By Jon Kramer (LAWCDP Member)
Sometimes the starting point with couples who contact our collaborative law group (LAWCDP) is couples where one or both of them are not sure if they want to stay together. Other times the work begins with couples that have made the decision to move their relationships toward divorce. In either of these scenarios, our mental health professionals in particular are interested to assess what marriage cycle the presenting couple is in. And how their “previous marriages” evolved. Even if they were to each other.
Based on my years of practice as a mental health professional, in most long-term relationships, spouses generally marry each other 3 times. The 1st marriage usually occurs pre-children (“pre-children”). The 2nd one during the years of co-parenting and work (“children and work”), and their last marriage once their children are leaving/have left the home and retirement is nearing (“post-children”). Many of us mark our 1st marriage with a formal celebration of some kind. It is the other 2 that quietly occur without any conscious awareness of any remarriage taking place. It is in the adjusting to this next marriage that problems sometimes appear. In my post-graduate training I was taught to identify challenges within “developmental milestones.” This meant pinpointing events that forced a family to change the way they related to one another. Many of these events are normal, like the birth of a child, or the adding of another one. Other times they are unexpected and traumatic like a death or a fire. For couples, I consider the transition from “1 marriage to the next” to be a developmental milestone. A couple has to re-adjust to a changing relationship between them. It is this unaware experience that can breed problems.
The pre-children marriage typically occurs in relative youth. A couple is more emotionally and sexually agile because they carry less responsibilities. Even if they don’t realize it there is more time! There are fewer distractions and they are able to focus more fully on one other. In contrast, the children and work marriage is a different marriage. A couple must now manage the multiple stressors of juggling a marital relationship alongside a co-parenting relationship. A couple cannot focus on each other the way they used to. Men can feel ignored and women can feel stressed by being everything to everyone. The post-children marriage is in part a return to the original marriage. A couple must now figure out how to re-focus on each other without the distractions of their busy family and work lives. They must now figure out if they still like each other and if they still want to be together in retirement and for the rest of their lives.
It is not uncommon for the interdisciplinary professionals that make up LAWCDP to hear couples discussing anger and hurt from their current post-children marriage that occurred years ago in their pre-children marriage. A husband, for example, realizing that he had been “grieving” a time when he felt noticed by his spouse. Or that same time when a wife felt like her husband wanted only her. Marital transformation, (i.e. even within the process of divorce) regardless of the starting point occurs when a couple becomes more conscious about their various marital life cycles. And its impact on who they were, and who they are, both individually and as a couple.