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Why People Divorce: The Breakdown that Precedes the Breakup

Rachel Alexander May 2, 2016

{4:12 minutes to read} As a divorce mediator, I’m often asked: Why do people get divorced? What went wrong? Money issues? Infidelity? Grew apart?

Financial stress and diverging values around money certainly strain a marriage. It’s also safe to say infidelity neither strengthens trust nor solidifies relationships. But my working hypothesis is that, usually, there are certain other things that deteriorate first.

Query: What makes a marriage fail? What makes a relationship thrive?

R-e-s-p-e-c-t—find out what it means to both of you!

A word about respect. For our purposes, I would distinguish respect from admiration and define respect as the acknowledgment of and interest in the other person’s separateness. The other person is neither an extension of us nor a manifestation of what we would have them be. The other is an entirety unto him/herself.

We need to step back a bit to fully see each other, the way we would to take in the architectural details of a tall building. We create a little space between ourselves and the structure, tilt our heads upward, and aim to see exactly what is there. When we are approaching something with “interested curiosity” (a term I’ve encountered in training at The Focusing Institute), with the intention of understanding and seeing it clearly as it is, there is an inherent regard for the other. It is both distinct from you and important, entitled to its own existence without imposition or interference. With objects, of course, it’s easier. With people, the way we can operationalize this concept is in how we make room for the other person and how we pay attention to what is important to them. Some examples:

  • She really likes a lot of order and neatness, so I straighten up the bedroom before I leave;

  • It’s important to him that we have dinner at the same time each day. It seems to relax him, so I’ve organized my schedule to accommodate this;

  • He likes to make a big mess when he cooks, and it drives me nuts, so I garden until he calls out that it’s time to eat;

  • She isn’t really herself until she has her first cup of coffee; I program the coffee machine before I go to bed so it’s brewed when she gets up.

When we accommodate one another’s idiosyncrasies and preferences, we practice making a kind space for who our partner actually is. We metaphorically scooch over on the back seat and invite them to sit beside us for the ride.

To understand these examples as “being nice” or “mannerly” misses the point. There is something important occurring underneath—an implicit nodding towards the other, an acceptance of who that person is, an interest in what they need, and a willingness to be with them without judgment or suggestion for improvement. The message of “unconditionalness” and interest is profound. It could be the lifeblood of intimacy. An appreciation of the other is being practiced.

When we gift this to those we love, we help create a place where they can be fully themselves. Not only do relationships flourish when partners create this environment, the individuals are supported to develop into full expressions of themselves.

The next articles will continue to explore the primary ingredients of a good relationship and what has soured when a marriage collapses.