“All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” In the book, Aftermarriage, the author quotes Anna Karenina to underscore the unfortunate reality that divorce, alone, does not alter unhappiness. Without examination and deliberate change of family dynamics, children of divorce can continue to be hurt by friction.
Where children are involved, a spousal-like “aftermarriage” relationship necessarily continues after divorce. Seeing divorce as a phase of marriage reflects the long reach of marriage beyond divorce. Divorce does not eliminate legal and actual obligations created by marriage. Given a particular marriage bargain, divorce may require a sharing in the fruits of the union or continued support. And, through their children, parents will continue to have many points of connection.
The ideal is that divorcing couples learn to re-shape their expectations toward aftermarriage. Unfortunately, they arrive at divorce with a severe disadvantage because the clash of unexamined, misunderstood expectations has just reached breaking point. Each partner has brought expectations, developed over a lifetime, that necessarily differ from those of the other. A couple’s failure to examine and harmonize their individual expectations has left them unable to adapt and vulnerable to conflict and divorce.
Couples look to divorce as the answer to the conflict. While separation can lower intensity, divorce does not resolve poor relationship dynamics. It does not diffuse conflict, correct an inability to communicate, repair a lack of trust, rewrite history, or otherwise transport a divorcing couple out of the quagmire of their marriage.
Allowing time for emotional processing can improve aftermarriage relationships over the long run. Being able to understand marital flaws can reveal inflexible, inconsistent expectations that have become impossible to reconcile, a realization often necessary to letting go. Rushing headlong into divorce only sidesteps the emotional homework necessary to achieve the harmonious relationship essential in aftermarriage.
Counseling can help couples address marital issues and help them develop a well-functioning aftermarriage. This is especially important because this relationship requires even better communication, more attention to detail, greater teamwork, and enormous patience.
Aftermarriage relationships are also supported by a civilized divorce process, like collaborative divorce, that empowers couples to create a smooth transition while preserving emotional reserves. Understanding the marriage bargain as a predictor of the aftermarriage arrangement can help create mutual understanding and ease negotiation. Allowing the divorce process to exacerbate conflict can only be harmful to aftermarriage and children.
Aftermarriage: Unspoken Agreements and Their Impact on Divorce. Robboy, Anita Wyzanski (2002). Find this title on Amazon.