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LGBT Divorce: From “I do” to “I’m done”

Posted: April 27th, 2018 | Columns, Featured, Life Beyond Therapy | No Comments

By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy

This is the column that I knew I would someday need to write, so I guess the time is now.

Yes, I have already done “Divorce Counseling” for a few LGBT couples (and a lot more for hetero couples over the past two decades) and, unfortunately, I’m seeing more-and-more married LGBT couples who are considering divorce.

I am often asked – by clients, friends and straight colleagues: are LGBT divorces different from hetero divorces? To answer that, here is the brief description of a seminar I have been offering divorce lawyers who want to learn about working with the LGBT community:

Same-Sex Divorce: A Workshop for Lawyers

This workshop looks at the route from “I do” to “I’m done” for same-sex couples. This is a well-¬traveled road—for straight couples. When their legal marriages are over, they know they will need a legal divorce. But for LGBT couples, the legal institution of marriage is still so new that the idea of matrimonial courts, equitable settlements and all the rest barely registers. This workshop will address questions like: How do you process the undoing of a bond that until a moment ago in history you were not allowed to form? Is LGBT divorce really a different experience than opposite-sex divorce? If so, how?

After almost two decades of work as a couples’ counselor, I can summarize the differences between LGBT and heterosexual divorce quite succinctly. We don’t expect it; they do. We fought so hard for the right to get married that it’s a big shock when it doesn’t work. They know from the get-go that the odds of their marriage succeeding are poor. We are more hopeful and idealistic, so when our marriages crash and burn, we are much more upset.

Otherwise, there really isn’t that much difference between LGBT and hetero divorce. The underlying causes and types of unhappiness are basically the same; the desire to change the other person (and not yourself) are similar; as are the desperate, last-minute attempts to make it work.

Everyone who gets married wants it to last. However, when you’re married it can become very easy to just not even see your husband/wife anymore. When deep in the problems of your marriage, it’s hard to see clearly.

If you were my client, I’d help you to find a way to step back from your marriage, take a clear inventory and look at your part of the problem. What do you contribute to making things difficult?

Trying to change your spouse is futile. She/he will only change if they want to. Often, if you change, your spouse will change too. But, as Freud said, the more psychologically advanced person usually has to go first … and that may be you!

I hear you saying, “Okay Michael, what if we’ve tried all this stuff and it still isn’t working?” If you and your mate are clear that you both want to split up, I highly recommend “Divorce Counseling”. What is it? A way to have as civilized and pleasant divorce/split as possible.

I went through it myself when an ex and I were splitting up. We had a few sessions with a counselor and it resulted in our parting being much more kind and considerate than it would have been otherwise. It gave us a place to vent (together) in front of a counselor who encouraged us to listen and not react. Our counselor validated our feelings while also urging us to not lose control and say intentionally mean and hurtful things.

Our divorce counseling helped us divide up property and possessions with as little anger/sadness as possible. It helped us grieve the loss of the relationship that we had and honor the good times we had together.

In short, it was the best thing we could have done at that time. And, now, as a therapist, I take my experience as the client and bring it to my work with my clients.  If your “I do” has become “I’m done” and you are clear that your marriage is over, please consider divorce counseling to bring closure to your relationship and allow you both to heal and move on in your lives.

Michael Kimmel

It sure helped me.

Note: You might consider attending a Men’s Retreat on “Sex, Love and Intimacy,” May 4-6, 2018 at Camp Cedar Glen in Julian. I’ll be part of a panel as we explore and integrate different aspects of sexuality into our lives. For more information, go to: bit.ly/2K4x7Pn.

— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.

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