The Case for a Long Divorce

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When Cordelia realized her marriage was over, she didn’t pack up and move out—she went to her then-husband and told him she wanted to start the process of breaking up. Thirteen months of therapy later (individual therapy for herself and her husband, couples therapy together, and therapy for each of their two adolescent children), they finally separated. She remembers a dinner with friends during that time where she cried out of frustration because they insisted she was dragging out the breakup and should just get on with her life. But after a 13-year marriage and two children, Cordelia (who asked that her last name be withheld since her divorce is ongoing) felt that the breakup deserved all the time and counseling necessary for every party involved to move on in the kindest way possible.

I have to do this the way I think is the right way, which is slowly and carefully, and not rush any decision that I might regret later,” Cordelia told me about her thinking at the time. She remembers the relationship as being good, in many ways: Her ex was faithful, financially secure, and a good father. Ultimately, though, she just didn’t see a future together. Although she and her ex both went into counseling, the idea wasn’t to try to stay together—it was to figure out how to part amicably. Many long-term relationships follow a painfully cliché playbook when they end: Have a big fight; move out; fight over your stuff; never speak again; begin to hate each other; talk badly about each other to your friends; etc. But more people breaking up today are reconsidering the best way to end a relationship, including how to honor their time together.

Breakup counseling has become noticeably more common in recent years, according to Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist in New York whose practice also specializes in couples therapy. He attributes the rise, yes, in part to Gwyneth Paltrow’s 2014 popularization of the term conscious uncoupling, but also to some of what Cordelia detailed: The idea of what a marriage could and should be has changed. “I think that the barrier to divorce … has gone down,” Lundquist told me. Although many couples used to divorce only under extreme circumstances—infidelity, violence, emotional abuse—he said, more couples today are willing to consider divorce “even in scenarios where things aren’t necessarily dire but are nonetheless not working for them.”


https://cdn.theatlantic.com/thumbor/vbcCowoqFJZLPF5DRnHKr-Yq_90=/0x0:2088x1174/960x540/media/img/mt/2022/11/BreakUp_1/original.gifAs the reasons for ending relationships change, so too are the ways people end them. (Ben Hickey)



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