As a certified divorce coach, Laura Bonarrigo specializes in helping people during times of transition in their lives. Her focus is to aid them in considering the ramifications of those changes and to hold them accountable to becoming the best possible versions of their true selves, living a life based on their values.
First I asked her whether she thinks that different genders have different ways of handling divorce. Her response addressed approaches to healing, and how that is often different for men and women.
In our culture, divorce is very common and we have come to see it as an easy solution. The statistics tell a compelling story: 46% of first marriages end in divorce, followed by 63% of second marriages, and 75% of third marriages. This tells us that people are not doing the work of healing after a divorce. She has found generally that women consider taking the step for a longer period of time than men do because financial and parental concerns hold them back. Because men often leave every day for work, they are more tolerant of weaknesses in the marriage, even of affairs.
As she has supported men and women in their healing, Laura has found that it’s essential to keep people growing and help them avoid getting mired in the past. “Divorce is an opportunity to grow,” she says, “and to become who you’re supposed to be.”
She has found that men are often more “coachable” than women. Even if they are not accustomed to self-reflection, men succeed because the necessary growth appeals to their competitive spirit. On the other hand, women are often not as coachable, because they tend to be caught up in the “drama of the story.”
We also talked about the way homebuying affects relationships. Many people are caught up in a “fantasy” around buying a home. The marketplace has taken advantage of our natural desires to generate fantasies that have nothing to with real values. When couples get caught up in this fantasy, they “don’t stand a chance” to be thoughtful and mindful, and seek out the right information. She counsels couples that are in this situation to “true up” their values with a budget. She uses the unpopular word “discipline,” which she says really just means self-care. “Math doesn’t lie,” she remarks. “What you want costs money.” Many people are simply “living life by default” instead of doing the real work.
But what kind of work should they be doing?
According to Laura, a life lived by design instead of by default begins with a person’s values and the integrity of being your best self. Especially in marriage, it’s important to know and to communicate values around money. Often during divorce people realize that their agreements based on values were not the same. When deciding to buy a home, couples must ask each other questions that may seem mundane and boring, but really are hugely important to the security of the marriage.
She adds that the way one handles money shows how he/she handles emotionality as well. If there is a lack of boundaries and transparency surrounding money issues, then other issues will mirror that.
She went on to summarize the many ways in which a house can undermine a relationship. Prospective homebuyers must articulate exactly what the home represents to them, and true up their values with the goals of the family. Everyone wants an expensive home; but expensive homes need to be managed. Often that will mean employing people, such as a housekeeper. If a house has a lot of space, it’s important to consider how that space will be used (or misused).
Laura states that she herself is very good at buying houses. I asked her what kinds of things she thinks about when planning to buy a home. The first item she mentioned was the commute. She feels it’s important to her to live near public transportation because she can’t justify hours of time stuck in traffic every day. She went on to allude to the importance of taxes, schools, water quality, utilities, environmental effects, neighbors, appliances, construction, and community. The quality of the home itself should be considered last.
Many homebuyers have a “comparison shopping” mindset when shopping for a home, leading them to just look at the home as a box. But in reality, the community must be selected first. The pre-thinking exercise of evaluating priorities will limit the homebuyer to certain towns. Often they will have to give up something in order to have something else that’s more important (for example, a smaller home in order to be close to the commuter rail).
The purchase of a home is a transitional moment for couples in which they either become closer or they find that their values differ. Often one person will compromise his values to make the other person happy. That leads to a foundation with cracks in it.
Traditionally, men take the role of provider and protector and he will often take on extra stress in this role to please his partner. When someone is in this position, it’s important to ask whether he has a support structure and whether his partner will help, perhaps by taking a job or maybe just by doing more of the housework. Communication (or as Laura puts it, “courtship”) is vital. When things aren’t going well, stress builds up and couples stop talking. They settle into a mode of “relationship by default.” As Laura says: “Courtship has to continue. You still need to be curious about your partner. It takes effort to keep that vibrant and alive.”
I asked her how she counsels people when they are in this situation. She quoted a favorite teacher as saying “accelerate towards embarrassment” and just have the courage to engage in a financial conversation. She points out that couples who can’t have a real conversation about money will find it equally difficult to communicate about other problems and challenges.
“Divorce appears easy, but in fact it’s deeply personal and difficult,” Laura cautions. “It’s easier to work on the marriage.”
She sums up these insights reminding us of the importance of growing within your marriage, rather than succumbing to “marriage (or divorce) by default.”
Laura Bonarrigo can be reached via her website, www.laurabonarrigo.com, which provides many helpful resources and articles. She can also be reached on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter.