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Being the Victim in the Divorce

             When your spouse or significant other is the one who initiates the divorce or separation and you want to stay married, a great many emotions will wash over you.  Among them is fear, anger, and helplessness.  You may also feel humiliation, guilt and shame at being left.  A common reaction is to seek support from your community. This is often a time when it is easy to lash out at your spouse and make him or her responsible for the situation.

When a significant relationship breaks up, the parties go through the same sort of grieving process that you experience when a spouse or significant other dies.  Mental health professionals think that grieving a divorce or break-up of a long term relationship is more difficult.  The difference is that the spouse/significant other is still alive.  There can be hope that the relationship can be repaired.  Usually, there will be an on-going relationship, meaning that you will have to find a way to deal with this person in the future.

The definition of why people divorce that makes the most sense to me is that the marriage or the relationship was not working for one party; the one who leaves the marriage/relationship.  This is not the fault of the other party.  It means that the relationship no longer works for one of you.  The reason that divorce or breakups can be so difficult is that the relationship was working for the other party.  The parties are emotionally in very different places and want very different things.

The courts, lawyers and professionals who work with divorcing or separating couples want to assist people in working through their emotions and developing a plan to get on with their lives.  From the professional perspective, the marriage/relationship has broken down, regardless of whose fault it is.  As people work through their grief, they generally come to recognize the difficulties in the relationship that they could not see while they were content in their committed relationship.

Often the most difficult divorces or separations are those where one party cannot move beyond feeling like the victim.  Victims also refuse to accept that their relationship with their spouse had deteriorated over the years.  They shift the blame for the marriage/relationship breaking up to just the other spouse.  As the victims, they are not required to adjust to the new situation.  Instead, in their minds, it is the leaving spouse’s responsibility to “fix” the situation. Parties in victim mode often impede the negotiation process.

They will not take responsibility for making the necessary changes to help them and their children adjust to the changed living situation.  Sometimes they block necessary changes.  They may demand that the leaving spouse continue to support the family at the same level as they had during the marriage.  They refuse to accept the reality that the level of income that supported their family in one home cannot support their family at the same level in two homes.  Rather than accept that they will have to add to the family income if they wish to retain their life style, they demand that their spouse find more money than they can earn.  Victims sometimes refuse to leave the marital home that they cannot afford to sustain.  In severe cases, victims can attempt to turn the children against the leaving spouse to coerce the leaving spouse to provide more money or property.

Frequently, early in the break-up, victims gain quite a lot of sympathy.  However, those who support them will become tired of their helplessness over time.  Most of the support network knows that life is full of adversity.  Healthy people need to adjust to the downturns.

The support network, including lawyers, judges, mental health professionals and financial advisors are trying to assist people who divorce move forward in a productive way.  The professionals understand the grieving process and that it takes time to work through these emotions.  They also understand that each party’s grieving process is different.  When their efforts to help in constructive ways are continually met with resistance and opposition, and statements like, “It’s his fault.  Why do the children and I have to move from our home, change our lives, down scale, etc?” or “I hate her for putting me in the position,” the support network will lose patience and the support can erode.  Victims can close all options for negotiating a settlement and leave one option for completing the divorce; court.  In the court, judges sometimes put victims in the situation of having to make some very difficult choices, in order to move them forward.  If the victim will not participate in the process, the judge will make the decisions for him/ her.

If you are working with strong professionals, they are trying to help you recognize your strengths and the tools you have to help you adjust to your new situation.  The best way to deal with the divorce/break-up is to accept that while its a terrible blow, you will get through this. Rely on your positive support network to help you fashion a new life, which in the future can be happier and more satisfying than the relationship that broke up, if you let it.

The courts and professionals want to help you look forward.  Getting stuck in the victim mode, means you are looking back.  Please consider which is bigger; the rear view mirror or the wind shield?  Once you make progress on your grieving process, you will find it is easier to look forward.  Doing so will permit you to make your own choices, rather than having change imposed on you.



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