The Surprising Signs Your Marriage is on the Verge of Collapse
[00:00] Erin Birt: Welcome to the Restorative Divorce Podcast, where we focus on all things divorce and parenting related to help you find clarity, stay informed, and stay out of family court. With 20 plus years of family law experience, our attorney and mediator, Aaron Burt has seen too many times how family court will negatively impact your health, your relationship with your kids, and your wallet. This podcast s aims to turn that around and empower our listeners to take back control of their family law process and their lives by working with divorced professionals that seek to help and not hurt. Our goal is to provide you with expert tips that you can implement today to restore your finances, emotional well being, and coparenting skills. Of course, our [email protected] is always here to customize a Restorative divorce plan for you, but for now, listen to this episode to get help today.
[01:04] Erin Birt: Thank you for joining us for our Restorative Divorce podcast. Today we're going to talk about “are you on the brink of divorce?” And I think what you're going to learn and what you're going to hear today might surprise you. There are many different considerations or reasons for divorce, and there are many people that separating couples or people contemplating a separation turn to to voice their concerns or to talk about it or to weigh their options. And again, I think it'll be surprising to hear some of the information that might lead you to believe or to be able to identify if you're on the brink of divorce. And so, Tyler, in our practice, we see a lot of things, but I think before people walk through our doors, they start talking to other people, or they start analyzing or researching or looking into some issues. Wouldn't you say it starts long before somebody ever starts talking to a family law mediator or a family law attorney?
[02:17] Tyler Birt: Yes, I would say that by the time they get to us, maybe the decision hasn't been made, but they've definitely been talking to peers and family and other people who've gone through similar things to help them form their opinion justification to see what they think is right. By the time we talk to them, they're farther along the way.
Marital First Responders
[02:52] Erin Birt: Yeah, and actually, there's a foundation, it's called the Dougherty Foundation for Social and Civic well Being, and they actually have a marital first responders clinic where they try to educate those people that might be the first point of contact to hear somebody's concerns about their relationship. And it's really targeted for people that you just brought up Tyler that people are turning to their peers, they're turning to their friends and family members, and they're also turning to coworkers, or they're turning to perhaps specific gendered friends, meaning maybe a female's turning to a male friend and expressing concerns about their husband or spouse. Or a male's turning to a female friend and expressing know. The the Dougherty Foundation does come up with something called a first responders clinic so people can learn to be that first responder when a friend turns to you and says, I have some problems or I have some things that I want to consider or confer with you about. But I think you're right. I think people are turning to others well before they ever interact with our office.
[04:15] Tyler Birt: Yeah, that's interesting. That hasn't come up. I've never heard of that. And it's an interesting thing. It must have been somebody who was that person that somebody relied on and then decided that this would maybe good useful information for people somewhere along the way. I think that in the people I mentioned, the groups of people that I mentioned, I think it's going to be trusted people and some other groups in there could be your church, it could be coworkers like we said. But I think people are going to turn to trusted sources in whichever group that is definitely for advice.
[05:08] Erin Birt: And when they turn to those people, depending on the audience or depending on the person they're turning to, they're discussing certain things that either the person needs to identify themselves could be a sign or symptom of divorce is eminent or being considered and the person listening to it probably flags that topic as, oh, we have some issues in your relationship. And some of the research that has been conducted by the foundation shows that somebody going through a difficult relationship is going to turn to a friend, a coworker, a member of their church, and they talk about things that can be reasons for divorce and sometimes aren't reasons for divorce. But again, it's a sign that maybe use caution. You might be on the brink of divorce, but maybe you don't have to go through a divorce. And so I wanted to highlight some of the biggest problems that people will discuss with their trusted person. And so a majority of things that are discussed not getting enough attention from their partner, money issues, not being able to talk to one another, they feel there's something amiss in their communication or they're just quiet, they're not talking. They might complain about their spouse or partner's personal habits, they might talk about actually verbalizing I'm considering divorce but they don't necessarily maybe want to move forward but they're considering it. And then they'll talk about infidelity those topics make up 50% or more of the issues that someone is bringing to a friend or to a coworker or to somebody else to essentially receive help that they're struggling with those things. There's many other things but I just brought up what makes up that top 50% of topics and some of those could be insurmountable issues infidelity for a lot of people that might be just a complete deal breaker. For others it's something that they can work through albeit with a lot of hard work. And some of these are what we call softer issues that lack of communication or that lack of feeling heard but I thought it was surprising to hear what a majority of those things are. I probably would have thought first some of those big red flags of alcohol, drugs abuse but actually it's some of the softer issues that most people bring as concerns to their trusted friend.
[08:05] Tyler Birt: Yeah, and it is surprising to me too that some of the other things weren't top of the list. However, I think when people are turning in instances of abuse and things really high up there, I don't know that people need to talk to somebody and get advice. I think they know what they need to do. It's just a matter of can they do it? Because we know that's not an easy thing to do when you're in those situations. So I could see attention and communication being something that they'd want to get advice about and talk to somebody about because I think every marriage has seasons of communication and attention where they're not where they should be or not what anybody hopes they are. But does that mean that's how it's going to be forever? Those are personal things, right? Infidelity right. Obviously that's a big issue and really that comes down to can you handle the infidelity or can't you but something like well, my spouse isn't giving me enough attention. Well, is that they aren't giving you enough attention or just the attention you seek. And so it kind of nuanced when you get into those softer issues, right, where the bigger issues are like yeah, got it.
[09:54] Erin Birt: Well, and some of these issues could also be temporary issues or it makes you pause long enough that you're not seeking immediate help or emergency help for some of the other abuse whether mental or physical. So I could see these items being the most talked about because you are turning to a friend. There's probably some timing that allows you to confer with others to weigh is this a significant enough issue to divorce or is this just a difficult season and is there any input or other ways to think about things to get through that season? But I want to round out the rest of the list here as to what are some of the concerns that they're reaching out to. Close ones. And we've got personal problems with their spouse or partner, job problems. A spouse that works too many hours might be concerns about in laws or other relatives, about the spouse's leisure activities, household responsibilities being controlled by a partner. And then closer to the bottom of the list as to what you take to other people, your friends. Not a divorce attorney yet or a family law mediator, but to your friends are what I think a lot of people would say. Those are divorce issues, alcohol or drug problems, intimacy problems, differences in tastes and preferences and then severe emotional abuse and spouse or partners friends. And I think some of those are lower on the list where there's actually percentages here. Tyler, about 38% of the people surveyed from that foundation talked about alcohol or drug problems with somebody else. A lot of people talking about it, but we're not in that upper. Like 60% of people are talking about that.
[12:05] Tyler Birt: Yeah, I can understand that percentage being in that area because not everybody has those issues. Alcohol and drug abuse is a specialized issue where communication and attention, those kind of things, right. Everybody has those issues. Right. Whereas not everybody has the people that abuse drugs. And alcohol is a smaller percentage.
A Hard Problem or Soft Problem for Divorce?
[12:48] Erin Birt: Right. And so what speeds up the process of contemplating divorce to walking through our door or conferring with a divorce professional? And I do think it comes down to whether an issue needs immediate attention, is it immediately threatening towards the relationship or a particular individual? Those people will need to confer with us and need to confer with family law professionals sooner rather than later. Some of the other issues that, again, they're not immediately threatening, they're not an emergency, but they're definitely signs and symptoms of our relationships not going well. They probably take much longer to make that decision that they want to divorce or that they want to talk to a family law professional about what are some appropriate next steps. And so the Dougherty Foundation breaks these issues down to a hard problem for divorcing families and a soft problem. And I used some of that terminology already earlier because I think it's intuitive. I think people can identify a hard problem and a soft problem, that maybe we can work through it, or maybe I'm thinking too much about that or maybe it's just a tough season. But it's interesting to me, and I think it might be surprising to others. What are hard problems? What really needs immediate attention which might prompt divorce faster or at least learning your options faster or seeking help in a court to protect yourself? And those hard problems are abuse, whether physical or mental affairs. That could be because it's a financial situation or it could just be emotional issues that can cause problems for the divorce process and then addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other problematic behaviors. And so I would say and those.
[15:09] Tyler Birt: Are the hard problems.
[15:11] Erin Birt: Those are called hard problems for the divorce process. Not only does that probably spur emergency court interference or not interference, but emergency court appearances or seeking help sooner rather than later that might speed up your process in the sense that these are pretty hard issues. But what's surprising is not many people actually have hard problems and divorce. Yeah, a majority of people divorce because of soft problems, which are everything except for abuse affairs or addictions. And so the soft problems are growing apart lack of intimacy, parenting differences, arguments. And so while we use a comfortable word such as soft, that's where most people sit in when they're contemplating divorce or going through a divorce. It's the soft issues that a majority of those people are dealing with.
[16:27] Tyler Birt: Well, let me ask you what you think. So those soft issues now, if the hard issues are abuse affairs and addictions, it would seem or do you think that these soft problems that they break down as everything else could lead to one of those hard problems? I won't say no, but I wouldn't necessarily say abuse but affairs and addictions that can come from soft problems, right. Affairs tend to happen when you're not getting enough attention, when somebody's not getting enough attention and the communication breakdown and all that which started as a soft problem but has turned into a hard problem, which has turned into seeking out help.
[17:29] Erin Birt: Yeah, I think things can escalate from soft problems to hard problems. But a point I want to make is regardless if it's a soft problem or a hard problem, a marriage can still survive those problems with the appropriate resources, whether that be a strong support system, a church therapists, family therapists. You can still work through those problems and maintain your marriage and your family. So I don't want to categorize them or imply that the categories mean anything, that we can't work through them. But I think there's just a differing level of do you immediately seek help when your spouse is either showing a hard problem or a soft problem? But you're right on a spectrum, it seems that soft problems can escalate into hard problems. And we see that a lot, probably why a lot of people start considering divorce just for soft problems. They might be thinking ahead. I know where this is going or I have suspicions that this soft problem could actually be a hard problem and I'm not sure I can handle this. So I would say even though I have an addictions counseling background and I let people know if you have alcohol or drug issues in your family that we work with, that more nuanced than other firms because of that mental health background. But still, that's a very small part of our practice. I would say that our practice is in line with these statistics that most divorcing families or separating families or parents have the soft problems. And we're working a lot on communication, building back a level of trust as co parents, not husband, wife or partners. But it's interesting that even within our own practice we still have probably smaller amount of cases that have some of those hard problems. The other thing I wanted to talk about is after these people have talked to friends or coworkers and they're weighing their differences and they come to see us, at least at our firm, because I've been trained as a marital first responder through the Dougherty Foundation. I do use a readiness assessment, and that is part of this first responders training where we will do a divorce readiness assessment. Because even if you have a hard problem or a soft problem. Research shows that if reconciliation programs were on the table or offered through the court system, I believe it's approximately 20% of the people would agree to go through that. And even if they're knee deep in litigation or just resolving their case after a year of litigation, a relatively high percentage of people have reported that they finished the divorce because they had been in it so long. But they still, every now and then were ambivalent or thinking, I'm not really sure if divorce was the right option.
[21:09] Tyler Birt: Yeah.
Discernment Counselors for Reconciliation or Divorce
[21:10] Erin Birt: So even when people walk through our door to say, I've contemplated this, I've thought about this, I've analyzed this, here's my hard or soft problem. Divorce still might not be the right thing for them. And so we do a divorce readiness assessment just to try to make sure that if they need additional resources, that we provide those. And here with our restorative divorce philosophy, if somebody is on a lower end of that readiness schedule and they're just ambivalent about the divorce, we provide them with referrals to discernment counselors or to other family counselors just so. That they know that they're making the best decision for themselves or for their children and just not getting caught up in the process of I'm starting a divorce. I've got to finish it.
[22:03] Tyler Birt: Yeah. At our firm and our approach to everything is, you know, we want to help people, you know, and if they've made the decision, you know, and want to go through with a divorce, you know, we're we're here to help them and guide them through that way. But we're not we're not here just to get you divorced. It's important that our firm and you and I want people to be it may be the end. Sometimes marriages don't last, and there's many different reasons that's been discussed, but we don't want it to be necessarily the first option. We want it to be the right option.
[22:51] Erin Birt: Exactly.
[22:52] Tyler Birt: And we're here to help exactly. In all means.
[22:56] Erin Birt: And so, Tyler, I think in future podcasts, if people wanted to listen, what we're going to cover is, once you get to that point of needing to go through the divorce process, what are some things to look for within your marriage or documents that you need to gather that might show signs of these soft or hard problems? Tyler works a lot on financial disclosures. He reviews information where he might see things that flag a hard or a soft problem. And then we need to assess how best to address those problems based on the level of emergency or urgency and then based on, is this something that we can work through with time? And so at our future podcast, we're going to dive deeper into some of the signs and symptoms of these hard and soft problems within information that you already have in your possession so that you can learn more about is the divorce process truly what's best for you. And based on what you learn, how can you restore your finances and restore anything that you felt you've lost during the divorce.
[24:13] Erin Birt: Thanks for listening to the Restorative Divorce podcast with your hosts, attorney and mediator, Erin Birt, and our paralegal, Tyler Birt. A special thanks to our contributors and to the authors of the many articles that inspire us and keep our clients informed. We hope you enjoyed our deep dive into the separation, divorce or parenting tips covered today that you can use now to help restore yourself.
[24:38] Erin Birt: If you strive to improve your life or the lives of your children after a separation or divorce, join us next week when we will cover more Restorative Divorce topics. You can head over to Burtlaw.com to get the podcast transcripts, follow us on social media and even find more valuable family law information all for your benefit. Get help today and work with us one on one. Contact us to set up a consultation or planning session to start rebuilding your life today. Enjoy this day and we'll see you next time.