Updated March 16, 2021
Don’t Confuse Wants With Needs
From The Experts
Divorce Is Lousy at Satisfying Needs
Divorce laws and divorce courts are really just trying to make the best of a bad situation. No more than that. While some aspects of divorce law and court orders look to the future, no one can predict the future or protect you from what the future holds. After divorce, you’re essentially on your own. Knowing this up front disabuses you of unrealistic expectations or hopes. It will help you handle divorce better because now you won’t place too much emphasis on getting “the perfect decree”—they don’t exist.
Your Basic Needs Are Already Covered
No matter how bad your divorce is, it almost surely won’t deprive you of your most basic physiological needs. Fortunately, you don’t need to be married to get air, water, or basic food, clothing, and shelter.
Divorce will necessarily break up a family and damage or destroy other close relationships; as a result, rarely will you come out of divorce unscathed emotionally. There may be some permanent damage, but it’s not total damage. You cannot avoid it, but you can treat it, you can recover from it. You can (and should) make new friends, friends who you’ll need in new circumstances. You can—and will—develop and deepen the relationships that survive divorce. You are loved and will continue to be loved.
Divorce cannot defeat you unless you let it. Bad breaks can even make you a better person.
Divorce Is Lousy at Satisfying Wants Too
At least half of divorce distress arises from confusing wants with need.
The Desire for Safety and Security
Except in rare situations where a spouse threatens violence if you divorce, divorce likely won’t deprive you of physical and emotional safety. Indeed, many people seek (and obtain) greater emotional health and safety through divorce. Divorce can free you of a marriage to a violent person, but remember that a decree of divorce itself will not protect you from violence. Even if the court issues you a protective order, the inside joke among lawyers is that the piece of paper won’t stop fists, knives, or bullets.
A divorce won’t usually leave you economically safer. Generally a divorce will cut all of your marital assets in half, with 50% going to you, 50% going to your spouse.
If you think that divorce will “save” you the “cost” that your spouse is to you, you will likely soon realize just how much your spouse did for you that you now must either do without or pay someone else to do. All those minor repairs around the house. The yard work, the snow shoveling, the cooking, the cleaning, making the doctor and dentist appointments and getting the kids to and from. Unless your spouse is a complete slug, you’re going to feel a loss.
Few people have the “luxury” of divorcing without feeling the financial pinch of all the services their spouse used to perform. So don’t think that divorce will save you money. Between 1) all the money you’ll spend to compensate for the loss of your spouse’s services and perhaps 2) child support and/or alimony, divorce is going to cost you. If you think receiving alimony and/or child support will put you on easy street, that illusion will evaporate as quickly as the money you find yourself having to spend just to meet just basic economic needs.
The Desire for Respect
If you seek to gain your unappreciative/demeaning spouse’s respect through divorce, think again. Your spouse’s disrespect for you likely doesn’t stem from failing to stand up for yourself, and even if it did, it’s almost surely too late to seek respect by the time divorce enters the picture. Your spouse won’t suddenly start respecting you because you filed for divorce or because you’ve decided to “get tough” in the divorce action. Besides, because you’re divorcing your spouse his/her respect or lack of respect for you doesn’t really matter anymore.
Seek respect from people you respect, not from people you resent.
The Desire for Power or Revenge
If getting even usually means coming down to your conniving spouse’s level, then getting even does you more harm than good.
What Cost Revenge?
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” ― Confucius.
If you’re contemplating a nasty divorce battle to get even, let’s see what revenge costs in simple dollars and cents. If your case goes all the way to trial, you can expect to pay at least tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in the process.
Is revenge worth spending all that money? Even if it is, do you actually have that money to blow on revenge? And remember: that’s money you’ll spend for merely a chance at revenge; there’s no guarantee the outcome will be as you want it.
The Desire to Avoid Change
Divorce cannot prevent change or spare you the pain and discomfort of change to your family or your lifestyle. Change will come, so how you respond is the thing within your control.
Of course you can grieve the pain and discomfort for a while—it’s a necessary part of change. But do not let the fear and regret of change paralyze you or cloud your judgment; that won’t do you or your family any good. Easier said than done, we know, but it’s still the right thing to do and easier to live through than the alternative.
Besides, not all change from divorce is bad (full disclosure: most of it is bad, but not all, and the bad effects of change do decrease over time). Change for the worse and change for the better are two sides to the same coin.
Some people deal with change better than others, yet we all deal with change. It’s unavoidable. So deal with change as best you can. A divorce will bring change you cannot prevent. The sooner you realize there’s no point in agonizing over divorce the better off you and your children will be.
For example: you can learn to live on less money and reap the joys of a simpler lifestyle, resolve to “get it all back and more” or be bitter over the lifestyle you had. Which change would you prefer? You can mourn the loss of your nuclear family or remind yourself that the kids were already miserable in a family where Mom and Dad didn’t get along, apologize to the kids, and ask them to help you move forward with them to build a better life.
The Desire for Reassurance and Peace of Mind
Unless you and your spouse agree that divorce is best and that you don’t want to hurt one another, divorce is not usually not a pleasant thing.
So “[i]f you’re going through hell, keep going” (Winston Churchill, and he knew a thing or two about going through hell). That’s the best advice we can offer most people who are going through the hell of divorce. It’s also the shortest, best path toward achieving eventual peace of mind.
See a counselor. Spend time in the company of friends and family. Help others going through divorce too. Stick to your normal routine as best you can. Cooperate fully with your attorney. Get enough sleep. See it through. That’s an uphill climb, but it’s the path to reassurance and peace of mind. You can do it. If you couldn’t we wouldn’t be telling you that you can.
The Desire for Strength and Control
Divorce to gain strength? In some ways, yes, in other ways, no. As with cutting off the gangrenous limb or excising the cancer can save the patient from dying, sometimes cutting off your toxic spouse will save you. Yes, you will be scarred, perhaps even crippled, but alive, no longer drained of the energy the sickness was causing you, and with a healthy future before you. Divorce may also compel you to change the bad habits (i.e., overspending, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, unresolved mental health issues, an explosive/violent temper, other personality traits that get you into trouble, etc.) that may have caused or aggravated the circumstances that led to divorce.
You cannot control your spouse in divorce. Your spouse is the last person to bail you out. You cannot control the court. And while you may still not believe it yet, the court will never fully see the divorce your way.
You can control only yourself. Don’t look to your estranged spouse or an impartial, overworked court for “help.”
The Desire for Sympathy
Your family and friends will rally around you. Unless your spouse is a total ass, there is usually some sympathy and tenderness there, even when your differences are irreconcilable. A kindly judge, commissioner, and/or lawyer will sympathize as much as their professional obligations permit; after all, they’ve all gone through the divorce process repeatedly and understand all too well what it does to people.
There is sympathy, though you may not be able to detect it. You are not alone in your suffering. Sympathy, however, cannot reliably trump the law or the facts. Sympathy can soothe your troubled soul, but can’t make a weak case strong.
The Desire for Freedom
You are as free now as you’re ever going to be. A divorce brings more of an escape than additional “freedom.” Yes, a divorce will free you of a bad marriage, but with that freedom comes a new level of independence and personal responsibility you haven’t had since you were single.
Bottom line: don’t see divorce in the wrong light. Don’t expect more from divorce than it can do for you.
If you will let us, OurDivorce will help you minimize and get through the hell of divorce as best you can.