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Why Saying: "Divorce is not an Option" Can Actually Hurt Marriages

Were you taught to believe that “divorce” is a curse word? That we don’t even say the “d” word?

When I was a young, idealistic grad school student, a professor told us: “We are not in the business of

saving marriages. We’re in the business of helping people.”

At the time, I (arrogantly) thought: “Well, maybe those are your values. I want to save marriages.”

I still prefer to help save marriages, but I’ve learned that the truth is actually more like she said.

Often, I’ll get a client who tells me from the get-go: “Divorce is not an option.” I believe in honoring the needs and goals of the client. If a couple doesn’t want to discuss divorce then we don’t. But my general feeling is that if divorce is never an option, even as a worst case scenario, that’s a potentially dangerous paradigm.

Here is what I’m not saying:

I’m not suggesting that at the first sign of marital difficulty, spouses should start planning to separate.

I’m not saying spouses should habitually “threaten each other with divorce” over minor disagreements.

I’m not saying that everyone should actively consider or discuss divorce on a regular or casual basis.

I’m not saying that divorce is no big deal.

Relationships can be tough, and take some time and effort and work, (sometimes).

Particularly if there are children, I do believe it’s worth trying 150% to work on (most) marriages before considering a divorce.


I am saying that there are some circumstances, in fact many, where it’s actually in the best interest of all involved, to consider ending the marriage. Even when working on a salvageable relationship, it’s important for both parties to know that if it ever becomes intolerable for either or both of them, there is a way out.

The classic, socially acceptable example that’s given is in the case of abuse. People will say “oh yes, well, that’s different.” But abuse is actually only one example of the various problems that may require ending a marriage. And other than the two individuals that are in it, no one ever really knows what’s going on behind closed doors. Couples (or individuals) who are making the difficult choice to part ways, based on their experiences, need support and empathy, not judgement or to feel scandalized.

Many remain in deeply unhappy or dysfunctional marriages because they fear judgement, recrimination, or even alienation from family, friends, or community, if they were to leave. Many also stay for other reasons, like finances, kids, or fear of being alone. It’s not for anyone else to tell people whether to stay or go- that decision must be left to the ones in the marriage.

And while ideally, people don’t generally marry with the intent to divorce, it’s important for those in pain to know that, divorce is an option.

Because if they feel it’s really not, then that’s not a marriage; it’s a prison.

Working on a relationship sincerely with the knowledge that if necessary it can end, is actually a healthier approach that can either lead to a carefully considered divorce, or a more empowered, intentional marriage.

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