The best break-up I ever heard about was a couple I knew in law school. “Ken” and “Sarah” had been dating for 5 years. They had moved out West and bought a house together after college graduation. Both far from their families, they were each other’s best friends and surrogate family. In time, they began growing apart from each other. The idea of breaking up and losing their connection to each other probably terrified them both. So, they stayed together as though they were still “in a relationship,” when they really were not anymore. Over time, it began to deteriorate even the friendship.
One weekend they were on a camping trip back East with a large group of old friends. It was as much fun as they had had together in months. Early that Sunday morning, they woke up in their tent together, both in a good mood knowing they were going to step out of the tent to share breakfast over a fire with dear friends. Just before stepping out, Sarah stopped Ken. They held hands for a moment, and smiled together. She said, “right now – while we are happy and still friends – let’s break up.”
And they did. They didn’t tell anyone that moment; everyone enjoyed the rest of the trip together. As soon as they got back home they started dividing assets and personal belongings, and carefully, gently, dismantling their lives. Sarah finished school the following year and moved out of the house. A year or two after that, Ken sold the house and sent Sarah her share of the profit. They were fortunate to each dance at each other’s weddings in the years that followed.
I have clients who have told me they decided on a divorce while hiking the Appalachian Trail together. I have had clients who cried and held each other’s hands on the witness stand during their divorce hearing, because they wanted to take care of each other and just not be married anymore.
Frequently, partners get into a pattern in which they only think about divorce while there is high drama. Fighting, yelling, or even just ignoring each other, can make spouses say, “That’s it! I need a divorce!” In fact, that is probably when they least need a divorce. What they need at that moment is a time out and a deep breath.
A divorce is what you need when you can sanely, calmly, and rationally look at your marriage and know that you will both be better off when it is over. As soon as you can envision a better life for yourself, your spouse, and your children post-divorce. Then you know it is time to begin that process. And that is the process which will include everyone taking care of each other’s needs, not just their own.
What We Love: Smart timing and common courtesy can help people preserve the respect and admiration that brought them together in the first place while carefully dismantling the pieces which no longer work.