Alternatives to Divorce

It’s one thing to say “let’s don’t divorce.” It’s quite another to decide what you’re going to do to save your marriage. You have several alternatives to divorce; the alternative you and your spouse choose will depend on your tolerance for change, your desire to be together or apart, and what you can afford.

Here are the main alternatives to divorce:

Do Nothing

The first alternative you have is to do nothing. No, really. You can choose to remain in your marriage even though it’s an unhappy marriage, if you decide you can live with the disappointment of an unsatisfying marriage more easily than you can live with the pain, expense, and disruption of divorce.

This may seem a strange choice, but you should know that many, many couples have made the decision to opt for a so-called “parallel marriage,” probably many couples whom you know. Although they may not have “happy” marriages in the traditional sense, they have evolved a relationship that allows both of them to live pleasant, reasonably fulfilling lives.

Sam and Dorothy spent several sessions with me in mediation. Sam was an alcoholic, and Dorothy had decided that she just could no longer live with the way booze ruled both their lives.

After exploring thoroughly the way divorce would work, including the need to get private health insurance for Dorothy, they decided together that they could live in the same house with each other more easily than they could live with all the consequences of divorce.

Sam and Dorothy drew up a specific but informal “marriage continuation” plan, including detailed arrangements for Dorothy’s ability to separate herself completely from Sam when he was drinking. It’s certainly not the best solution for all troubled marriages, but I honestly believe that Sam and Dorothy made the right call.

Trial Separation

A trial separation may allow the spouse who wants the divorce to experience some of the feelings of separateness without making a final decision to divorce. The main advantage of a trial separation, of course, is that it’s easily reversible. Beyond that, it may take just as much negotiation as an actual divorce and may be every bit as painful. In fact, it may make the pain worse because it prolongs the uncertainty of divorce. Nevertheless, if you and your spouse want to use a trial separation to give yourselves time to reflect about a possible divorce without making a final decision, it is an option.

In order for a trial separation to work well, I recommend that the two of you agree on a working arrangement for your separation. These probably should include what you will do with bank accounts and credit cards, what freedoms you will allow each other to form or carry on new relationships, and how often you will re-evaluate your separation.


I’m a big believer in counseling. If your marriage is seriously troubled (and if it’s not, what are you doing here?), counseling may be the only hope you have to save it.

The trouble with counseling is that if it’s done right and has any real potential to help, it’s going to mean big changes in the way the two of you relate to each other. That means it hurts almost as badly as divorce. You need to be prepared for that if you’re serious about using counseling to save your marriage.

If you’re serious about working to save your marriage, you might want to check out some of these sites:

  • Retrouvaille (French for “rediscovery”) – lots of links to solid resources. Sponsored by Roman Catholics but offered to all. Openly Christian.
  • Marriage Builders – lots of promotion of their telephone counseling services, but also some good ideas and tools.
  • Rejoice Ministries, Inc. – Christian couple in Florida working to save marriages. “When your marriage is falling apart, you may need an altar, not an attorney.” Lots of promotion of their own books and tapes, but some other good resources too.
  • Save My Marriage – offering seminars tailored for restoring troubled marriages.

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