This is about what happens when the promises that wove two lives together begin to unravel. It's about the commitment that you hoped would be forever and then found hanging by a thread. It's about the lives that hang in the balance. It's about divorce.

This is about what happens when the promises that wove two lives together begin to unravel. It's about the commitment that you hoped would be forever and then found hanging by a thread. It's about the lives that hang in the balance.

It's about divorce.

Frayed
When you pull a loose thread, material unravels. The harder you pull, the faster it falls apart. A couple is no different. From the moment the possibility of divorce is mentioned to family or friends, advice
follows that encourages each side to become adversaries. This, in turn, pulls the husband and wife further apart, faster.

When trying to save a marriage, or simply salvage a respectful relationship, standing up to this societal pressure is imperative, especially if children are involved.

"The problem is that the very thing that society is driving each of the couple to do is the opposite of what their kids need. Their kids need them to figure out a way to begin to deal with this together." That's according to psychotherapist and author Norman Shub, director of training at the Gestalt Institute of Central Ohio. Gestalt is unique in its team approach to guiding families through divorce, assigning separate therapists to work with the husband and wife - together and individually. Children also are guided through the process. The belief is that if "the team" is on the same page in regard to the message of unity, each family member will benefit even if the marriage ends.

When it comes to a faltering marriage, Shub believes that counseling is always beneficial. "(The husband and wife) may not choose to stay together, but for the sake of the kids, they're going to have a better relationship," he said.


Unraveling
When taking the first shaky steps toward divorce there are details to consider even when the decision is mutual.

Specializing in family law matters, Columbus lawyer Edward Whipps believes it's best if each party has representation and stresses that having a good understanding of the divorce process goes a long way toward relieving the anxiety that accompanies the decision.

"One of the worst things about going through divorce is the uncertainty and fear of the unknown. But if you have a pretty good understanding of what to expect, and you have confidence that your lawyer understands what you're facing and what you have to go through, then you go through it with a whole lot less consternation and trauma," Whipps said. Interview several lawyer candidates and focus on his or her experience with cases similar to yours, especially when child custody is involved.

The divorce process has three main steps:

(1) Decide custody arrangement. In most cases, shared parenting is considered ideal. That doesn't mean that children spend equal time with both parents, but instead, the parents make joint decisions when it comes to their children.

(2) Determine child support. Ohio has guidelines that determine appropriate child support.

(3) Divide assets and determine alimony. In very basic terms, a husband and wife keep the assets they had prior to the marriage and a judge divides the marital assets equitably. Alimony is left to the court's discretion with the length of the marriage being a major factor.

According to Whipps, it's imperative to get custody, assets and alimony settled appropriately in the beginning because getting courts to change arrangements later can be very difficult.

Divorce is a gritty process, but Whipps believes legal representation increases the chances the transition will go smoothly and fairly. He also encourages parents to seek counseling for themselves and their children. "Parents need to be aware of what they're doing to their children and how it's affecting them. That's absolutely the most important thing - keep your eye on your children."

That focus begins with finding the best way to break the news.


Hanging in the balance
"This is a moment in history that your child will never forget," said Margie Mapes, a registered play therapist who works with Shub at Gestalt. Mapes believes the family should sit down together and the conversation should take place at home. She said to keep the words, the where, and the when in mind when finding the right moment to tell the children, because it will become a life-long memory for them.

Mapes is emphatic that the personal factors that led to the divorce have no place in the conversation, or any future conversations. "If you take all your feelings, which are natural and real, into that moment, it's going to be about you and not about them. This needs to be about them."

Mapes said that what children need to know first and foremost is that the divorce is not their fault, and they need to be reminded of this fact each time you discuss the topic. Your child should be encouraged, not afraid, to ask questions, and not get their information through walls and closed doors. "Kids develop an extra ear. Don't think that because the child is in the room next door that they're not listening, because they're listening. They're scared." Keeping the lines of communication open is vital, Mapes said. "If children know what's going on it helps them to feel safe."

While many divorce attorneys suggest that spouses co-exist in the home as long as possible, Mapes disagrees and thinks that can be harmful to children. "It's really hard for a child to be in the middle of parents who are at each other. That is a very hurtful thing for a child." Mapes said once the children have been told, one parent should make plans to move out.

Worthington resident Cindy and her now ex-husband Tom (names have been changed) had two young children when they reached the decision to divorce 20 years ago. Cindy said that when Tom came for his things, she didn't try to shield their children as she helped her husband divide and pack their shared belongings. "I didn't want to take the kids out of the house and have them come back to see the living room furniture gone. I thought it was more important for them to see us working together and sharing our things. It teaches them that this is what you're supposed to do," Cindy said.

Mapes applauded the couple's decision. "If (children) are involved, then they trust what's going on. Imagine what's it's like for a child to walk back in (to the house) not having a clue of what just happened and the couch is gone and the pictures off the walls. They come home and feel like 'this isn't my house anymore.'"


Thread of respect
Experts agree that a respectful relationship between ex-spouses must continue long after divorce papers are signed; it's a critical piece of the puzzle when trying to put a child's world back together.

"The parents that hate each other more than they love their kids are the ones that do the worst damage," Mapes said. "It's important to remember that your child loves both of you and needs to be able to love both of you. When there's hatred and angst between you, then you can put them in a position of divided loyalties where they have to choose. This is going to be your child's family for the rest of their lives and if you keep the war going, this is where the child really gets hurt."

A divorcing couple may never manage a transition into true friendship, but maintaining what amounts to a working relationship can do wonders in allowing both sides to move forward without the continued burden of bitterness. Few can argue the benefit to the children, but finding a common thread of respect goes a long way too in allowing the fabric that wove two lives together to separate without unraveling.


(Un)happily ever after
Should parents who find themselves on the brink of divorce stay together purely for the sake of the children, even if they are confident their own relationship will never improve?

Norman Shub and Margie Mapes counsel parents and children respectfully at the Gestalt Institute of Central Ohio. Mapes asks this question: "Would you want your child to stay in a relationship like you have?"

Mapes stressed that the relationship that children witness between their parents will become their own model because it's what's familiar; it's what they know.

Shub echoed that message. "You learn a great deal about how to be married by watching your parents' marriage. And what parents have to remember if they make that decision to live in a loveless marriage where they're disconnected from each other and not excited about each other or happy to see each other, their kids are going to learn something about how to be in a relationship by being in the house with that kind of (relationship)."

Shub said he doesn't view the decision as either good or bad, he just wants parents to be aware of the consequences. He said he hears many grown children express feelings of guilt over their parents enduring an unhappy marriage because they felt divorce would be more harmful to the children.


Kristen Maetzold is a freelance writer and producer for Living & Learning TV with 18 years' experience as a television news producer. She lives in Worthington with her husband David and three step children, Will (22), Anna (18), and Andrew (16), and is a new-ish mom to Ellie, almost 2