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Divorce or One Last Chance?

February 8, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

After moving out and initiating divorce, my husband is vowing to change. Should I give him another chance?

Dear Emuna,

I am sad to say that after 30 years I am divorcing my husband and the father of my three beautiful children. We have shared a lot and really struggled together but there are too many destructive elements in our relationship for me to continue as is. I have begged and begged him to join me in therapy or to go on his own. I have been telling him for years that changes need to be made and I have been working on my own growth. He has been recalcitrant and refused to acknowledge any responsibility or any need to change. He has become progressively more difficult to live with and I have finally had enough.

Now that the divorce is actually going through and I have moved out, he is experiencing regret and vowing to change. Of course this tugs at my heart strings and makes me feel conflicted. What should I do? Should I give him another chance?

So Confused

Dear So Confused,

I certainly don’t blame you for feeling that way. It is a difficult, painful and complicated situation. Let me just clarify right off the bat that my advice is VERY general and based on the VERY limited knowledge of your situation presented here. Of course this is always true but when the stakes are so high, I don’t want to presume to have the answer. Divorce, as I’m sure you know, is a very serious step with serious consequences – emotional, financial, psychological – for everyone involved. I’m sure you’re not taking this step lightly. And I’m sure it’s not something you decided to do overnight. By the sounds of your letter, you have been gradually moving in this direction.

Of course the goal is that your husband should want to grow and change and it’s painful to think of divorcing at the exact moment when he has finally decided to do that. It leads to your sense of confusion and conflict which is understandable. If there is actual hope for the marriage, you may not want to walk away. Whether there is actual hope is something I am not in a position to evaluate. I can only suggest some questions to ask yourself (questions that may not have definitive or easy answers): Is he serious about change? Will his determination to change last if you return to the home or will he revert back to old and familiar behaviors? Having gotten you back into the home, will it be harder for you to leave?

Assuming he is sincere (and not just trying to manipulate you back) and assuming he will really work on changing, are you willing to wait it out? Real change takes real time – and may actually never even happen. Are you in it for the long run whatever the outcome?

You didn’t mention how serious the issues are. Are they amenable to change? Is it possible to stay there while he’s working through them? How are your children being impacted? Which is the better message for them – commitment at all costs or knowing when it is killing you and time to walk away?

This is just the beginning of the kind of introspection required. Again, I don’t presume to know your situation and these are difficult and complicated inquiries. It is certainly worth asking yourself these questions before finalizing your divorce but whether it is appropriate to go ahead with it is something only you can determine. I highly recommend finding a therapist/mentor/ third party with whom you can discuss your situation and get some objective feedback. I also recommend prayer – ask the Almighty to give you the clarity and the strength for whatever difficult choices lie ahead.

Joining New Synagogue

Dear Emuna,

We just moved to a new city and are in the process of choosing a new rabbi and synagogue. We were members of our former synagogue for 20 years and loved the rabbi and the congregation. Membership dues are expensive so we don’t want to make the wrong choice. And of course we want to enjoy the experience. Can you help us decide?

New Neighbors

Dear New Neighbors,

It’s great that a synagogue is one of the first things you are looking for now that you have moved. I think that you could look at choosing a rabbi like choosing a doctor. There a number of different things you want to look for – a shared philosophy, a personal connection, the appropriate education background, and certain physical proximity to name a few. I would begin by asking around and then you can engage in the process colloquially known as “shul-hopping”.

Visit a different synagogue (among the ones that fit your criteria) every week to see if you enjoy the other members. How welcoming are they? What kind of educational and social programming do they have? Where do they stand on matters important to you – obviously their Jewish perspective but also their position on Israel (not to be taken for granted these days unfortunately), their political leanings and so on. You want a place where you feel comfortable on the one hand (as in among like-minded people) and are pushed to grow on the other.

If you have children, you certainly want to see what kind of children’s programming they have and what is the future path of the children who grow up in this community (academically, Jewishly etc). It is a serious question with potentially serious implications and since you are asking me, I know that you are not treating it cavalierly. Better not to rush and wait to find the place that works than to put yourself somewhere that will be difficult to endure.

As I suggested to the first writer, it is always appropriate to ask the Almighty for strength and clarity in making decisions, and certainly where the decision affects your spiritual life and spiritual future. I hope you find a warm, welcoming, and growth-oriented community. It sounds like that’s what you’re looking for!

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