The Relationship Layer Cake
Human relationships take on many forms. When we first meet a new person, we are acquaintances. Perhaps we later become friends. Maybe we have a professional relationship, as colleagues, customers, contractors, consultants, you name it. We could even go into business together as partners or co-owners. Or we could start dating, get married and have children together.
When a married couple decides that they are going to separate and possibly divorce, it’s important to identify each layer of their association and determine how the decisions being made correspond to the different relationships between the spouses. Let’s call this “a relationship layer cake.”
When the adversarial approach of our court-based legal system is avoided in favor of a more respectful and dignified mediation divorce process, the marital contract can be ended while preserving those relationships that continue to connect both spouses.
Separation and divorce, at a minimum, involve an “unwinding” of an economic partnership that is recognized in legal terms as beginning on the date of marriage. In a short, childless marriage, the decisions being made by my clients could be confined to the division of their marital property, leaving them to go their separate ways with no further personal contact. They may have no interest in remaining friends or being otherwise associated with each other.
But more often, especially in marriages of more than a few years and that include children, the decisions can cross many layers of relationship. Co-parenting and the development of a Parenting Plan acknowledge what we all know as parents—we will be the parents of our children for the rest of our lives. And so from here we can understand that our children will continue to have two parents, hopefully long into their adult years.
When the adversarial approach of our court-based legal system is avoided in favor of a more respectful and dignified mediation or collaborative divorce process, the marital contract can be ended while preserving those relationships that continue to connect both spouses, whether they be:
• personal (still friendly or at least cordial but no longer married).
In the kitchen of mediation, you can hopefully take the “marriage layer” off your cake while baking a better tasting new confection for the future.
Freedom to Be Who We Are
At its best, marriage is a partnership that nourishes the individuality of each to blossom into fully self-expressed humanness. A marriage that allows for growth while retaining underlying connection and intimacy can be very powerful.
And yet, in some marriages, people often work toward their personal evolution at different rates or not at all. Sadly, this presents challenges that may be insurmountable. Trying to meet the expectations of a spouse that don’t match who we are can prevent us from becoming who we want to be.
Regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs, most all traditions point to the need for the individual to grow. As with nature, without growth we wither and die. Personal growth helps us to thrive.
While the painful circumstances of a marriage that is ending pose a personal challenge, they also offer a great opportunity for growth.
While the painful circumstances of a marriage that is ending pose a personal challenge, they also offer a great opportunity for growth. Instead of feeling the pressure to meet the expectations of a spouse, we can move toward discovering who we really are and what’s possible for us. For many, this can be a profound experience that redirects our focus into the future.
Maybe it involves participating in a sport that the ex-spouse had no interest in. Or a pursuit in the arts, joining new groups or meeting new friends. Sometimes it may involve taking a risk that would not have been tolerated in the marriage.
The end of a marriage is the beginning of a new chapter in the journey of life—recognizing the freedom to live on our own terms may just be the first step in continuing to grow to our full potential.
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