04/01/2015 07:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Tips to Surviving a Terminal Marriage


There is so much focus on the word divorce and we use it loosely when it comes to the end of a marriage.

The truth is that many couples have to coexist for a long time in a terminal marriage before they can put it to rest with divorce, and this is no easy feat.

This bookended space in time between learning that the marriage is on a shaky foundation, and signing the final papers is often overlooked and under appreciated as a period of deep need and despair for the couple and family.

When a marriage is terminal, but not yet dead, the days and months are riddled with ambiguity, uncertainty, ambivalence, fear and shame. It's usually a time where hope that the marriage can be salvaged mixes with the despair that it's over.

During this period of time most couples don't know how to talk about what's happening, who to tell, how to feel, and even what to call each other now that husband and wife no longer fit.

This transitional space cannot be overlooked or underestimated as one of the most important times throughout the divorce process.

This is where emotions run strong, mistakes and hasty decisions are made, and where one or both partners can't find the right support.

In my work with couples facing divorce I rarely focus on the final result of signed papers, and even rarely use the word divorce itself. I'm much more concerned with how they're coping with the disillusionment and shock inherent in their shattered dreams.

In the same way a body will suck a person's energy while fighting off a disease, a dying marriage can drain each partner's ability to be present and to function in their full capacity.

The obsessive thinking, up and down emotional turmoil, anxiety and alienation are just a few of the reasons this period of time is so challenging.

There's no magic pill to ease the pain that comes with living through the process of sitting bedside to your dying marriage. However, I have found that certain perspectives and some realistic facts can profoundly ease the suffering.

Here are five ways you can begin to shift your attitude and view through this part of your transition:

  1. Marriage is not a guarantee of forever. Every person who gets married hopes that they will not end up divorced, but a steady 50% do. You're not alone even though it feels like it. Remember that forever is not a realistic concept of time, but a romantic illusion that we can only hope for and never achieve.
  2. While you are the sum of all of your experiences, what happens to you in your life cannot be seen as good, bad, right or wrong. This experience impacts you, but it doesn't define you. In the same way you aren't a better person because you're married, you are not a bad person because you're marriage is ending.
  3. Spending too much time trying to figure out what happened will leave you exhausted and depleted. Understanding your past is essential for not repeating mistakes, but there is a time and place for this work. While your marriage is dying before your eyes you need to focus on your what's most important and that's you.
  4. Resist the compelling need to take action on the aspects of your life that can wait. You feel stuck and paralyzed, but know that this is because you're injured not helpless. Try to relax, stay present, and avoid making hasty decisions about things that don't matter right now. You're on a wild ride so fasten your seatbelt and focus on safety first.
  5. This is an insane time but there will be a rhyme and reason to all of it. Patience is your friend right now as you let the chips fall where they will. When everything is up in the air you want to duck for cover, and not get injured by the falling debris. You'll know when the calm after the storm hits, and that's when you can start to resurface.