THE BLOG
12/28/2010 06:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Bad Marriages Happen to Good People

"I'm an excellent housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house."
~ Zsa Zsa Gabor

Every year millions of formerly happy couples get divorced.

Every year those men and women who thought "it could never happen to me" find that divorce does, indeed, happen to them--and millions of couples just like them.

Every year millions of people find themselves divorced and dealing with the fallout; the fallout of tapped-out resources, dried-up funds, bleak futures and a deep mistrust for society at large.

Every year millions of people go bankrupt, move, share custody of their children (and even their pets) and restart their lives as a result of a divorce that got nastier than they expected, sooner than they expected, lasted longer than they expected and took more than they expected out of them: body, money, mind, future and soul.

And, in the end, that's what surviving a divorce is all about; not ruining the former love of your life but walking out of the courtroom knowing that you're leaving with what is rightfully yours and facing a future that hasn't been ruined because you were unprepared or, even worse, unwilling to admit the fact that the person you once loved could fight so dirty.

As a practicing matrimonial attorney, I can't underscore enough the need for a good team of legal and other experts to have your back before, during and after a divorce. Every day I see people devastated, financially, emotionally and sometimes even physically by divorce; it doesn't have to be that way.

Lawyers often see good people in the worst of times. As I write this Introduction it is December, and you would think I would be doing so in leisure as my clients take a break, go shopping, decorate the tree, spend time with family and friends before things really get nasty in the New Year. But no; I'm busier than ever, watching couples lash out at each other during a time in which there used to be so much love, joy and happiness - for both of them.

Holidays, like happiness, mean different things to different couples at different times of their lives. As I watch spouse after spouse go to war against the person with whom they used to share a bed, I am often reminded that it wasn't always like this; that there was courtship, romantic dates, candlelight dinners, a honeymoon, special songs, longing gazes, passionate sex and, yes, the holidays.

Holidays full of traditions new and old, of merged families and happy households and presents given out of love, generosity and support. Holidays made even brighter by the shared love of two spouses deeply committed to their wedding vows. So what happened along the way? How did the marriage get so bad?

What made December the busiest time of the divorce year?

Well, as I often tell couples, "Bad marriages sometimes happen to good people." That applies to both sides of the divorce, mind you. Much as it takes two people to stand at the altar and pledge eternal love for one another on their wedding day, it also takes two people to dissolve the same marriage that once meant such hope for the future.

Many things can happen along the way to divorce; betrayal, affairs, mismanaged money, lies, secrets, distrust, annoyance, sadness, depression, disappointment and a host of other contributing factors that slowly--or sometimes instantly, and irrevocably--tear a sacred union apart, never to be put back together again.

I often ask my clients, if they can, to think back and pinpoint the single, defining moment in which they suddenly realized their marriage was over; very few can do so. Then I ask them to recall the moment they first knew they were in love with their soon-to-be ex-spouse; most people can go on and on about this realization. It only proves my point that no one ever gets married expecting to get divorced.

So what happens along the way? How does a once happy, loving marriage turn south? And how long does it take? For some marriages, they barely make it a week; others skip the seven-year-itch and start scratching someone else's back after only two or three years. For some couples, they can go ten, twenty, thirty sometimes even forty and fifty years before suddenly realizing they've been living a lie for far, far too long.

Regardless of the cause or the duration, when a marriage is over it is rarely a pleasant experience. Someone has to move out, there are the challenges of explaining the split to the children, assets to divide, futures to consider and, invariably, things get ugly - then uglier. Suddenly two good people are resorting to name-calling, asset-hiding, spouse-bashing to the kids and the pettiness that often accompanies a nasty breakup.

And suddenly it's the holidays, and the glad tidings and warm wishes of others fall on deaf ears as the twinkling lights, cheery signs and happy store fronts one passes on the way to his or her lawyer's office only serve to remind them of happier times - and how they're gone forever. And here we are, mid-December, battling it out in court, one case after the next.

"Bah humbug!"

Take Your Power--and Your Life--Back

I will be the first to tell you that divorce can be a demeaning, depressing, disappointing time. No divorce is cheap, and the costs to both sides go far beyond the checkbook or the savings account.

Spouses who have been together for years, decades even, face a complete readjustment to the single life--often overnight. One morning they wake up in the bed they've shared with their spouse for years; the next they are in a strange apartment or even a hotel room, staring at a bleak future--at least for the time being.

Even couples who have only been together a few years find themselves exiled from the house where they once lived and scrambling to find a new apartment, in a new neighborhood, with old friends taking sides and hurt feelings all around.

There are "change of address" forms to fill out, custody issues to resolve, additional expenses all the way around and the endless back and forth of memos, legal paperwork, depositions, lawyer meetings and court dates to schedule.

Meanwhile life is changing in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. His friends are no longer your friends--and vice versa. The kids don't understand, or they do - and take sides anyway. Money is tight, work gets tougher because of all the extracurricular legal activity you have to endure and married friends simply don't understand your frequent venting about your soon-to-be ex; maybe even YOU don't understand it yourself.

Your married identity--the one you thought you'd always have--is gone forever and you are left, single, to start life anew. The transition can be crippling in both sudden and unexpected ways.

I've known powerful, brilliant, charming, charismatic, competent and confident men and women literally break down because of the changing dynamic of their new, single lives. What they used to control they can no longer manage; they feel weak, demoralized and, above all, powerless. You are not alone.

However, I must say, there is good news as things always do get better. In other words, once you have hit rock bottom you can only go up! Adjusting to your new life can be exciting and rewarding. Focus on the year ahead with a "to do list" instead of New Years Resolutions which become mundane and unfulfillable. . Promise yourself that you will accomplish your list by telling a friend who will hold you accountable in 2011. Turn a difficult situation into a new and exciting challenge that brings you tremendous joy, happiness and peace for the year to come.