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Recently I attended a meeting in substantial part populated by psychologists and attorneys. Midway into the discussion I referred to divorce lawyers as "facilitators of loving transitions." Had I begun a discussion of a friendly alien encounter, this group would have taken me more seriously. Laughter filled the room, along with several incredulous glances my way. It seems most of the group thought I was joking. I wasn't.
Not denigrating the possibility of friendly encounters with aliens, it nonetheless seems extraordinary to me that divorce as a loving transition is thought to be less likely. Please keep in mind that this room was filled with people who work with troubled couples for a living. They see divorce day in and day out, and each has probably seen hundreds. Their reaction cannot be discounted.
Yet, I know it can be done; for I have seen it happen. One of those I most admire in my life is my friend Henry. I admire him for many reasons, but one of those is the way he's handled divorce. Never in the years I've known him have I heard Henry utter so much as one negative word about his former spouse. He introduced me to her several years after the divorce as one would introduce two close friends of long standing. It was clear that she thought of him in the same way. As Henry put it to me, "She's a wonderful person. The time just came when it wasn't right for us to be married."
Now don't get me wrong. In my opinion, all too many people get divorced nowadays as casually as they would buy a new car. A marriage is something special, that every effort should be made to maintain. Especially when minor children are involved, the married couple should strain mightily to keep the existing family together.
But in many cases, there are no minor children, or perhaps for some reason the marriage should end even if children are involved. Each of you has undoubtedly known a couple of friends getting divorced, and regretted the difficulty of remaining friends of both spouses. So often, we like both parties and see real value in both, while knowing that their marriage cannot be sustained. Most often we lose both friends.
Divorce is still seen as something bad by most people, and consequently it seems most people have to justify divorce by finding some overwhelming evil in their spouses. This simply isn't necessary. It's certainly not required by law. People change over time. A couple married in their twenties, will not be the same couple twenty to thirty years later. Nothing is more satisfying than a relationship where the partners grow along roughly parallel paths for a full lifetime of support. But if their paths diverge, it might be time to move on.
How can we increase the number of Henry's? First, most parties to a divorce can benefit from time with the right therapist. Some effort is needed to find the right therapist, one who will encourage meditation on what was right and valuable about the relationship, rather than conspire to find wickedness on the part of the other spouse. Avoid the therapist who rushes to pin a label other than human on either spouse. It's easier to mistreat a spouse that has subtly been dehumanized into a "bipolar" or some other slightly less than human form. There are many able therapists. Help those you love seek them out.
Some of the initial laughter at my description of divorce lawyers as facilitators of loving transitions was undoubtedly triggered by the thought of lawyers as facilitators of anything loving. My profession cannot claim total innocence. We have all known couples who've claimed that their divorce was uncontested until the lawyers got involved. In those cases the lawyers are not always to blame. It's not unusual for an attorney, doing an ethical job of confirming fairness of financial arrangements, to upset the apple cart by discovering dishonesty. But every profession has members that act less than professionally, and law is no different. In an emotion charged arena such as divorce, it is all too easy to play on emotions to create a war where none was necessary. Wars are difficult to resolve, and thus justify higher attorney's fees. Henry's divorce made no attorney rich. There are many highly ethical divorce lawyers who seek to do the job as quickly and kindly as possible. In my view, attorneys have a duty to inquire as to the reason divorce is sought and explore the possibility of reconciliation in an effort to preserve the marriage. Suspect an attorney who skips this step without reason.
Divorce as a loving transition is possible. If more divorcing couples part wishing each other well on life's journey, we will all find our lives enhanced.
© 1997 Daniel A. Krohn
First published in the Indigo Sun