Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Key to Life After Divorce: A No-Fault Perspective

At the time of my parents’ divorce, “No-Fault” was neither a legal construct nor a psychological perspective my mother would have considered. My father was the one who had been involved in an affair. The marriage was over and he was clearly the person at fault.

Over the years many states have changed to “No-Fault” Divorce, a determination that means that partners are now only required to swear that the relationship between them has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months. Notwithstanding the painful contention about finances and children, no one has to be legally identified as the one at fault.

While these legal changes occurred long after my mother’s divorce, what is interesting is that over the years, she too came to view her divorce as not just my father’s fault but the necessary end of a marriage that was unfulfilling for both. Both had stopped giving in the way that makes a marriage work. Two talented people, they rarely affirmed or appreciated what the rest of the world and their children admired in them. Yes, he moved on and she was shocked and hurt by the betrayal; but the challenges she took on and the changes she made in her post divorce life brought her more love and success than she ever had in her marriage. Essentially she found herself.

The Need to Blame

In my work with individuals who have been divorced or with couples struggling in the midst of it, a central dynamic of their stress and anguish is often an inability to see their own part in the marital strife, and a persistent need to blame the other. Such thinking leaves no room for change or movement because the focus is on blaming, negating or replacing the other. Sadly there are too many times when the last shreds of concern for each other are lost in the court fights that turn them into legal adversaries.

The Impact of Blame on Children

  • Perhaps the greatest losers in the blame game are the children. Not only are they aware that their familiar world, as imperfect as it might be, is changing; but they too often face lose the “ Ordinary Magic” that parents should provide – safety, laughter, predictability, hope, and innocence.
  • At times even their memories feel stolen as they are subject to hearing family history re-written about people they love, “He never wanted to be a father.” “ Your mother was always a selfish person.”
  • Many become “ secret agents” as they move from parent to parent – ever aware that when it comes to talking about or answering question about the other parent, less is best.

The No Fault Perspective

Regardless of the final tipping point, if partners are able to accept some ownership for an unworkable relationship, they stand to benefit. Self-reflection fuels self-growth and reduces the unconscious replay of the same old dynamics in a new life.

Another unexpected benefit of a no-fault perspective is the room to mourn the end of a relationship that once promised ‘til death do us part.

  • Often in the early stage of divorcing, the rage and blame for the other precludes the natural mourning for something lost.
  • Some have told me that if they think anything positive or mutual about the person they are divorcing—the pain, self-blame or yearning will get too great and hurt too much. Their solution is to stay angry and resentful.
  • While the early stages of life’s difficult changes can feel traumatic and often necessitate the use of a defense to titrate feelings, the persistence of anger to ward off sadness and loss is emotionally costly.
  • When grieving is obscured by denial, blame and resentment, it stresses us physically and psychologically. It does not allow for integration of a passing chapter in our life and the ability to take what was good and move on.
  • When we metaphorically or actually tear up all the photos of the marriage that is ending, we steal our own memories and victories, as well as our children’s history.

The Impact of The No Fault Perspective on Children

While divorce is a loss of a parents’ connection to each other and their joint connection to a child, it does not have to be the end of child’s happiness.  The parents’ shared ownership of difficulties as a reason for the divorce is easier for children to accept than a divorce that necessitates the vilification, denigration, or abandonment of either of their parents.

  • Regardless of how a parent feels about his/her x-spouse, if that person is parenting their child in a loving and caring way, supporting that connection is an important gift to the child.
  • Because children consciously and unconsciously identify with both parents – the blame and pain of either is blame and pain they share.
  • The positive or amicable back and forth between parents allows a child or teen to feel safe to be themselves—with both parents.
  • It is easier to adjust to Mom’s House-Dad’s House when children can still feel proud and show love for the people living in those houses.

No one plans to be divorced. If it is something you face or have lived through, look back with self-reflection, embrace the lessons learned and go forward to create your future.

“ Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Kierkegaard

Listen in ” How to Survive and Thrive After Divorce” on Psych Up Live