The conversation starts something like this: “Hi, Karen. I’m, um, here because, well, um, because my husband wants a divorce. But, I want to save my marriage! My husband says he doesn’t love me anymore, but I know he doesn’t mean it. He won’t go to counseling, but I just feel like, if I can hang in there long enough, he will come to his senses. I mean, what can I do? I don’t want to get divorced, but my spouse does.”
You are Not Alone
It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman. If you find yourself facing divorce when getting divorced is the last thing you want to do, you are not alone.
I don’t have any hard and fast statistics on this, but I know, just from the number of people I have represented, counseled, or gotten emails and phone calls from, that a sizeable percentage of people who find themselves facing divorce don’t want to get divorced. They are not the ones who initiated the divorce. They are not the ones who left. Instead of wanting a divorce, they want to put their marriage back together.
The question is, if that is you, what do you do?
Assess Your Situation
The first thing you have to do when your spouse says s/he wants a divorce is to figure out what is going on, and figure out whether you have any chance of saving your marriage.
Did your spouse threaten divorce in the middle of a heated argument? We all know that people often say things in the middle of an argument that they don’t really mean.
On the other hand, if your spouse has already moved out of the house and has just had you served with divorce papers, you can pretty safely assume that s/he is serious about divorce.
The more difficult situation to assess is when your spouse gives you mixed messages. One day s/he says loves you, but the next day s/he wants a divorce. One day s/he is threatening to move out. The next day s/he is going with you to your child’s parent/teacher conference and acting like nothing ever happened.
Meanwhile, you are riding a roller coaster of emotions. You are not exactly sure what is going on, or what you should do.
How to Figure it Out
The easiest (and best) way to figure out whether your spouse is serious about divorce is, quite simply, to ask.
You want to know, not only what your spouse is thinking, but what s/he is feeling. You need to know (whether you want to or not) whether your spouse is involved with someone else.
Most important of all, you need to know whether or not your spouse is willing to give your marriage a second chance. In other words, you need to know if there is hope.
If your spouse won’t talk to you about your marriage, or if your spouse is just as confused as you are and can’t figure out what s/he wants, you need help. Your marriage is definitely in trouble.
No one talks about divorce when a marriage is solid, stable, and happy. So, the very fact that the word has come up means that you have issues you need to address.
You can address them yourselves, or you can try marriage therapy or discernment counseling. The key is to address them immediately. Ignoring the problems will not make them go away.
Saving Your Marriage When You Don’t Want to Get Divorced
There are countless ways to work on your marriage if you and your spouse are both willing to do so.
You can go to couples counseling. You can each go to individual therapy. If you are religious, you can meet with a religious leader in your faith. You can go on couples’ retreats. You can go on vacation.
If you are a reader, you can find dozens of books and programs both on and offline that are full of relationship advice. You can even try a trial separation if you think that might help. (But be careful! If your spouse only agrees to do a “trial separation” because it’s an easy way to get you used to the idea of a divorce, that does not count as “working on your marriage!”)
The one thing you can’t do (at least not if you want to have any hope of success) is to engage in these activities alone.
It Takes Two to Tango
If your spouse is not willing to do anything at all to try to save your marriage, you have a problem.
A marriage, by definition, is a union of two people. If one of those two has already made up his/her mind to leave, and refuses to engage in any activity that might result in a change of heart, it doesn’t matter too much what the other person does or does not do.
That marriage is not going to work.
What’s more, given today’s no-fault divorce laws, your spouse can get divorced based on irreconcilable differences whether you agree or not.
What to Do When You Don’t Want to Get Divorced But You Have No Choice
So, if you don’t want a divorce, but your spouse does, and you can’t change his/her mind, what is left? Quite simply, letting go.
Of course, there is nothing simple about letting go. It hurts. It hurts like someone just jabbed a hot poker in your heart and twisted it around like a medieval torturer. But, until you start to deal with that pain, you can’t get past it.
You can’t force someone to love you. You can’t force someone to want to be married to you. And, the simple truth is that, if your spouse is determined to get divorced, you can make it take longer, and you can make it cost more, but you can’t stop it.
But I Don’t Want to Get Divorced!
But, you may say, “I don’t want to get divorced. I don’t believe in divorce. Divorce will destroy my family and mess up my kids! Divorce is wrong!”
I don’t mean to be harsh or uncaring, but here is what you have to understand: It doesn’t matter what you want.
It doesn’t matter what you think is “right” or “wrong.” It doesn’t matter if you are willing to forgive and forget for the sake of staying married. If your spouse wants out, you are done.
Here is the hard reality you must come to accept: It takes two people to make a marriage, but only one to get divorced.
Denial is Not Your Friend
The first step toward healing is admitting you have a problem.
I understand that you may not want to get divorced. But if your spouse has left the house, started a new relationship, and served you with divorce papers, you are not helping yourself or your family by trying to force him or her to go to marriage counseling.
Yes, getting divorced sucks. But denying reality doesn’t change it.
Denial only prolongs your pain. As Winston Churchill allegedly said, “When you’re going through hell … keep going!”
Of course, admitting you are getting divorced is not necessarily going to ease your pain – at least not right away. But, you can’t start to heal while your head is buried in the sand.
You need to pick it up, hold it high, and look around to see where you are. If you can’t do that by yourself, then get a good therapist. Join a support group. Do whatever you need to do to help yourself start dealing with your divorce.
Life Isn’t Always Easy and it Isn’t Always Fair
Life often takes us places that we don’t want to go. Sometimes it drags us there kicking and screaming. No matter.
“Life,” “God,” “The Universe,” or whatever you call the greater force that moves us all, is bigger than you. There is a plan. You might not know what it is, but it is there.
So many of the people I have helped get through their divorce have later said, “I never wanted this to happen, but now I am so glad it did. I am in such a better place now than I ever was before.”
You can’t get to that better place if you won’t let go of where you are. I know it’s scary. I know it may not be what you want. But, if you trust the Universe, and you dare to go where it takes you, you may just find that the life you have in the end exceeds your wildest dreams.