ERP 412: Why Divorce (Or Ending A Relationship) Should Always Be an Option — An Interview With Sharon Pope

By Posted in - Podcast February 20th, 2024 0 Comments

Although divorce is legally permissible and widely acknowledged in modern society, it remains burdened with significant stigma. The mere mention of it evokes palpable discomfort, as it’s often viewed as a failure in a culture that emphasizes perseverance in relationships at all costs, even in the face of significant challenges.

In this episode, we challenge this narrative by exploring the necessity of maintaining divorce as an option in relationships. We delve into the profound importance of setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing individual well-being within the context of partnership. Join us as we unravel the complexities surrounding divorce, challenging listeners to consider its role in fostering healthier, more sustainable relationships.

Sharon Pope is a certified Master Life Coach, and a seven-time best-selling author on love and relationships, including “Stay or Go: How to Find the Confidence & Clarity You Need to Either Fix the Struggles in Your Marriage or Move Forward without Regret,” which has sold more than 300,000 copies worldwide, and host of the podcast, “The Loving Truth.” Sharon’s been a guest on many podcasts and is committed to helping women and men get the tools they need to improve, heal, or release their struggling marriages.

In this episode

05:52 Sharon challenges the notion that every marriage should be salvaged at all costs.

07:56 From personal heartbreak to professional passion: Sharon’s journey to relationship coaching.

10:32 Sharon reflects on her personal evolution from blaming her ex-husband to embracing self-awareness and personal growth.

12:57 Moving beyond surface efforts.

17:20 The importance of regular relationship check-ins.

21:52 The stigma and significance of divorce within relationships.

28:39 Strategies for interrupting negative patterns in communication within relationships.

38:03 Setting boundaries and timeframes for relationship evaluation.

41:40 Embracing divorce as an option for setting healthy boundaries.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Engage in regular, open conversations about the state of your relationship, adjusting the frequency based on its current health.
  • Consider setting a specific timeframe to make a decision about the future of the relationship, allowing both parties to evaluate its progress and changes.
  • Recognize and interrupt negative communication patterns to create new and healthier ways of interacting with your partner.
  • Assess the distinction between deal breakers and preferences in your relationship to gain clarity on what truly matters to you.
  • Emphasize self-reflection and taking responsibility for your role in the relationship, focusing on personal growth and utilizing real relationship tools.
  • Encourage both partners to have a voice in the relationship, fostering open conversations and actively choosing each other every day.
  • Consider divorce or ending the relationship as a valid option, setting healthy and loving boundaries with the potential for consequences.
  • Explore the possibility of fulfilling some needs outside the relationship while also working on fulfilling the needs within it.

Mentioned

Stay or Go: How to Find the Confidence & Clarity You Need to Either Fix the Struggles in Your Marriage or Move Forward without Regret (book)

When Marriage Needs an Answer: The Decision to Fix Your Struggling Marriage or Leave Without Regret (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Connect with Sharon Pope

Websites: sharonpope.com

Facebook: facebook.com/SharonPopeCoach

YouTube: youtube.com/@sharonpopecoach

Instagram: instagram.com/sharonpopecoach

TikTok: tiktok.com/@sharonpopecoach

LinkedIn: inkedin.com/in/sharon-pope-0705b28

Podcast: sharonpope.com/podcast

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Sharon, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here with you.

Yes, I am too. Part of our topic is something that’s not always easy to be transparent or make a lot of room for. Just discerning and really looking at: is my relationship or is my marriage still tenable, how do I know when it’s over? Also, just even the atmosphere of the relationship. That divorce, it’s okay that that is somewhere on the table. That’s kind of what we’re going to be focusing on. Is that right?

Yes, that’s right. I always say I don’t have an agenda for people. I think that not every marriage should be saved no matter what, and I also think that far too many marriages end far too soon. Because we were never really equipped to be successful. We come into marriage with just love and hope and fingers crossed.

A lot of aspirational, very sentimental proclamations in the vows, but it’s typically not that actionable. So it’s hard to have real commitments around that give us guidance. I think it’s changing. I’m so grateful for people who are giving information, like you, and people in the world in this space that are helping people feel better equipped to negotiate long-term relationship. Still, there’s so much to it.

Yeah, let’s dive into that.

Let’s dive into that. Well, I always like to ask a little bit about guests, so that listeners have a sense of where someone’s coming from. Would you be willing to share a little bit about what got you interested in supporting people in relationship and couplehood?

So, like many people, my journey here started about 15 years ago, with the breakdown of my own marriage. This was my first marriage that ended in divorce after 12 years. Then the experienced heartbreak after that, of trying to open my heart again. I knew the kind of relationship that I want it, but I didn’t know how to create it, and I didn’t know how to be the person who could sustain something like that. Because you know the breakdown of a marriage is never just one person. But it was super easy for me to be able to blame him. Lo and behold, what I came to find out was that I had to become the person who was able to create and sustain the kind of loving relationship that I really wanted for myself. So there’s a lot of personal growth and a lot of introspection that had to happen. 

So then when I got into coaching, I had a brilliant coach at the time, and she asked me a very simple question. She just said, what do you want to talk about all day long? Everyone had been telling me you need to go into executive coaching, because that was the arena that I had come from for the prior 20 years, was being a marketing executive. They were like, you’ll make a bunch of money. So when she asked me that question, I knew my answer right away. I was like, all I want to talk about is struggling relationships, and how we got here and how to get through it, and why we struggle so much in our most intimate relationships. She’s like, oh great! Then why are we talking about executive coaching? I’m like, we’re not anymore. So from that point forward, it was all just relationship coaching, and that was 11 years ago. 

Wow! Well, I’m so glad. I think the quality of the question is so key, sometimes we don’t have the right question or don’t ask the right question or have someone to ask it of us, and that you really listened and that you really had a clear and present response.

Yeah. You know truth in your own, it feels different when it lands with you in your body. So I knew that, and then there was so much clarity for me from that moment forward, that that’s all I wanted to talk about all day long was people’s relationship challenges and how to help them come through it.

I know we want to pivot towards our topic. I also want to ask in your story as you’re sharing, and thank you for just acknowledging your own journey, that it’s something that you had to live and go through the fire to be able to really support people in this arena. I mean, going from blaming your now ex-husband, to really looking at your participation and your role, was there something that helped you turn towards yourself or look at your, as you said, personal growth?

Well, I think it was just diving into personal growth materials. As soon as you start doing that, what you realize is that, if you’re paying attention, sure, there is another person at the table with you when it comes to our intimate relationships. But it’s never just all one person. So what I had to look at was, what was my role in the creation of my experience? Because eventually, after that didn’t work with my husband, then I got involved in, we won’t drag this out, but several relationships, and they weren’t working and didn’t feel good. Eventually, you have to go: Look, the only common denominator here is me, what are you going to do about that? We can keep blaming everybody else. Or darling, it’s just how I like to call myself. Darling, we might want to look at you and what you could be doing that is actually sabotaging everything that you want. There were several key things that now I can, hindsight is always 2020, but I can look back and see it so clearly now, where at the time, I wasn’t in the space where I could see or receive that. But I’m grateful to know about it now, and it’s what helps make my second marriage so beautiful. 

Yes. To your point, I have a similar story, and I raise my hand with you and do my very best to practice the principles. I previously was completely unconscious to some of my tendencies that I know played a role in a dynamic that wasn’t sustainable or fruitful. So thank you for just acknowledging that. 

Okay, so let’s talk about where would you like to start just how to know and tell if your marriage or relationships?

So I think that the best way to know if your relationship can evolve to a new place where it feels good for both of you, is to genuinely try. And what I mean by try is not: be nice to each other. Or sometimes, it’s usually in heterosexual relationships where the division of labor between two people is not always equal, where the wife will say: “Well, I need him to help more.” So the man is helping around the house. 

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“It always makes me start to twitch when people say helping, because that implies that it’s your job and that he is helping you. As opposed to, no, he’s an active participant in choosing to create this life with you.”

You chose to have children. You chose to buy a house. You chose to take on all this responsibility. But you never went back and renegotiated the ground rules of how we’re going to operate inside this relationship. Because we never had to, before when we didn’t have kids, and we didn’t have a home, and we didn’t have all these responsibilities. So I think it’s really important that you just go: “Okay, I need to get equipped with what I would call real relationship tools, and then be willing to apply them, not just learn about them. Because intellectually learning about how relationships work is lovely, it’s the starting line. But it is not where change is created. It’s always in the application where change is created. 

Then, by the way, the other thing that nobody tells you, is that you have to do it over and over and over and over again. That may be the first time, you’re not going to see this dramatic result. I would love, in the evenings, when I bypass ice cream for my evening snack, that in the morning, I wake up and I get on the scale and it’s five pounds lighter. But that’s not how it works. You don’t just do something once, you do the good deed once, and then you have the result immediately. You have to do it over and over again, and really sort of become a master of relationship tools. So that when the stuff shows up in our relationships, because it’s going to, that you know how to navigate that.

Yes, and there’s a few things that I’m hearing you speak to. It’s perhaps the willingness to try or to be in the experimentation or exploration of new moves or new ways of being. And also, that perhaps even looking at what are the ways in which we’re relating, what are the dynamics, what are the agreements, and how am I participating in that, and can we re-evaluate? Maybe there’s some discontent or longing, that our current way of being isn’t working, and to perhaps do the work to really re-evaluate as well,

For sure. I mean, even if you think about it at a basic level, what we wanted, call it in our 20s and 30s, from an intimate relationship, is going to look and feel very different than what you want in your 40s, 50s, and 60s. It just is. But it’s almost like we think that the day we get married, nothing’s going to change, like we’re flash frozen in time. But if you think about that, that we’re never going to change and what we want today is going to be what we want forever. The reality is, is that when you are single and you’re looking for a partner, what you’re looking for is shared values and common interests. Can I build a life with this person? You’re looking for that stability and security and predictability. But once you have the security, the predictability, then you want: I want to feel more alive, and I want more passion in my life, and I want more things that I’m genuinely interested in that light me up. So when there’s space for that, which is often in our 40s, 50s, and 60s. Because the kids don’t need as much from us, they’re growing up and building their own lives, and now there’s space for us in a new way. 

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“Oftentimes, we’ve grown so disconnected during those years of child-rearing, that now the person sitting across from us feels like a stranger. Because we hadn’t invested in that; we poured all of our love and time and attention and energy into our kids. Our kids are thriving, but now we’re shocked that our marriage is not.”

I don’t care if you’re talking about your bank account, your marriage, or a house plant or a child, you cannot turn your back on it and expect it to thrive. 

Agreed. So how would you coach or support people to initiate a conversation around: “Let’s look at this. We are in a different stage or a different phase in our life. Can we evaluate what’s working and what’s not working?” I mean, how do you support people to have that conversation?

Well, part of what I would share is that you have to begin with regular conversations about, I call it the state of the union, but the state of your union. If you’re not having regular conversations about how are we doing as a couple, which is the foundation of our family, everything you build on top of that is just on top of the foundation. But if the foundation is really built on sand, I’m in Florida so I can use the ocean metaphors, then it starts to shift and starts to not feel good. 

So when my first husband and I were going through challenges, we had a couples’ counselor. One time he told me this, and it just stuck with me all these years later. He said, I have this couple that I’ve been working with for more than a decade now. I’m like, wow, seems like a long time! He said, every year on their anniversary, they say, are we willing to do this another year? They know that every year on their anniversary, they’re going to have that conversation. So they are not just taking each other for granted. They’re showing up for each other every day. So whether it’s a weekly conversation, if you’re in trouble. If the marriage is really struggling, you need to be having weekly conversations about the state of your union. It can be the same sort of predictable conversation every time, where it’s like, where did our relationship feel really good in the last week? Where did it not feel so good for each of us in the last week? Where can we do better, and how can we support each other in a better way? If you’re in a pretty good place, then it’s probably once a month. But if you’re never having those conversations, which is what most couples are; they’re not doing it weekly, they’re not doing it monthly, they’re not doing it yearly. They’re just never having those conversations. So the only time they’re talking about the state of their union is when things are not working. So it always feels like a difficult conversation. So we shy away from it, or we get defensive around it, because it’s really uncomfortable. 

So I want to make the uncomfortable more comfortable. If you’re having it every week, then you’re not going to be as uncomfortable. You know you have a place to bring up all those parking lot issues. You don’t have to have every conversation in the moment when your feelings are all in an upheaval, and you certainly don’t have to wait until you have so many resentments that then you just blow up, because that’s not going to be healthy either.

No. And what we know from the research, it’s not solvable if we’re trying to address multiple things in one conversation. That’s going to feel overwhelming, and thus little progress. Also, the safety. When you’re talking about not having conversations and reaching a place that feels like a real critical point, it can feel extremely threatening, the relationship. And we’re talking about how to tell when your marriage or your relationship is past kind of saving. Like, that’s a certain level of intensity where it’s harder to feel regulated, it’s harder to feel stable to have a real productive conversation, because it’s too threatening.

Yes, it is. It’s a bit of, can I be with this discomfort in the moment so that I can explore what is possible for us and what is not? Because if I’m only here in this relationship because I’m handcuffed to you, is that really the relationship that you want? Or do you want the relationship where you are actively choosing one another every day, even when it’s hard? Because it’s going to be hard. There is no relationship where every day, you wake up, and it just feels easy-breezy. It doesn’t happen. All the fairy tales make us believe that that’s possible. 

But it kind of goes back to what we spoke about at the very beginning, is that we weren’t ever really equipped to do this well. If you want to be a therapist, you’re going to need some tools and training to be successful. If you want to be a doctor, you’re going to need some tools and training. If you’re going to do my taxes, you better have some tools and training, because this pretty face is not going to do well in person. 

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“If we want to be successful at anything, we need tools and training. But we get precious little before we come into relationship, and then we only really seek out answers when we’re really in trouble and now it’s become urgent.”

Yes. Well, Sharon, there’s something you’re saying that I think is important to underscore, and I just want to check it out with you. That is that when the word divorce is brought up, stereotypically, it’s when one is really contemplating the end, or if they’re threatening a relationship in the heat of a moment, it’s a big card to play. One of the things that I’m hearing you really speak to is, can we just recognize and be real, that we always have choice? I mean, that’s part of the other point that you’re wanting to make that divorce is always an option; we’re not handcuffed to each other. So that can we look at are we at a yes, do we want to do this together? That that’s not just some hidden shadow thing that only gets brought up when it’s to assert. I mean, it’s like, we ignore that possibility until we’re forced or our hand is forced. Am I understanding this? 

Yeah, let’s normalize that this can be an option for you. Because everyone wants freedom. If I came and put a pillow over your face, what would you do? You’d probably beat me off, or you’d push. But no one wants a pillow over their face. You want to be in a relationship where it’s like: I’m choosing you, and you’re choosing me. But if at some point, it starts to feel like: Huh, this no longer feels good actively making this decision, or the decision to choose you every day, or where I’m abandoning and betraying myself in the process. Now loving you requires me to not be loving to myself. That’s where we’ve got to start taking a closer look, and then we’ve got to start having these open conversations. 

Because the idea here is not for one person to struggle and struggle and struggle for years, take years to come to this place where they’re now at a decision point and they say: “I don’t see any way forward, we’re all done here.” And your partner has no idea. You took years to come to this place of “and now we’re all done,” and now we expect them to go from 0 to 100 overnight and be able to just get there, and wrap their minds around: “Wait a minute, my marriage is over? I didn’t even know that we were struggling.” A lot of times women will say, they’re like, “But I’ve been telling you. I’ve been saying it.” But the problem is we never got equipped with how to have those difficult conversations. So we say things to our partners, particularly women, because we’re not taught to speak very directly. Men speak much more directly than women do, oftentimes. We don’t have the conversation. Let’s take if your spouse is verbally abusive to you, that’s an easy one.

I would just add; I know you’re genderizing a little bit. But I would just say I’ve many, many clients where the man is the one, in a heterosexual relationship, that is getting to this place or doesn’t feel that it’s safe to have the conversations, because of high reactivity from their spouse. I see this going really both ways. I’m just saying like, I just want to have a voice for that as well. So please use your example, I’m not trying to say it needs to be any particular way. 

Yeah. By the way, in my first marriage, if there was an abusive one, it was me. Because I brought a lot of controlling, get stuff done kind of energy that I needed at work, and I brought that home and I never softened in my marriage. So I know this well, it’s not always the man. 

So we’ll say things to our partner, like I’m not happy. But that sort of takes our happiness and sets it at our partner’s feet, and you’re saying to them: Do something good with this, make this better! But no one can create in your experience. So they don’t know what to do, and a confused mind will always do nothing. So you’re just saying: “I’m not happy, fix it.” But most people don’t even know how to make their own selves happy, much less someone else happy. So we don’t get at what’s real, we don’t get at where are we not connecting? Where do you not feel heard and valued or understood? Where can I do better to help us connect at a different level? Because it’s not really about the chores, or the money, or the superficial stuff that we argue about day to day. It’s always something much deeper underneath there, and we’ve got to get at what that is, which means we’ve got to have real conversations. When we avoid having those real conversations, then eventually one person says: “Oh, I’ve been asking, I’ve been trying.” But have they really? Have they really gotten equipped with relationship tools and tried them over and over again? Have they interrupted their patterns of behavior and the way that they show up? 

Like, if we take my first marriage of where I was bringing a lot of controlling, I would call it stifling energy, where I was in charge of the relationship, and then I grew to not respect him. Because he wouldn’t put his foot down and say: “Look, I’m not going to be treated like that. You can bring that stuff at work, and that might work for you. But you’re not bringing that home.” So that sort of led to some of the crumbling of our relationship. But there’s a lot of sort of Type A ‘get things done’ women who do that, and then it’s not helpful inside of our most intimate relationship, which is the only place where we’re really supposed to be able to soften.

Yes, well, thank you for just giving some recognition around our habits or tendencies. Also, when we make attempts, this is really important, what you’re saying is, so often people feel as though they’re trying. Because one of the things you said at the beginning is, being willing to try new principles, new behaviors, new ways of relating. Yet, many people can think that they are, and we’re not to say or judge around whether or not they have or not. But likely, they’re making a really good attempt to deepen, and they’re taking a huge risk. It’s vulnerable, it’s emotional. Yet, there’s still interference, whether or not the person was confused, the partner was confused and didn’t understand and didn’t know how to prompt a little bit more, or there wasn’t enough safety and enough continuing to flesh that out. Get more specific, what are we talking about? Tell me more about when are you not feeling loved, are you’re not feeling appreciated? Understanding more specifically about the discontent or the not being happy, what’s not working? 

So how do you help people recognize the pattern interrupt? I mean, when we’re in an echo chamber, it’s hard to actually assess really fairly; sometimes we don’t even see what we don’t see, that’s why it’s the unknown. Then also, the second question I have that maybe you could also speak to is, when one is attempting to approach these conversations and the other is dismissing or deflecting, or you spoke about avoidance. I mean, avoidance is a strong tendency for many. So how do you help people? 

Okay, let’s start with the first. Let’s do the first one, and the first one was, how do you interrupt a pattern? So first is you just identify your patterns. So I just create a little circular diagram that they fill in, and it’s very predictable usually, where one person is bringing an issue to light. There’s the dreaded words, “we need to talk,” which is oftentimes how they begin those conversations, which anytime we begin those conversations like that, the other person, we know. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a “we need to talk” conversation, and it’s automatically going to bring up our defenses. Because we know we’re going to be attacked about something, and so now we’re going to get defensive and we’re going to armor up, which means I’m not really going to be able to hear you or receive what you’re offering. 

Then, let’s say that escalates, so they get defensive, and then you try to dig in, and you try to get them to understand it in a different way so that you can feel heard. Then because they’re still defensive, maybe it escalates, and now we’re yelling, or we’re arguing, or if it’s real toxic, it can get into name-calling. “Well, you did this, and now I’m going to blame you. Well, if you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have done this.” So then, nothing ever gets resolved. So it sort of goes in this circular pattern. But at the end, it just trails off into one of us shutting down and giving the other the silent treatment for a few days until it blows over, and then we start talking again, and we ignore it, until it comes up again, and then we have the same pattern over and over again. 

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“So what I teach people is, one of the things you have to do is you get to interrupt that pattern anywhere you want. Because the minute you interrupt it, everything that comes after that is going to change.”

Because all we’re doing is a dance with each other. It’s just a reactive dance; you put something out there, your partner is going to react and respond to that, and then vice versa. So the minute that you change up that behavior, like if we take out the four dreaded words of “we need to talk,” and maybe it’s like: “Hey, I’ve got something important that I want to share with you and just talk to you about. When would be a good time?” Then you set up that time, even if they say now is a good time. If they’re in the middle of something, now is not a good time, particularly for men, because they’re singular-focused. So they focus on one thing at a time, where women, we like to try to do 18 things at a time and think we’re awesome at it. But just as soon as you interrupt that. 

Then let’s say you sit down and you start having that conversation, and you say to your partner: Okay, here’s the topic, let’s say it’s a parenting issue. “Hey, I know you and I don’t see eye to eye on what time Johnny should be home on Saturday night. I’d love to understand your perspective. Can you share that with me? Why do you feel the way that you do?” Then you let them talk. Because most of the time, when we say we need to talk, what we really mean is: “I need you to sit down, shut up, and listen to me, because I’ve got some things I want to say to you.” That’s why it never goes well. But if you just let your partner speak first, there’s probably some reason they see it the way they do. If you get curious about why they see it the way they do, assume you’re not married to an idiot and there’s some reason for it, and you just really listen and want to understand. It doesn’t mean you even have to change your mind or you have to agree with it. But don’t you want to understand where they’re coming from? Then the whole conversation goes very, very differently. So that’s how you can interrupt a pattern, just identify what the pattern is. Know where you are, first of all, so identify what is the pattern. Then realize you can change it, and everything that comes after it just through choosing one area and interrupting that one place.

If I were the person in this scenario that was leading hot previously, and then trying a new approach, a softer approach, the part of me, maybe I’ll just make it up. That I come in hot because I don’t think I’m going to get listened to, or I don’t get attention until I get loud. So if I try the new behavior, and I’m softer in my startup, there’s perhaps some self-reassuring around like: “I do want to feel heard, and I do want to feel attended to. I’ll experiment with this too.” Even just your first thing like, how do we know if our relationship is worth saving? Like, we don’t maybe know until we explore and get new information. But if I start with that soft startup, and my partner is not responding, and I really try to help them see what’s underneath around: “This part of me really needs you, and I haven’t always been responded to, and I want to do it in a soft way because I want to consider you and care about you in this. And I really need to feel you respond or hear me.” So we start to build some new muscle memory around, I get attention even when I do the soft startup. That’s another version of the pattern interrupt.

Well, every one of us has been to, let’s call it like a public speaking engagement, where someone is on a stage and they’re talking, and inevitably, half the audience is on their phone looking at Facebook or Instagram or something like that. They know that if they want to keep your attention, they might just pause, or they might start to whisper. Then what happens is that everybody looks up. Because they’re like, wait, what’s happening? 

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“If you want to be heard, you’re going to be heard so much better when you go quiet. You get calm and you go quiet, as opposed to bringing rage and anger and yelling.”

Like, when you’re on the receiving end of that, your whole nervous system is going into fight or flight. So you’re not actually hearing them better. So the idea that if I yell, I’m going to be heard more is not true. It’s just that it’s a complete falsification, it’s just not true. You’re going to be heard better when people’s nervous systems are calm.

Yes, thank you for just speaking into that. Well, I’m really aware that there’s so much possibility around having a different experience when we can approach these conversations, and we can make room and space and safety for them, lead with that curiosity, really seek to understand, and really build off of it, get the iteration. It’s not going to happen, like we’re not going to solve everything in one 40-minute conversation. So what about the people that are experiencing a real disengagement or withdrawn from the relationship, whether or not their partner is? They’re trying to initiate these conversations, and one person is not really that responsive? Because you are stating, how do you know when your relationship is over or not worth really continuing?

If you’ve genuinely given it that effort to see that the behavioral changes from my partner, it can’t evolve to a new place. This is who he or she is, and they’re not going to change, and that is a deal breaker for me. Because first, you have to know yourself. This is about what are things that are genuine deal breakers for you, versus, I’d like to have that. Because we’ve gotten to a place in our marriages where we look to our marriage to be the end-all-be-all. Like, as we walk down the aisle, congratulations, you are now the person through which I need to feel both security and passion, and you need to be my strong rock, and you need to be driven yourself and have your own. 

And be vulnerable and express your fears. 

Exactly, you are now responsible for everything about how I want to feel in my life. As opposed to just realizing that, for instance, I get challenged from being an entrepreneur and building a business. I don’t need my husband to challenge me. Some people are like, I want to be challenged in my relationship. I don’t need that. I get that need met somewhere else. So first, you have to know yourself. But when you can go, it really cannot evolve to a new version, then you can just go: “You know what, we just really want different things.” Maybe it’s as simple as I want someone who’s actively engaged in our relationship, because that’s how I’m showing up. We can’t expect our partner to do something that we are not willing to do. So you can’t just sit back and go: “Well, I need him to do this, or I need her to do that.” But you’re not showing up with that energy. But if you’re actively showing up and investing in your relationship, and your partner just will not do that, then that is some really important valuable information for yourself to make a conscious choice about can this relationship ever feel the way that I want my most intimate relationship to feel, and can that be okay? 

Yeah. The thing I’m wondering, too, as we’re talking is, how much time do you give or encourage people to give this? Because sometimes when things are at a critical place, some individuals need a little time to reflect and get clear; they’re not always clear, and they can’t answer that question right away. Or they’re confronted with this deal breaker, and they’re like, well, is this something we can work together on? Is there a way that we can find a win-win in this or even a compromise? But when things are already so fraught and disconnected sometimes, I don’t know, how much space do you encourage people to give this? 

So I don’t think that there’s a one answer for every single person. After you’ve given it six months, then you’re good. Or after you’ve given it a year, then you’re good. Because it’s such a personal decision, and you’re the only one that has to live with your decision. But I will tell you, I was coaching a woman a few weeks ago who’s relationship was pretty far gone. She was actively involved in an affair, and she wanted to want her marriage, but she didn’t actually want it. But she felt like, how can I walk away without ever knowing that I gave it a real shot? And she had two little ones at home. So for them, where we landed was that she was like, look, I’m going to give this 60 days, which 60 days is not a long time now. But it was better than zero days, and here’s what it does. 

So when you put a date on the calendar, and you can say it’s 60 days, let’s just take that as a point of reference. 60 days, I’m not going to make any decision in the next 60 days. That’s what’s going to take the chatter out of her mind. Because if you’re in indecision about your marriage, you’re thinking about it every single day. Am I in? Am I out? The first time you screw up, you’re like: See, it’s not going to work, I’m out of here. Then we’re so reactive. I want to take that off the table for some period of time. Now in 60 days, on that day 60, she can go back and she can look and go, let’s look at the body of work. Let’s look at all the things, not just one day, one moment in time. Let’s look at where we were versus where we are now. Do I have some renewed hope? Has something in my heart change towards my husband that wasn’t there before? Then I can push it and I can say: All right, I’m going to give it another 60 days. Or I don’t have any renewed hope, this is probably not going anywhere, and now I can feel more at peace with my decision. So it’s a little bit of put a date on the calendar so that you get out of the mind chatter of every single day ping-ponging back and forth, and going, I’m not going to make any decision until that date. Then on that date, I can choose to do another 60 days or another six months. Like, you get to choose. It’s your choice all the way through.

In the example that you’re sharing, did the husband know, and was he actively engaging and trying to have a different experience? Or was she doing this more for herself?

He was actively engaged and trying to have a different experience, but he did not know about the affair. So he was very confused. Like, why would you not want to give our relationship? Because he’s wanting to go to therapy, and he’s wanting to do things, and he doesn’t understand why now she’s not willing to try, because he doesn’t have all the information about what’s going on.

Okay, thank you. Well, I know our time is limited. Do you want to speak to the other point of why divorce should always be on the table? I know we referenced it a little bit, but I’m sure you have more to say here. 

I do. So I believe that divorce should always be an option on the table. The reason for that is because if divorce is never an option no matter what, then you have no ability to set healthy and loving boundaries for yourself inside of a relationship. So if we take some of the examples that we’ve already used, where let’s say that your partner is always getting defensive, never taking any accountability, and you just don’t feel like you’re able to have productive conversations about the struggles in your marriage. Well, you can bring that up to them. But if divorce is not even an option, then you can cry about it, you can rage about it, you can beg for change. But ultimately, there is no other option. So if we’re either going to accept it and live with it, which means we suffer in silence, or we accept it and we fight about it and argue about it and rage against it, which means we suffer out loud. But either way we’re suffering. Because we’re not clear that divorce is an option, we’re just choosing to not see it as an option. Dr. Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Intimacy, she has a quote in there that says: “If you cannot live without your marriage, you cannot function inside of it.” Essentially, what she’s saying is that you have no ability to set healthy boundaries for yourself. So if you don’t have any boundaries, and you have no deal breakers, then you’re just going to continue to suffer, whether it’s silently or out loud. 

Yes, and I was just feeling as you were describing, we’re talking about divorce in more of an absolute. But there’s a continuum here of having the freedom, as you’ve mentioned, the dance between intimacy and autonomy, or closeness and separateness. That we can choose, I am going to spend time in this other way that nurtures me, and I will find another time to be together. Or that I’m going to set limits and boundaries around I’m not going to participate in this argument. I’m not going to be yelling back and forth. So there’s places to set a boundary and there’s a sense of agency. So on a continuum, we’re saying no in smaller ways. 

Yes, and it has to start small. You have to have those conversations of I’m not willing to sit here and be yelled at, so we’re going to take a break. There’s your first-level boundary. But if it continues to be overstepped, then you’ve got to amp it up. 

Free Happy young Black couple sitting on comfortable sofa with cushions and stroking adorable dog while spending time together in living room Stock Photo

“The nature of boundaries is that there are consequences. Because the reality of our lives is, if you’re an adult, everyone gets to do whatever they want to do. They do. People hate that. They hate that answer. But they get to live with the outcome of their choices.”

So if you’re setting clear and healthy boundaries, and your partner continues to override those boundaries and ignore those boundaries, well, that’s on you now. 

And you have other levels of how you can take care of yourself. Because that’s the thing with a boundary is there’s things that you have control over, and to your point, if you don’t have that control or agency, then you’re limited in your ability to take action or for your sense of self.

Yes, one of my favorite quotes is: “You are so free, you can choose bondage.” You can choose to be imprisoned. You can choose to suffer. But it’s all in your mind. It’s all what you make it. So in our minds, if we’re like divorce is never an option, then there will be more suffering involved than maybe is necessary. Because if you both know that, like we started at the beginning, if you both come into it knowing that we are choosing one another until we choose to not choose each other, well, then we’re going to show up very differently in that kind of relationship. We’re not going to be taking each other for granted. We’re not going to be treating each other poorly or in an abusive way or in a demeaning way or a disrespectful way. We’re just not going to do that kind of behavior, because that’s the agreement of what we show up with.

Yes. I want to also be clear that we’re not talking about threatening our partner with divorce to leverage, that’s very different. 

Yes. People in their shortcut mentality are like, okay, she’s saying just threaten divorce, and now I’ll get my needs met, then he’ll do what I want him to. No, my friends. No, that’s manipulation, that’s not divorce we’re talking about. Boundaries are not manipulation. Boundaries are honest conversations about really what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.

And that you’re going to take an action. It’s not about your partner’s action. It’s something you’re going to do to take care of your limit.

It’s me taking care of me. It’s not me controlling you. 

Okay, thank you. I just wanted to be clear.

No, it’s good to point that out.

Okay. Well, for people who are engaging with what you’re describing, and want to perhaps connect with you, what would you like to share with how people might be able to engage with you further?

I would suggest that they go to StayOrGoBook.com. That’s my book. It has sold more than 300,000 copies, and it’s helped a tonne of people. So it’s StayOrGoBook.com.

Okay, and what would they find on that website?

On the website, they’re going to be able to download my book. So I’ve written nine of them, but honestly, I think this is the best of all time. It’s so, so good, and so helpful, and that will help. It’s called Stay or Go? How to Find Confidence and Clarity So You Can Fix Your Marriage, or Move Forward Without Regret. So it’s how to think about and come to that decision. So it’s sort of a long version of what we’ve just spoken about.

Excellent. Thank you so much for all that you’ve given us and shared with us here today.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a great conversation.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching