One of the benefits of cleaning out email inboxes is finding old but important emails. Susan came across an email from a year ago that she had forgotten about. It included a CNN article that she and two other divorce experts were interviewed for called, “In January, ‘ex’ marks the spot,” written by Sarah LeTrent. The psychiatrist, attorney and Susan shared with the interviewer that January is one of their busiest times of the year (along with September).
Family law attorneys have been calling January “Divorce Month” for years. In fact, the first Monday of January—when the bulk of the calls from would-be divorcees come in—is even dubbed “Divorce Day,” or D-Day for short.
It’s true. After the holiday season when family obligations have been met, when both spouses have had enough pain and hurt, or when the one who’s contemplated divorce for a while wants to start the new year in a more authentic way (one that doesn’t include their spouse), January seems like the perfect time to get the dissolution wheels in motion. Thus, unhappy couples transition from the holiday season into the divorce season.
We all know that we could reduce the numbers of divorces if couples would refrain from filing their petitions to end the marriage. While that might make society feel better and more secure in the belief that the divorce numbers were declining, it wouldn’t improve the quality of these troubled marriages: It would only prolong the agony and postpone the inevitable.
But there’s a third alternative that, until now, has not been well-explored and that just might provide the relief husbands and wives are looking for: Stay married but change the rules of the marriage.
A Marriage of Independence
In our recently book, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, propose getting away from purely love-based marriages and revisiting purpose-driven marriages.
What we found in our research is that the couples that went from a tepid or unhappy love-based marriage to a Living Apart Together (LAT) Marriage, a Parenting Marriage or even an Open Marriage fared quite well in many ways. Staying married prevented these couples from experiencing the financial devastation that often accompanies divorce, and it was also a win for children, other family members and friends.
Let’s explore some of the facets of these alternative marriages:
A Living Apart Together entails couples living in separate homes so there will be more expenses and more logistics of coordinating schedules, but it also means that each spouse has a space to get away to. It might even mean they have down time from parental duties, and that they can maintain a sense of independence.
In a Parenting Marriage, couples simply change their job description from romantic partner to co-parent. Disentangling emotions and expectations to a more platonic relationship can be tricky yet not having to fight over who keeps the house or how much time each parent gets with the kids, combined with keeping the household intact for something larger than yourself (your kids) can make the experience much more manageable than divorce.
Finally, the most radical and definitely the trickiest option is that of opening up your marriage to other people. Some of you reading this will recoil at this idea, but, in the research for The New I Do, Susan and Vicki spoke with several couples that swore it was by taking this radical step that their marriage was saved. In some cases, the pairs kept their unions open for the duration; in other cases, the couple got what they needed and closed their nuptials back up. Either way, an Open Marriage is not for the faint of heart (or the jealous!).
If you’re interested in creating a Living Apart Together, a Parenting Marriage, or an Open Marriage, here are just 5 of the more than 50 qualities they identified that you’d need to be in place in your relationship for it to work.
1. You like and trust each other.
2. You communicate well.
3. You feel the benefits of this choice outweigh the costs.
4. You make the choice together as a team.
5. You don’t need others to like or agree with your choice
As a society, we are seeing more marriages trending away from a “traditional” model that isn’t working for far too many toward creative solutions that don’t entail divorce. Susan and Vicki offer four additional alternatives in the book as well (Starter, Safety, Companionship and Covenant).
To read more on alternative marriage models, please pick up a copy of The New I Do here.
Another version of this article was previously published on psychologytoday.com