MOLM Partner Benjamin Valencia and relationship experts discuss the issues that can build up over time that can culminate in a “last straw” situation that puts a marriage at risk.
Unfortunately, the reality of divorce is an important consideration for anyone who gets married. And while no one wants to anticipate an eventual breakup, it can still be helpful to understand what causes divorce to learn more about your own relationship. Just because many people aren't talking about the issues that lead to divorce doesn't mean they shouldn't be explored.
While most couples will have disagreements, if those issues build up overtime, it can culminate in a "last straw" situation where someone realizes they no longer see their relationship as worth saving. While a last straw may sound dramatic, it often signifies the culmination of a series of issues. "What is important to know about the last straw is that it is usually a symptom of an ongoing unresolved breakdown in the marriage for one or both partners," Barbara E. Kelly, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, collaborative practitioner, and Florida Supreme Court certified family mediator, tells Bustle. "Whatever the problems are, the couple has not been able to resolve them and they have continued to reoccur over time until one spouse finds it more painful to stay in the marriage than the anticipated pain of leaving." The last straw, then, may be more of an emotional realization than a major event.
Here are seven things no one ever told you about the last straw before divorce, according to experts.
People have all sorts of ideas about what their relationship dealbreakers may be, but largely don't know what their last straw might be until it comes up.
"Often people don't know until they get there," sexologist, relationship expert, and author Dr. Nikki Goldstein, tells Bustle. "They might think they know their limits, or in their mind consider at what point they might leave, but you can never predict how you will feel, and you can't control your emotions when it comes to this." For that reason, last straws can be blindsiding - or more subtly revelatory - for those experiencing them.
A last straw can be quite subtle. The moment can be a thought or a feeling, and is not always a major event like you see in movies.
"In some cases, the last straw isn't a cheating partner or a huge argument," David Bennet, counselor and relationship expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "It could be something as simple as getting 'the silent treatment' for the fiftieth time or getting sick of years of emotional and sexual boredom." While no one may have told you that these sorts of moments can be the decision factor for divorce, they often are.
While many people know not to believe what they see on social media, the last straw a couple experiences before divorce may come as a surprise to those around them if they've been keeping up appearances online.
"Most people's social media accounts are so well-presented and edited that most divorces seem to 'come out of nowhere,"' Bennett says. "I often joke that next time you see a perfectly posed couple photo on Instagram, remember they may have been [...] fighting before and after the photo." The effects social media may have on the divorce are often overlooked.
A last straw before divorce is often not an outward event, but rather a moment of self-realization.
"This usually happens because we as humans are creatures of habit and absent some last straw event, we will continue our patterns of behavior," Benjamin Valencia II, partner and certified family law specialist at Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers, tells Bustle. "Usually, the last straw is not even a major event rather, just the culmination of years of unhappiness or frustration." Often, people realize they no longer want to work on these issues anymore.
Mostly, couples don't see the last straw coming. Even though this may seem counterintuitive, it's often a matter of self-preservation. People don't want to think their relationship will fall apart after years of effort.
"The reason [people don't usually see the last straw coming] is that it usually involves the culmination of small behaviors which, over time, serve to break down the relationship," Valencia says. While someone may not realize that their pet peeve will become something serious down the line, it can become a last straw if other issues have been coming into play.
While sometimes both spouses will experience their last straw at the same time, usually it involves one person deciding they can no longer make things work. This reality means that one person may be able to grieve the end of the relationship a bit earlier than the other.
"Once someone begins thinking of divorce as an option, they often also begin the process of grieving the marriage and emotionally detaching from their spouse," Dr. Kelly says. "By the time they approach their spouse with their decision to divorce, their decision is made and they have already begun to grieve and move on from the marriage." While this might be tough for their partner, it can help them as they begin the difficult process of divorce.
One final thing people may not tell you about the last straw before divorce is that not everyone experiences this before getting separated. For some, divorce is more of a slow burn, and doesn't have a particular event or moment of recognition spurring it.
"For some people, there is a 'last straw,' an event that just convinces a person that it's time for a divorce (such as being cheated on for the second time)," Bennett says. "However, for other couples, a general feeling of relationship lifelessness may lead to a divorce without a 'last straw.'" Both experiences are equally valid, but it's important to understand the breadth of experiences couples who divorce go through.
Divorce is still a topic worth exploring. Everyone experiences divorce differently, but there's always more to learn about the way relationships grow and change over time.
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