In fact, divorce is a complicated process, one that may take years to complete. In my experience in working with divorced couples I have never seen a divorce happen as a result of a major life crisis.
When it comes to divorce, it’s not the “big stuff” that spells the end of a marriage, but rather the “small stuff” — stuff so small that it is hardly noticed in the beginning. Small stuff like rude remarks, disrespect, thoughtlessness, failure to communicate, too much dependency, or too much control.
Whatever the small stuff is, over time it piles up and eventually there is a mountain of small stuff that makes the marriage so unsatisfactory and so unhappy that divorce becomes a welcomed option.
Paul Bohannan, a family theorist, believes there are six stations — or processes — on the road to a completed or finalized divorce: emotional, legal, economic, co-parental, community and psychic.
1. Emotional Divorce: Both partners recognize that the marriage is deteriorating. If one person gives voice to dissatisfaction or disillusionment before the other, the latter may become alarmed, even agitated, and try to cajole or seduce the initiator back into the marriage. Often, both partners become defensive concerning their feelings and behavior. The process of emotional divorce may involve three stages: disillusionment, erosion, and detachment during which time each partner focuses on the other’s weaknesses and deficiencies, blaming the other for the marital unhappiness.
2. Legal Divorce: One or both partners contact an attorney, serve legal notice on the other, and begin the judicial process which will eventually lead to a court-ordered termination of the marriage.
3. Economic Divorce: Decisions are made by the divorcing couple regarding distribution of assets, property, child-support payments, possible alimony payments and so forth. This is often a very painful and conflicted process as the couple splits what was once considered jointly owned.
4. Co-Parental Divorce: Spouses may divorce each other, but they do not divorce their children. This may be the most complicated part of the divorce process as couples (and the legal system) hammer out child custody and visitation rights. Unresolved feelings may contribute to years of a painful tug-of-war where a child feels pulled between both parents. As painful as this is for the parents, it is the child who suffers most.
5. Community Divorce: The former partners must next redefine their separate places in the community as single individuals and must also reestablish relationships with family and friends.
6. Psychic Divorce: The final and most trying stage for many, each former mate works to accept the fact of permanent separation, redefining himself or herself as a single and unattached person, and each begins the often painful process of seeking and being open to new relationships.
When divorced couples successfully complete all six stations, the couple reaches a point in their relationship where there is no longer a relationship. There is no love, no hate, no interest. The relationship is truly over and both go on to live their own lives unconnected to the other.