Why Everyone Should Get Divorced Before Marriage.

Via Alyssa Royse
on Mar 12, 2013
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“The worst marriages are the ones that aren’t bad enough to end.”

I’m pretty sure we were at a cocktail party of some sort when a friend of ours, who’s a therapist, uttered that ominous phrase.

Neither my husband nor I looked at each other. I think we both probably looked at our own feet, or toward some safe and seductive horizon.

But who were we kidding? Our adamant avoidance bore through each other’s souls, nonetheless.

We were neither happy, nor unhappy. Neither in love, nor in hate. We had neither joy nor anger. The fibers of habit that kept us together were in a slow decay that looked admirable from the outside…and outright terrifying in the deepest parts of our souls. The parts we couldn’t look at even with an obtuse gaze.

We were in a marriage that was not bad enough to end.

Don’t get me wrong.

We were genuinely fond of each other. Loved each other dearly. Respected each other enormously. Still, the absence of passion, desire, and shared interests grated on both of us daily. Like a microplaner contributes the subtle addition of flavor to an otherwise bland but palatable dish.

She didn’t know she was talking about us.

But we both did.

One of our problems was that neither one of us were the type to do anything that would make it bad enough to end. Neither one of us are particularly cruel, or selfish, or manipulative. While we both fight our demons and bad habits, we truly did put our family—and certainly our daughter—first. We had no idea how to end a basically good marriage that neither one of us wanted to be in any more.

We both wanted really different things than we did when we got married. And than each other wanted.

We had simply grown in different directions.

In some ways, I see that as the hallmark of a good relationship. We did indeed nourish each other’s growth as individuals. But we grew in different ways. Even as we grew, the relationship itself stagnated.

A few things did happen that made it obvious that something had to give.

Nothing to write a film about or anything, but we both started taking jabs at the relationship to see if we could kill it. Still not at each other. Petulant peccadillos like not doing what we said we would, or agreeing to do things we didn’t want to so that we could later hold it against the other person. But really, it was the relationship we were trying to kill. Trying to make it bad enough to end.

Photo: UnBreakUp.com
Photo: UnBreakUp.com

Anyone versed in microagressions will recognize this as the common pattern of people who are unhappy and don’t know why. I mean, what did we have to be unhappy about? We had a nice house, a great kid, ostensibly great spouses.

But we were unhappy, because we were doing everything we thought we were supposed to, we were doing everything right, and still didn’t feel that thing. That thing that makes you greet each day with excitement and curiosity. That thing that makes you want to tear off each other’s clothes and see what new treasure awaits you that wasn’t there the last time you explored the topography of a lover’s flesh.

We had checked every box on the “This is the Good Life” checklist, and were not happy. We felt cheated by the myth of Happily Ever After. Ever After was seeming like a very long time without the “Happily” part. Longevity, which is the thing we celebrate in this culture, was starting to seem like a sentence more than a celebration.

I didn’t want him to touch me when we slept. I didn’t want to touch the underwear that landed somewhere near, but not in, the laundry basket. I didn’t want him to see me naked in case he would want to touch me, which I didn’t want. And I felt terrible about it because I loved him, I wanted to make him happy.

But I wasn’t in love any more, and knew that I was making him miserable. He knew the same things about himself.

Eventually things added up. It was bad enough to end.

It took us a few years to get there. But we successfully killed the relationship, slowly. And for the most part we did it without hating each other. We agreed it had to end, and the moment we said that, things got better. We actually smiled at each other, a lot.

We also fought a little bit, not much. At one point, in one of our more fighty moments, he came as close as he ever did to yelling at me and basically said, “What took you so long? Why didn’t you leave me years ago?”

Because I loved him. I was selfish. I didn’t want to lose him. I didn’t realize, in the fog of a dying relationship, that I could love him, let the relationship change, and still not lose him.

The only break-ups I had seen modeled for me had been bitter and angry and filled with loss and then great distance. I didn’t want that.

Also, I didn’t want to hurt him. I let myself believe that leaving him would hurt him. That he would be sad to see me go. I managed to not see the much more obvious truth, which is that losing something that makes you unhappy is not a loss to mourn. It is, rather, an opportunity to freely find happiness. If we loved each other as much as we thought we did, we should want that for each other.

We were both sad. Really, we were. But during a long walk along Lake Washington I told him that I had realized there is nothing sad about getting rid of something that hurts you. Maybe we ought to try and look at this as a very positive thing.
That worked. Not easily, but it did work.

It was tough to sell that to outsiders, however, even though we meant it. We came to truly see it that way. But still, we would tell people that we were divorcing and they would step away, as if it was contagious, and utter a low and slow “I’m so sorry.” “Don’t be,” we’d say. “We got rid of something that was hurting us, now we can go find happiness.”

They would step away slowly. That was five years ago.

I learned more about marriage in the process of divorcing him than I did from being married.

It makes me think that maybe we need to get divorced first, in order to know how to be married.

Divorce2Or at least go through the process.

In the state of Washington, getting divorced is quite a process. They make you define every tiny detail of your divorce, of how your relationship will work once you’re no longer married. And if you have kids, every tiny detail has to be accounted for and etched in stone.

Why did no one make us do this before we got married? Before we had a kid? Honestly, that might have changed everything. The process of getting divorced is a perfect how-to guide for marriage. It forces you to think about the things that we don’t think about.

We like to think that marriage is about love. After all, that’s why many—if not most—of us do it. We fall in love, get high on love and, in that totally high state, embark on a lifelong contract that will dictate our every move, whether we see that as benevolent or not. We get married for love, but marriage is about dealing with one concrete reality after another. Divorce does a fabulous job of making that crystal clear.

First order of business was dividing up assets.

Whatever. This was easy for us. But I couldn’t help but think about the many ways this could be used before you get married to make sure you’re on the same page about how to spend money. Do you both agree that a big-screen TV is important? Why? How do you plan to use it? Do you both agree that a $20,000 ring set is important? Why? What else could you do with that money? How about cars? Is it important to you to have new cars, or just cars that run?

I think about the fact that my ex-husband and I shared a car until we split up, because he rode a bike everywhere and having two cars seemed wasteful. My future husband drives a 25-year-old Subaru that’s held together with magical thinking and duct tape. I fell in love with him, in part, for that car. We have the same values.

Next in the divorce process, dividing up debt.

Super easy for us—we have none. We shared that value as well. But across the country, people are drowning in consumer debt. I don’t mean mortgages, student loans and medical debt (which are hideous in their own right, but marginally more legit than debt from buying “stuff” you don’t really need). Are you and your future spouse on the same page when it comes to how much debt is acceptable? And for what?

Money is the largest source of strife in most marriages. And to a large degree, I personally believe that you can tell what a person values by how they choose to spend their money. Talking about how you agree to spend your communal cash is a great way to find out if your value systems are aligned. Write it up, before you get divorced.

Then there’s the future.

Getting divorced also means you look at things like retirement savings, and how they get divided. We never even really talked about this. When we met and married, we were both working. I made as much, and eventually more, than he did. But when we had a baby, I stopped working and cared for a child full time, largely because putting her in daycare cost almost as much as I was making. But we didn’t necessarily think about the fact that, as a result, all of “our” retirement money was being made by him.

When you get divorced, this gets divided up too. So, talking about it when you’re still planning a future together makes way more sense than just ignoring it. Again, are you on the same page? Does this division of responsibility work for both of you?

And then, there’s the kids.afamily

The process of divorce in Washington State means planning out every single (goddamned) carpool between now and the time your kid leaves home. We had to divide up hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year.

We had to submit a parenting plan that made my head hurt to show who was responsible for what and how we were each making sure that the other parent got their needs met. Looking at in that kind of scientific light made crystal clear the work that is parenting.

I’ll admit, we just wrote something down to make the judge happy. We hated doing it because we get along so damned well, and are so committed to our daughter having solid relationships with both of us that the whole thing seemed silly. I mean, who needs this?

The answer came when we took the court-ordered parenting seminar that’s required if you have kids and want to get divorced. One tale after another of parents using their children as weapons against their spouse. As punishment and reward for conforming to their expectations. As proof of one thing or another.

When all they were really proving was that they had no idea how to have a functional relationship with each other.

What if they had to do this seminar, and fill out a parenting plan, before having kids, and not after.

I know, it makes no sense to say we need to get divorced before we get married, but….

I don’t know.

If I were in charge, I just might make people do it anyway. Make people go through the piles of paperwork that force you to look at what it really takes to be married. To run a household together. To build a future together. To raise children together.

Even if you did all of that before getting married, it’s still a fraction of the planning that goes into planning a wedding, and that only lasts one day.

And I need to get on that, because now that I’ve gone through this divorce, I’m getting married again, very soon.

Like elephant love on facebook.

Ed: Lynn Hasselberger


About Alyssa Royse

Alyssa Royse is a hot mama in her 40s raising a teenage daughter and two young step-daughters. She’s a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and PR hack who is now working entirely to promote healthy sexual freedom for all humans—because sexual agency is a human right, and also an important part of health and wellness. A popular speaker and guest writer, she can be found most often on her eponymous blog, AlyssaRoyse.com and as the co-host of the weekly radio show Sexxx Talk Radio on The Progressive Radio Network. (Downloads available on both prn.fm and iTunes.) When she’s not thinking and writing about sex, she’s generally playing with her big, queer, bi-racial family, traveling, reading or at the CrossFit gym sweating. Yes, she would probably love to come speak at your conference, or write something for you, contact info is on her blog.


59 Responses to “Why Everyone Should Get Divorced Before Marriage.”

  1. solfulsoul says:

    I want to share this with others, but elephantjournal is a little too riske for some of my audiences…

  2. jillianlocke says:

    I love your honesty. This is a beautifully raw, clear piece. Coming from a heritage where the marriage success rate is literally 1%, this rings LOUD and true.

    And it also breathes new life into my own situation – my boyfriend of four years and I are watching as our friends get married, have kids, etc., while we…don't. Because we don't want to, and we're perfectly happy with that decision. Instead, he's been my rock as I birth my new business and start a new path, and we're both working through growing pains and new realms of maturity by just coming to understand what it means to be in a real, healthy relationship. What it means to experience real love, real trust, real support…learning what true love actually is (and it's not the size of our house or the conglomeration of our possessions, like it is for some of our not-so-happy married friends). We're learning what it means to be imperfect and go against the grain. What it means to be true to ourselves amidst the pressures of our peers, and to know what it is to always have each other to come back to when the going gets rough and the future seems unclear.

    Again, thank you for this beautiful piece <3

  3. Giraffe says:

    What bothers me about comments like this is that the idelaistic hope still burns alive… people still want it all. The reliability, security, familiarity and comfort from having a life-long partner, best friend, someone to care for you when you're seriously ill, your body is failing, or when shit hits life, and vice versa. Yet people aren't happy without the passion, the desire, the curiosity that comes with the early days of any relationship. Marriage seems to be viewed as something that will freeze-frame the feelings held for one another on the wedding day, and when the reality of life gets in the way, and the domestic supersedes the erotic, people get unhappy and leave. What about being other-centred, and acknowledging the reality that we need partners and people we can depend upon, lovingly, and that probably half the world's population would look on Americans and their divorce rates with utter bafflement – always chasing something different, new, fresh, exciting, never content with the familiar and the routine. What this article seems to say is 'I wanted someone different to love, even though there was nothing wrong with this one, and so did he. We were bored with one another and we told ourselves our lives were no longer compatible because we wanted different things.' A lovely home, a healthy daughter, and great careers each wasn't enough?

  4. Thank you for this. I wish I had read it five years ago or so and saved myself some time, but I had to learn it the hard way. I believe that letting go of someone who I don't hate—yet don't love—was one of the hardest and most important things I've done in my adult life. I hope that there are those who see themselves in your story and save themselves a few years of being not quite alive. xo

  5. Carolyn says:

    This is probably the most real I've read in a long time regarding relationships. Love can be elusive and it certainly changes. It can grow deeper or not. Sometimes the deepness is a huge chasm that will never close. It happens. Thank you for having the courage to share your story, wisdom, humor and realness!!! xxoo

  6. ehassman says:

    I love this perspective. I got divorced about 4 years ago (something I've written about here before) and it has made me an infinitely better wife in my 2nd marriage. I never thought of it in quite these words, though.

    I felt so trapped in a relationship where I was unhappy, but on paper it didn't look bad enough to warrant ending. Some of that guilt still plagues me occasionally. I think this perspective will help that. Thank you :)

  7. Sara Plummer says:

    This is beyond fantastic. Clear, helpful, non complicated. Forwarding. Just fantastic. Thank you!!

  8. trendtranslator says:

    Interesting to hear your experience and I appreciate you sharing it. I can see that you ended up in a happier place with another marriage but I don't think that people should divorce just because the passion of the early years has waned. Marriages go through changes, like people do.

    I don't think one should compare one's marriage to the ideal marriage in your imagination but instead your current marriage to the prospects of living alone and what it might mean to be a single parent. This could bring a feeling of liberation or be terrifying. Being single has a lot of downsides that seem to be forgotten when some people consider divorce. Sometimes people are just looking for a change and don't realize the loneliness, pressure and financial strain that can come from a divorce.

    I'm not against divorce if differences are irreconcilable. But the situation you described just sounded like a marriage that needed to be rejuvenated, not thrown away. I'm not speaking about your marriage, specifically, just ones like you described.

  9. Monkey says:

    When I read this article I noticed myself thinking about something else I have heard about this kind of stale relationship being a rite of passage. That it is difficult to find that passion-filled, true expression of deep partnership without first experiencing the program of 'marriage'.

  10. Gerry Ellen says:

    I have had two marriage "contracts" that were integral parts of my journey thus far. Both ended the way they ended. One amicable (financially and mentally); the other one, a bit more hostile and tougher on the heart. Navigating through life with a partner at any stage of life is quite a process. Kudos to you for opening yourself up to the readers re. your journey. People change, life plans change, we grow up, we grow apart, we move on….it's actually quite a beautiful process because it's all part of the blueprint of our souls. Noting forgiveness and love keeps it all real. There are no rules. It is your life, your choices. All good. Great article!

  11. Jodeen says:

    Beautiful article. I have walked this story. Was married for over 20 years, had a daughter. We were seen as the dream couple from the outslde and even at our worst we had a better marriage than most anyone I know. Loved each other very, very much but I was no longer in love and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I felt like such an ungrateful asshole. It took 5 years to be able to make the split and another 2 before divorce papers were signed. He is a dear man, and we have put our daughter and our parenting at the forefront of every decision we made and it dictated how we dealt with the entire situation. Utter grace, respect. love. We are on such good terms and our daughter is amazing. I recently went through a bout with breast cancer and he put together a Gofundme campaign to help with my expenses. He is remarried. I had a powerful love in my life the last 4 years, and he and I have just parted ways as well. Maintaining our friendship and honoring how much we love each other even as we are in very different places in our lives. On different paths. I feel so blessed to have loved these men and to have parted on such good and strong terms. I look forward to what is next.

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  13. Kriya Yoga says:

    "We were neither happy nor unhappy. Neither in love nor in hate. We had neither joy nor anger. The fibers of habit that kept us together were in the slow decay that looked admirable from the outside and outright terrifying in the deepest parts of our souls. The parts we could look at even with an obtuse gaze.

    We were in a marriage that was not bad enough to end."

    That's what we call "first world problems".

    My god, you people are so "un-haaaaaaaapy" because you have so much that you don't appreciate all of it.

    "And I need to get on that, because now that I’ve gone through this divorce, I’m getting married again, very soon."

    But of course! Another first world problem. And you'll probably end up "un-haaaaaaapy" again. And divorced again.

  14. Auki says:

    Perhaps all married folks can benefit from having a first or "practice" marriage to knock off the rough edges and learn valuable lessons in the art of marriage. The author of this article does come off as rather self-absorbed. On the other hand, I understand what she is getting at. My wife and I are both in our second marriage and have been happy for over fifteen years. We are quite grateful for the treasure trove of valuable lessons we each learned in our first (or practice) marriages. :)

  15. Nina says:

    I have believed for years that getting married should be as hard as getting divorced. I absolutely think that before couples could be issued a marriage certificate that they should be required to sit down with someone and asked certain questions about how they will deal with things like finances, child rearing, where to live, pets, etc. and they should answer these questions anonymously then sit together to discuss their answers and decide if they should still get married. Most relationships will get stagnant, not all, but most. I also believe marrying too young is a big part of the divorce problem. As we grow, our ideals change, what we want changes and some of us grow up and some don't. I thought I was a very mature 19 year old when I got married. I felt that anyone could make a marriage work if they work at it. Should be that way but when your spouse is just an unhappy person and no matter that they work and they don't cheat, don't abuse, living with an unhappy person isn't easy. Had we waited until we were older to marry things might have been a little different. We are still friends but he struggles financially and I am a single mom who owns her own home and two cars. We definitely took different paths in life.

  16. Kriya Yoga says:

    " We are still friends but he struggles financially and I am a single mom who owns her own home and two cars. "

    Does he pay any alimony or child support? Many men are broke because of those.

  17. Rachel G. says:

    I keep re-reading this amazing article. I'm 31 and used to be a commitment-phobe; I have never had a relationship that has lasted longer than 1 year. I feel very ready to settle down at this point (and my biological clock is ticking so loudly it's deafening.) I'm dating a sweet, wonderful man who would make a fantastic husband and father– but I have random, recurring doubts already. Unfortunately, I can't tell yet if this is self-sabotage? Or my gut telling me that he's not the right fit for me, long term? I'm open to this relationship becoming a successful life partnership. Any advice on how to see signs, or just tolerate my own over-active, fear-based imagination?

    And to all the haters in these comments: happiness is, in fact, what it's all about. Even if it means a major change of plans. I commend the author for her clarity and calm in what could have been a very bad storm.

    Thanks for sharing! So grateful :)

  18. KrisW says:

    I love articles like these. No matter how persuasive I can be, some guy's don't get the message that society merely regards them as a means to an end. That most women are incapable of commitment and basic human empathy with anyone other than other women and girls. Granted most young guy's get the message from the public school system, but there are still some who fall through the cracks and never see how misandrist our society is. So again, I thank you for helping to make it easier to reach them.

  19. lesane says:

    i married for 9 years without any child, and with so many trials from my husband side and friends, well God visited me last 6 month ago when i contacted redrock for help, at first i did not have that believe that it was going to work, first he told me to have that great trust that what he his going to do for me will work, and He gave me all my info. firstly i thought it was a joke, He mailed again and instruct me to read the mail at the subject that if i need to solve my present predicament i should replied back. immediately i write him back i known fully well that my day has come for my present predicament. Please be strong in faith and believe God sent. i was help by this great man and how am carry a baby and it for 2 month am happy that my home is in peace and total control i bless God that make this great man to come to me in the time of trouble thanks to redrock of [email protected] God well bless the good work for you hand am happy again that i will soon be a mother great thanks [email protected]

  20. shetuck says:

    Recently divorced from a man I was married to 30 years. My husband just "didn't want to do this anymore." I am still reeling. This reminds me of him. Just don't want to do it anymore? Selfish.

  21. A. Coleman says:

    Thank you for your perspective and your honesty.
    I want to say that I am somewhat perturbed (but not surprised) by some of the comments here below. I am having a hard time how so many people can be offended by a decision that in no way effected and can pass judgment on a situation/relationship that is not our own. I think comments like these are what make people stay in unhealthy situations for longer than they should. You get peer pressured into marriage (consciously or unconsciously) when you are in your 20's and then pressured to stay married later in life no matter how unhappy you might be. I hear people say that parents should stay together for the kids. This I just do not understand. Seems to me kids will benefit most from loving co-parents who are actually friends and they will learn to live honestly. I see someone mentioned that these are "first world problems." I can certainly admit that that can be true. Yet we do have this freedom in this country. We can live freely in pretty much any area of life we choose. Should we squander this privilege? Or should we embrace it. What good would it a spouse for me to stay with them out of obligation. That to me is what would be truly selfish. I find it selfless to let that person go, to allow them to find someone whose heart beats with theirs. I think we might all benefit to save judgment and understand that everyone walks their own path and their freedom is theirs to use however they see fit.

  22. Elizaroo says:

    Thank you for this insightful article. I am in the very marriage that the author describes, and recognize the many ways I am blessed to have the security and partnership of a good man and a great dad. But certain feelings can not be feigned. As much as I may try to conjure these feelings, the metaphor always returns; we are two banks along the same river, upon which floats the sacred vessel of family, the container of our children, that we both place above our own happiness. But The truth is- our banks will never meet, can never really touch, and will always remain separate… without our children, the river will grow so wide, we will not be able to see the other at all. There is love and respect, but the soul of the marriage has died. It is impossible to put this into terms that many will understand, and some are quick to judge and pontificate. Leaving an "ok" marriage is fraught with paradoxical feelings and I appreciate an article that can represent the complexity of emotion one experiences in this position.

  23. srh says:

    "I love him, but I'm not in love with him anymore." I don't understand how this statement can make sense to any intelligent person, especially when used as an excuse to snatch the rug out from under someone that you JUST SAID YOU LOVE. An excuse to ABANDON someone you vowed not to abandon when life got hard. Vowed before God, a preacher, and a bunch of witnesses! WHERE'S THE LOVE? Sounds like maybe you love yourself and your agenda more? Marriage is about LOVING and SERVING the OTHER person. There is no way a marriage will work when one or both spouses are self centered and foolishly focused on unrealistic expectations of what marriage is SUPPOSED to be. Real life is not a romance novel, a romantic comedy, or childish fairy tales. Marriage is for grown folks, not children.

  24. mindarch says:

    I love this idea and may use it for my kids before they get married. The problem with this is both parties have to be in their right mind and truly want this to work and believe they can make it work. The courts don't seem to recognize any form of mental illness except extremely unstable and they don't seem to understand or care that some parents may say whatever the judge wants to hear but plan on actually doing things different ly.

  25. Jennifer says:

    The problem this author has is that she is ignorant about what makes a good marriage partner. She thought she had it made in the shade because there was passion and common interests. So what. In the bigger picture, those are pretty weak strings to rely on to keep a marriage going for decades. Lust and passion cools, or sometimes even fade for seasons, interests change as we grow as individuals. The real glue needed is shared values, realistic expectation, and commitment. In other words, MATURITY. The author is completely off based by suggesting through her story that we should just go and chase whatever makes us happy at any given time, while dropping our prior COMMITTMENTS. I guess time will tell as to when she gets this vague itch to seek something/someone else to make HER happy.

  26. Yes! This is exactly what I needed to see! <3 Sounds exactly like my first marriage ending and how much better it's been the second time around!

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