Confusing Want with Need – don’t expect what divorce cannot deliver

After more than 20 years doing this work:

– I know what you want;

– I know what you believe you want; and

– we both know what you truly need (whether you are willing to admit it yet).

At least half of divorce distress results from confusing wants with need. No matter how bad your divorce is, it almost surely won’t deprive you of your most basic physiological needs. You don’t need to be married to get air, water, or basic food, clothing, and shelter.

What is my point? It’s this: don’t see divorce in the wrong light. Don’t expect more from divorce than it can give. Don’t expect from divorce what it cannot deliver.

Safety and/or Security

Except in rare situations where a spouse threatens violence if you divorce, the divorce likely won’t deprive you of physical and emotional safety. Indeed, many people seek (and obtain) greater physical and emotional safety through divorce.

If you seek a divorce to escape a violent marriage, divorce itself will do very little. Even if the court issues you a protective order, the inside joke among lawyers is that the piece of paper won’t stop fists, knives, or bullets.

A divorce won’t really leave you much safer economically either. Generally, a divorce will cut all of your marital assets in half, with 50% going to you, 50% going to your spouse. If you are ordered to pay alimony and child support, a big chunk of your income will be taken for years (in some cases, for life). But if you are an alimony or child support recipient, don’t get smug. Without your ex-spouse voluntarily paying, you can hardly count on getting paid in full and on time each month. And if your alimony or child support paying spouse loses his/her job or dies, your divorce decree won’t save you.

Maintaining the Status Quo

With rare, rare exception, divorce affects and usually changes to some degree every aspect of your lifestyle, even of your identity. Trying to keep everything as it was is impossible; the court can’t do it, nor is the court terribly interested in even trying.

If you think that divorce will “save” you the “cost” that your spouse is to you, you will likely soon realize just how much you spouse did for you that you now must either do without or pay someone else to do. All those minor repairs around the house. The yard work, the snow shoveling, the cooking, the cleaning, making the doctor and dentist appointments and getting the kids to and from. Unless your spouse is a total slug, you’re going to suffer a loss. Few people have the “luxury” of divorcing without feeling the financial pinch of all the services their spouse used to perform. So don’t think that divorce will save you money. Between 1) all the money you’ll spend to compensate for the loss of your spouse’s services and perhaps 2) alimony, divorce is going to cost you. And if you think alimony will put you on easy street, that illusion will evaporate as quickly as the money you find yourself having to spend just to meet basic needs.

Respect? Sympathy?

Divorce is a time when we often want sympathy, we may even feel as though we need it. But the court is not in the business of sympathizing or acting on sympathetic impulses. Get your sympathy and your empathy from your loved ones.

If you seek to gain your unappreciative/demeaning spouse’s respect through divorce, bear in mind: you cannot compel respect under even the most favorable of circumstances, and divorce is far from the most favorable of circumstances.


You are as free now as you’re ever going to be. More often than not, any gains you obtain in divorce will come at a cost to you as well. Divorce can free you from marriage, but that won’t give you more freedom.


While it is possible to have the court exercise its power for your benefit, court order power over your ex-spouse is largely in proportion to the extent your ex-spouse obeys the court’s order.


Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

What Cost Revenge? Are you wanting to litigate to get even? If so, is revenge worth $20,000 or more? Worth a year or two of your life and time and attention? And as much as I hate to put it this way, I must: even if you’re not the vengeful type, is it even really worth $20,000 and up to roll dice in the hope you’ll get simple justice? Might you be better served spending that money on things you can control? Might you be better served building yourself back up, instead of trying tear your spouse down? The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.[1]


Divorce will necessarily break up a family and damage or destroy other close relationships; as a result, rarely will you come out of divorce unscathed emotionally. There may be some permanent damage, but it’s not total damage. You cannot avoid it, but you can treat it, you can recover from it. You can (and should) make new friends–new friends that you’ll need in new circumstances. You can–and will–develop and deepen the relationships that survive divorce. You are loved and will continue to be loved.

Divorce cannot defeat you unless you let it. The same hammer that shatters the glass forges the steel. If we banish hardship we banish hardihood.[2] Bad breaks, therefore, need not break a good man [or woman]; they may with God’s help even make him better.[3]

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

[1] Marcus Aurelius

[2] Hugh B. Brown, “Salvation Is My Goal,” New Era, Dec. 1974.

[3] Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, pp. 40-41.

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