The “D” Bomb: What if your partner wants a divorce…and you don’t?

When you are surprised by a divorceContemplating a divorce is one of the most painful decisions a couple will ever face, and it only gets harder when the desire to leave is one-sided. In most cases, the partner who wants the divorce has been heading in that direction for some time while the other has been keeping their head in the sand—out of avoidance, refusal to acknowledge one’s own role in the problems, or other reasons.

Still when they finally hear the words “I want a divorce,” they may feel like they’ve been hit by a truck—no matter how long the truck has been headed straight for them.

If your partner wants a divorce and you don’t, the first thing you need to understand is that the time is over for waiting and hoping. It’s time to be proactive and deal with the situation. That means keeping your cool (as much as possible), honestly owning up to mistakes you’ve made while taking serious steps to repair them, and also accepting that you are not in full control. You can do your best, but you can’t coax, guilt-trip or bully your spouse into staying. Again, he or she has not come to this decision lightly and isn’t going to change it lightly, either.

That said, here are some more specific tips for handling this painful challenge in your life:

  1. Make sure you have someone to talk to who has no agenda other than your happiness. Sometimes relatives and friends want to force you to take drastic measures, maybe out of anger at your spouse or protectiveness towards you. Their intentions are good, but their perspective may not be so helpful. After all, they aren’t living in your marriage. You need to find someone you trust to be both caring but objective. Considering a professional counselor would definitely be a wise option.
  2. Even if you are really really confused and upset, please try to resist groveling, begging or asking more than three times, “Why?” In my experience, when someone wants out of a relationship, it is rarely one specific thing. If they cannot tell you when you originally ask, they may not really understand it themselves. Continuing to ask (even though of course you want the answer!) isn’t going to get you an answer you want or can understand. It’s also possible that you already strongly suspect the answer…but you’re hoping for a different one. This is not a productive exercise.
  3. Be honest about the state of your relationship. Many people in this situation are afraid that by validating their mate’s dire assessment of the marriage, they’ll be putting the final nail in the coffin. But pretending that he or she is overreacting or that you’re just going through a bad spell is not going to help, either. Your mate may or may not be eager to talk it through right now, but the least you can do is acknowledge that you know how serious things have gotten. They need to know that you hear and understand their feelings. Rather than a tacit agreement to divorce, it can be a means to rebuild common ground that’s been dangerously missing for some time.
  4. Take some time and identify how you have been as a partner. This is not a time for self-flagellation but honest reflection. When you and your mate have acted out at your worst, how do you act? How does that measure up to the behavior and communications of the partner you most want to be? Consider this, again, not as a way to beat yourself up but to ground yourself in new behaviors you can be proud of.
  5. Apologize. You’re going through a lot of conflicting emotions right now, and no doubt one of them is anger. That can make it hard to apologize for ways you may have contributed to the marital breakdown. Swallow your pride and do it anyway, because it is a critical step in any attempt at reconciliation.That includes some honest soul-searching to truly own up to ways you have hurt your spouse and finding ways to show them you understand the harm you have caused. One book I highly recommend on this subject is “The Five Languages of Apology” by Gary Chapman.
  6. When we are hurt, it is like there is a bear trap on our foot and we are ready to lash out and do whatever it takes to stop hurting. Resist the temptation to take actions that may feel good for a minute but cause you greater problems in the long run. Whether you and your partner are able to reconcile or end up going your separate ways, this is going to be a long process, and you’re doing yourself as well as your partner a disservice if you make it worse than it has to be.Make sure any actions you take from here on out are ones you will be proud of when you look back years from now.
  7. Even when you do not feel like it, try as hard as you can to take care of yourself and your daily needs. Eat. Take a shower. Get your frustration out with exercise. You cannot make good decisions (or be a good partner) if you are not taking care of yourself first. And though humility may be an important part of attempting to heal the marriage, you also need to feel competent and strong to think and behave clearly. It’s not only in your best interest, but it’s another important element of trying to save your marriage. The last thing you want is for your spouse to think you’re falling to pieces, which is less likely to garner sympathy at this point than give him or her another reason to run.
  8. Ask your mate calmly if he/she would consider counseling. There are different types of counseling for couples that we do at OC Relationship Center. One is discernment counseling: “Where do we go from here?” This is when two people are trying to decide if they want in the relationship or want out. It consists of about five sessions where we look at the issues and come to a decision. The couple will either decide the relationship is over, and we can help them end it with grace and dignity, or the couple will decide that the relationship isn’t bad enough to leave but not very good either. In the latter case, we can enter into couples counseling. This is where we help each person to be happier and get their needs met, resolve underlying conflicts and improve communications skills.

Finally, if your mate doesn’t want to come to counseling, we offer “couples counseling for one” -individual counseling to help you see what you might do to repair the relationship or to deal with all the emotions you’re facing. You want to make sure that you are clear to make decisions that are in your best interest.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at 949-393-8662 or book an appointment online now at

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