The cost of divorce

 In Opinion

There is an old joke that surfaces around this time of year.  

A man says to his wife, “What would you like for Valentine’s Day dear?”  

His wife replies, “I want a divorce.”  

The man responds, “Oh! I wasn’t planning on spending that much.”  

Funny but true, the cost of divorce is high, not only financially, but at the human relationship level too, with children, mutual friends, and extended family. 

I see divorce from the therapist’s chair and my silent thought is often, why did you wait so long to seek help?  Because sometimes it feels much too late.  

John Gottman, a world-famous expert on relationships, identifies the “four horsemen” of the relationship apocalypse, Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling – the harbingers of doom for a marriage, with Contempt as the biggest predictor of divorce.  

Gottman describes Contempt as being truly mean – treating the other with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridiculing, calling them names, and eye-rolling.

Why do we treat the ones who are closest to us in this way? It is so sad, and yet, all too often, couples toil on in their relationship in the face of such sadness without help from outside.

Help from outside could be a therapist, a member of the clergy, your family doctor, or a wise friend or family member.  It doesn’t matter, provided you take the step to tell someone – acknowledge that there are problems, take accountability for your contribution to the problems, and start to shine a spotlight on what you might do differently.  And that would mean breaking the all-too-easy habit of blaming the other for our unhappiness.

Getting help is scary. It means revealing your inadequacies, letting someone else see what you are so ashamed of, and acknowledging the sad state of affairs to yourself.  

I often think to myself, maybe people don’t know that almost everyone struggles in some way.  Nobody wants to ridicule their partner, and we are all guilty of doing it at times.  

Maybe people don’t know that the expectation is not that you be perfect and problem-free, but that you embrace human troubles as a challenge to keep growing. And maybe they don’t know that there is nothing to be ashamed of in trying to make things better.  

Because the four horsemen can often be sent back to where they came from with a little hard work and a lot of love.  

So this year, in addition to the chocolates and flowers, take a moment to face your relationship reality.  

That Gottman guy also came up with the antidotes to each of the four horsemen. And the internet has all kinds of marriage check-ups and tons of advice for how to make things better. 

Be brave and invest in your relationship health.  

And here is a secret tip you can try right away that will have immediate results. Be kind to your partner.  Try it!  

A word of encouragement, a peck on the cheek at the right time, or offering to help with a hated task.  

It might take once, or it might take ten acts of kindness, but it is almost guaranteed you will be rewarded in turn. And that will generate more warmth in the relationship to help keep those horsemen at bay.  

It’s almost magical.  

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Liz van Ryn, M.Sc, RP is a couple and family therapist working just outside of Creemore. Visit

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