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Decisions in Marriage and Divorce: From Me to Us and Back Again.

by | Jun 13, 2023 | Decision Making, Divorce, Mediation

When we are young our parents are involved in a lot of our decision making.  As we get older we take over this responsibility and start getting the opportunity to make our own decisions.  When we enter romantic relationships and marriage we move to a new phase where we share decision making with our partners.  Many couples have different ways of sharing  this responsibility but for relationships to work we typically must be thoughtful in involving our spouses in important decisions as well as thoughtful about how our decisions will impact one another.  Divorce involves shifting once again from making “us” decisions back to making one’s own decisions.  This week we focus on the good and bad that comes from both maintaining the autonomy to make our own decisions, and surrendering some of that autonomy for the good of a relationship.  A big benefit of being the sole decision maker is we can focus more on taking care of ourselves and making sure our own needs are met.  On the other hand it is nice to have the support and input of others as we make our decisions and to have others vested in the outcome of our decisions.  

After I graduated from college I had a little bit of time before I was to begin Law School.  I saved up some money and planned a solo trip to Australia.  I arrived in Sydney with a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, some clothing, and seven weeks before I would be returning to Sydney for my return flight home.  I had some ideas about what I wanted to do;  Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, exploring Ayers Rock, lounging on a beach in the rain forests, hanging out with some koalas and kangaroos, but I had left the actual itinerary for a complete clean slate.  I can’t really think back to another time in my life when I was left absolutely free to make my own decisions and that the only consideration really was me.  


Freedom to make our own Decisions.  At the Sydney airport I spoke with an agent at the information desk and asked what their recommendation was for my first place to stay.  My backpack had gotten routed to a different airport so there I stood with nothing but the clothes on my back.  I sorted through my options and ended up staying at a hostel that was right near the beach.  For the next seven weeks I would get up each morning, assess my options, then head off in whichever direction the wind chose for me that day.  There was no answering to anyone.  I was left to do precisely what I chose to do.  I met others along the way and would join up with them and spend a little leg of the journey with them.  These periods of overlap had us making some decisions together, but as soon as I wanted to go in a different direction, we would say goodbye and I would be on my way.

It has been a long time since I have had that freedom to decide to do exactly what I wanted to do without regard for how it might impact others.  When we are left free from the influence of others as we make our decisions, we are in a position to take good care of ourselves, which sounds selfish but should be one of our duties to ourselves.  I don’t regret the decisions I have made along the way to consider the input of others as I make my decisions, but it was a wonderful feeling on that trip to get up each day and live it precisely as I chose to.



Other Considerations in Decision Making.  As we get older we often have more and more things at play that we must consider as we make our decisions.  We are discussing the consideration of a spouse or partner as we develop relationships.  Another really big factor in our decision making is when we have children.  At this time the center of our decisions shift from taking care of ourselves, to best meeting the needs of our children.  We have friends, and jobs, and family and commitments and responsibilities that we are constantly having to consider as we make our decisions.  It is easy to lose ourselves in it all.  It is easy to end up taking care of everyone else in the equation and meeting our own needs last or not at all.  Life should be a balance of finding opportunities to be generous to others while at the same time being generous to ourselves.  If we are not taking care of ourselves, we do not have as much to give to others.  Mixed with all the hard stuff that must be dealt with, we should celebrate the opportunity to take a little bit better care of ourselves in our decision making.


The Joy of Shared Decisions and Experience.  With the wheat comes the chaff. I remember my first scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.  The dive had us tunneling through beautiful pink and purple columns of reef.  There were fish of all shapes and sizes.  There were schools of colors that I had never seen in my life which dazzled, amazed and overwhelmed me. I had become friends with some of the people on the dive, and we dove together marveling at the wonder of it all.  Despite being with others, I had a sense of feeling alone.  I remember having a longing to be able to share this moment of beauty and grace with someone who was important in my life.  We are open to giving up some of our own autonomy because life is much more full when it is shared with others.  We are rewarded in letting go of a part of ourselves by gaining connection to others.  


Back to Our Own Decision Making.  I have not been through a divorce so I don’t know that feeling of letting go of the considerations we give to our spouse when our relationship ends.  I have witnessed others and know it is especially hard for spouses that have been heavily reliant on the other spouse’s input or where the other spouse has taken on the role of primary decision maker.  The other spouse might have managed the finances and now they are no longer there to be trusted to make the decisions.  This can be a scary transition back to making decisions for ourselves.  There are resources available for helping with this transition.  There are coaches, therapists, financial advisors and other support that can help us in this transition.  It is a great opportunity to assess how well you have been taking care of yourself and to be sure that your own needs are at least part of the decision making process.