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Trust - A Factor in Choosing How to Divorce?

March 1, 2010

Statistics on marital satisfaction report trust as a major barometer in assessing marital satisfaction.  It therefore stands to reason that the erosion of trust would quite naturally lead to marital dissatisfaction or even to separation or divorce.  Listen to the voices of those who feel that their trust has been betrayed:

 

Marilyn, age 44, mother of 3, married 19 years:

 

“I thought he was my best friend, my confident.  But what does this so-called friend do? I’ll tell you.  He goes and takes $50,000 from the children’s 529 Funds for his business.  He never asked me if this was okay.  He never explained why he needed the money.  Nothing!  He just took it.  What does this say about him?  About us?  Or even more importantly, about our children?  After all, he took our children’s money!”

(To present the other side, just as an aside - Rob, Marilyn’s husband, was being pressured by the bank to repay a business loan that he had taken when he lost his biggest customer.  Rob felt cornered and frightened; he figured that the 529 Plans were not needed for now and he could replace the money when business got better, a development that he felt confident would occur in the near future.  Sure, he admits, he should have told Marilyn what was happening and asked for her approval; he just did not think; everything happened too quickly.  Of course, he could have told her after the fact - something he also neglected to do.  Unfortunately she learned of the withdrawal from the bank statements; not exactly the way it should have happened or would have happened if he could do it all again.)

 

Travis, age 52, father of 2, married 25 years:

 

“My wife, my shy wife, had an affair with my best friend.  Who would have thought this was possible? Clearly not me; I was blind to every sign—the glances, the conversations, the everything.  I cannot even look at her. Him, I never want to see again.”

(To present the other side, just as an aside—Alisa, Travis’s wife, says she never intended to have an affair with Jim.  She, in fact, claims that she never really noticed him.  He was just a really nice guy who happened to be a friend of her husband’s and by extension a friend of hers.  But, her marriage, she claims, was not a happy one.  No matter what Travis says, they were not happy, not together, not alone.  Then, just by chance she found herself alone with Jim on a day that she was feeling particularly low.  He was there; he was kind, he was tender.  That’s how it began and now it is over, she laments.  It really meant nothing.  What is important however is that she and Travis are not happy.  Jim was just a symptom.  She is sorry that she hurt Travis, something that she never meant to do.)

 

Marilyn and Travis represent only two stories, two tales of spouses who feel betrayed and hurt by their spouses.  They feel the betrayal is much more significant than the end of a marriage.  To them the betrayal makes them question their whole relationship and even more significantly makes them feel that they can no longer trust their spouse, not in marriage, not even in divorce.

Here, the decision to divorce is tied to the destruction of trust.  The “hurt” spouse often feels that the only choice left is to find a lawyer who will unearth the truth and, in the process, restore their dignity.  The betrayal and subsequent loss of trust are viewed as signs of long-term deception.  Visions of hidden funds and a history of deception emerge.  They do not believe any promises of fairness voiced by their spouses.  How do you believe a deceiver?  The hurt spouse feels that the only logical route is to seek an aggressive advocate.

Yet, one at least needs to question whether this adversarial attack is really the logical approach.    Naturally it is understandable that those who feel betrayed are hesitant to trust what their spouses are saying.  They find it hard to believe that their spouses will be fair, will be honest, and, most of all, will care about their future well-being - after all, the evidence points to the opposite.  Right?

 

For over two decades, we at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution, have heard similar stories from many Marilyns and Travises.  We understand the hurt.  We understand it is hard to trust again.  We understand their logic.  Still, we have found that it often serves them and their children far better if they take a step back and think a bit before they proceed with an aggressive attack.  A betrayal of trust does not naturally point to years of hidden acts and/or to hidden assets.  Those who have betrayed their spouses are not always arrogant wrongdoers who want to hurt their families.  It is quite possible that they actually want to do the right thing, that they are sorry for the hurt they have inflicted.  And even if there is no remorse, many divorcing spouses do have feelings for their spouses and do want, in divorce, for them to be treated fairly, for them to emerge whole and okay from the dissolution of the marriage, even if only because they are the parents of their children.

There is no straight line connecting betrayals to hidden assets or to the determination to “do in” the family or the other spouse.  We at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution have found that acts of indiscretion, acts involving unilateral financial decisions, and all the other big and small hurts inflicted by failure to be open, honest, and communicative with one’s spouse does not mean that those very individuals cannot be creative and collaborative decision makers in reaching agreements that are fair to all members of the family.  We would suggest that the outlay of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in securing and pursuing an aggressive divorce assault will not return the verdict that justifies the expenditure of dollars.

We suggest that mediation should not be unilaterally out ruled by those who feel that the absence of trust calls for a legal assault or at the least legal handholding.  We suggest that feelings of distrust and deception, hurt, and anger need to be dealt with in therapy, not in the selection of a divorce process.  We suggest that couples take the time to think about the importance of structuring an agreement that focuses on the welfare of all family members.  And, to go a step further, we suggest that each party invite their spouse to participate in an effort that does not leave any victims, that does not lay the groundwork for years of distance and distrust, and does not destroy the ability to parent children.  For couples, with or without children, there is little to be gained from legal combat.  In the end, nobody benefits financially or emotionally from the “war of the roses.”

A skilled mediator, trained and experienced in facilitating communication and in dealing with financial complexities and data, can help structure a settlement that preserves the family’s estate and gives all members the strength to begin a new life.

 



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