acknowledging way now that your marriage is officially over.

The most important message I can share from working with many divorcing couples is: your partner is who they are and will continue to behave the way they always have. That is why you are ending your marriage. If you didn't have the skills to work through your problems and manage your anger while you were married, you certainly aren't going to find them now that literally all you have left are the negatives. Divorce is a continuation of two people sharing exactly the same feelings as they did in their marriage, but they are now attached to different often more difficult issues. So both parties still feel wronged, unfairly blamed and those whopping expectations live on with different, sometimes greater consequences.

It's time to give up your wish that your partner will finally change and relate differently to you. That's why we see a divorce like Michael Douglas' live on over the decade. Unfortunately there is no shelf life on how long this wish, which can keep people mired in their anger and self righteousness, can continue to exist. It isn't until you are able to truly give up those expectations of your partner that you finally free yourself from that intense hope and start to move forward.

If you didn't get along while you were married, getting divorced is only going to amplify that. Know that as you go into it and don't expect anything more. There are things that come with being divorced that you might not expect, don't let this be one of them.