There are other marital arrangements that can work without resorting to a traditional divorce. Some couples may choose to alter their arrangement as a way to redefine their marriage so that it works in the long-term. Others may simply want to ease the transition towards divorce or try a different arrangement as a last resort to try and salvage the marriage. If both parents can be civil to each other, living together under a different arrangement may help to ease the transition and soften the blow of divorce.
The parenting partnership arrangement
If parents are getting along together without any serious conflict, then they can remain partners in parenting in the same house while living separately under the same roof, almost like two roommates would. They can treat the marriage as a partnership arrangement revolving around the kids, pooling resources around them but otherwise living marginally separate lives.
This arrangement works best when couples are not diametrically opposed to each other, and who still have a desire to maintain the marriage, but find themselves quarrelling too much over habitual things and think that a little less time in each other’s face would help out. The couple rents an apartment nearby (preferably in the same neighborhood) and maintains the marriage within two separate residences. They can take turns staying at either place, or one parent can take up the separate residence. They still work together to raise the kids, they remain committed to each other in the marriage, they get together for romance or date nights, they merely maintain two separate residences in which to live. If the marriage is failing because you’re constantly fighting over housework or bad habits or the living style of one person or both, this arrangement may offer some reprieve.
The open marriage
When sexual problems are at the heart of marital distress, maintaining an open marriage may be a solution. There are scores of couples who stay happily married and in love while maintaining loose standards towards sexual exclusivity. In fact, swingers often score higher on marital happiness and satisfaction than other couples in psychological surveys. Perhaps the biggest benefit to such an arrangement is that people often find that merely lifting the burden of sexual exclusivity greatly reduces the urge and desire to cheat, actually bringing couples closer together in the process. When something commonly thought about is forbidden, (and sex with other partners is routinely thought about by both men and women), it increases the mind’s preoccupation with it. People feel trapped, and these feelings start to morph into resentment for the partner they feel constricted to and the institution that makes them feel trapped. This alone can profoundly restrict a marriage. When the restriction is removed, people no longer feel trapped, and this profoundly changes their psychology. They often find the temptation for such things is greatly reduced.
However, such arrangements only work if both couples are on board, and won’t work if one partner feels forced into it. Nor are such arrangements without risk. In most cases, there’s no rush by either partner to go out and start playing the field, and any liaisons, if they occur, will remain rare. They just won’t threaten the marriage commitment when they happen. But life is messy, and sometimes these liaisons can become destructive. However, if a marriage is already failing, and sexual issues are at the heart of it, it may be better to first try an alternate arrangement rather than abandon the marriage altogether.
Other marriage arrangements
As stated earlier in the chapter, marriage is whatever you choose to make it, so there are certainly other ways couples can redefine their marriage to make it work that aren’t listed here. If you’re interested in trying to redefine a marriage to make it work, start with your core problems, and then forget the stereotypes about “what marriage is” to find solutions for you.
Although we strongly believe these alternatives to divorce can be less traumatic to children, we should also caution that they are not without potential problems of their own. The biggest issue being that they may not last long-term. For example, you may decide to redefine your relationship and live as friends and partners in parenting, but not as romantic partners. But as each of you begin seeing other people, it’s quite possible that sooner or later one of you is going to meet someone else who wants to proceed in a more serious and meaningful way. They won’t be content to go half in, especially if they’re looking to start their own family.
But even when these arrangements don’t last, they can often provide a smoother transition for both you and the kids than a traditional divorce might bring.
How To Seek Help for A Failing Marriage
This information was not meant to be a detailed discussion of these topics. For that there are professional therapists and marriage counselors, and we also provide links below to additional resources which address marriage problems and offer marriage help tips. This chapter was merely designed to help couples decide how fixable or unfixable their problems actually are, and whether in the long run a divorce is what will provide each other the satisfaction and fulfillment in life each partner is looking for.
Only time will tell whether you made the right decision or not, and even decades later, it may not be crystal clear. There are potential costs and risks involved in whichever route you choose. So in the end, after investigating every other option, it’s important to follow your heart and make the best decision you can based on what you feel is the right thing to do, not on what others tell you to do.
The following resources are available on LifePsychology.org and will help you get started if you choose to try and fix a failing marriage:
Online information about the different types of marriage and family counseling, including guidelines for choosing a therapist.
This section provides more detailed information on many of the common marriage problems, including infidelity, that will help you deal with these issues.
Offers general help tips for maintaining your relationship and keeping it healthy.