When your spouse says, “I want a divorce” it can be shocking and painful even if you’ve been talking with each other about ending your marriage or if you’ve been quietly considering it.
My current guest Bill was married for twenty-three years. With the strain of the failure of his wife’s business, her bad money decisions and her mental health problems, Bill had been weighing divorce but ultimately it wasn’t him who made the final decision. When his wife said “I want a divorce,” he was crushed. Here’s Bill:
I tried to help my wife through her business failure and the suicide attempts, but then I also found that she was taking out credit card debt again. So, I confronted her with that. This is where it gets really weird, because I already had in my head that I wanted a divorce, but I really wanted financial separation, because I still loved her and I still wanted to take care of her. But I was being crushed under the weight of this financial cowboy, this person who could not control her financial impulses.
When she said she didn’t love me anymore and that she wanted a divorce, I was crushed in a sense that I had built up so much of a, “I’m doing this for you. I’m trying to save you,” and to have her walk away from me was just—again, in hindsight, it’s easy to see it all in the past, but I had developed a tremendous co-dependency in trying to save her and to take care of her. And my therapist helped me understand that honestly.
I think it was determined and decided from her perspective that it was over. I think much like the books say and your clients and the people you talk to say, is that she had been wrestling with it for many months on her own with her friends, talking to other people.
I think the straw that broke the camel’s back or the tipping point was she actually had a male companion that she would go riding with often and when she stood me up for a night that we were supposed to spend together to be with him riding, that was sort of the tipping point for me. I think she realized that she had abused me or taken it a little bit too far.
Regardless of whether it had to do with any infidelity or not, I think she knew that I knew and now I was going to make it a big deal for her to spend time with him. I think that was the point where she realized that there was no going back. If I was going to tell her that “this is unacceptable” then the marriage needed to be over.
Subsequently, I think she felt a great deal of relief. She thought she was not only going to live in the house, but that we were going to be divorced and we were not going to be intimate and that she was just going to be able to do whatever she wanted to do and that lasted about a week.
The same time that I was trying to convince her that she was doing the wrong thing and trying to save the marriage, I was also realizing that it was too painful and too difficult to have her in the house. It is my house. It was my house, because we had separated all of the finances because of her business and subsequently her personal bankruptcy and her business bankruptcy.
I asked her to leave the house. I realized that she was going to go stay with her male companion. And she did and then subsequently ended up convincing the kids or convincing me that the kids needed to be with their mom and so they all moved to their own place. But I think that she spent a long time wrestling with what she wants and I think she still does to this day.
The Divorce Coach Says:
People are often surprised by the feeling of devastation that Bill mentions. They’re puzzled by the emotion when their spouse says it’s over even though that’s what they’ve been thinking.
The best explanation I have for this is that it’s grief.
Divorce is now a reality and that means there’s loss: loss of your marriage, loss of your dreams, loss of your partner, loss of your lifestyle.
It’s my belief that there’s always loss with divorce no matter who initiates it or says the words. People tend to assume that the person who initiates the divorce must want it and therefore must be OK with it. In my experience, that’s often not the case. The decision to divorce is one of last resort. There really isn’t any true choice about it. It’s the best option in a list of bad options. So even if you’ve been thinking about divorce and it’s your spouse who makes it definite, you are going to experience loss.
It’s important to recognize and acknowledge this loss because if you try to ignore it and push through it, it will impact your future emotional well-being. A fellow divorce coach, Jeannine Lee in her book Beyond Divorce recommends that you write out all the aspects of your marriage that you will miss. Be honest about this … this list is for you. And do include those things your spouse used to do for you that they haven’t done in ages or the activities you used to do together. Be realistic too … avoid putting things on this list that you wish had been part of marriage but never were. Save these for a separate list … that’s the list of what you want you in a future relationship.
Spend some time doing this. It’s not something you can sit down and do in ten minutes. It’s worth starting it and then revisiting the list over a period of time. And do hold onto it. It may help you later appreciate the gifts from your marriage.
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