December 12

Help! I Don’t Want to Get Divorced but My Spouse Does!



dealing with divorce, deciding to divorce, discernment counseling, divorce blog, marriage counseling

Depressed woman holding her head, thinking, "I don't want to get divorced."

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?


Too many question marks on strips of paper

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.

Hands holding red figures of a man and a woman with the words "Let's talk" between them.

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 off line 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 engage in these activities alone.

foot ballroom dancers on the dance floor

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.

Ostrich burying it's head in the sand - I don't want 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.

Road sign stating, "A Better Place," with storm raging behind it.

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 through 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.


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  • I don’t know if my wife is serious about divocing. She does thing to make me angry. When I leave the house for a drive, she will ask, where have you been? What can I ask her to make me belief? We have 4 kids and 1 is about to go to college.

    • Have you tried therapy? Obviously there is something on your wife’s mind. A good therapist can help you get to the bottom of it in a non-threatening way. You can also just try to talk to her about it yourself, but it sounds like you have already tried that.

      • Hey Karen
        My wife wants a divorce and I do not she sign and I did not we try and I beg and it did not work I sat there crying she gave me her ring and told me to move on I can’t

        • I am so sorry to hear that! I feel your pain. If you can, I would really suggest talking to someone about what you are going through. Talking to a therapist would be best. I would say to talk to your wife, but it doesn’t sound like she is willing to talk to you anymore. If she will talk to you and work on the marriage, definitely do that. But, if not, then you need to focus on your own feelings and work on yourself. It doesn’t help to just say “move on.” Moving on is not that easy.

          You can’t force someone to love you, or to stay married to you. As hard as this time is for you right now, know that you will get through this tough time. But, it will be a lot easier if you get some help.

          Sadly, I can’t tell you a lot more than that right now. Please reach out and find a therapist. There is no shame in getting help when your marriage is falling apart.

          Good luck.


          • OK I beg and she sign the papers right in front of me last night which rip my heart out and I felt like when I answered the door the guy gave me the a big folder and I was happy then I open it and I felt like I was having a heart attack and she sign and yell no and cry and fell to my knees and she move my things to other room and I told her no I beg I told I thought I was having a heart attack

          • Hey Karen I got sever last night the guy handed,me a,folder I was,all happy all then I opened it and I felt like I was going to have a heart attack so she says I am going to sign I yell and beg no and fell to my knees because I could not breath and I told her she Rip my heart out and I told her I would not sign and then I went upstairs and she was moving my things in the other room and I told her no crying and begging I had chest pain and blocked the door

          • If you have been served, you need to get a lawyer immediately. You have a limited number of days to respond in court. You don’t want to blow the deadline. You need to find a lawyer in your area as soon as possible.


          • Why is not a good question. You may never know why your wife did what she did. I don’t know why either. Instead of asking why, try asking yourself “How can I deal with this in the most productive way possible?”

            I know I have said this before, but you really need to find a good lawyer and a good therapist. You can not ignore court papers. You can not ignore how you feel. You must deal with both. The right professionals will help you a lot.

            I wish you the best.


          • The lawyer said we will see her in court and it should be easy. I really do not want this but it has to happen I sent her flowers for vday and tell her I am changing she sent them back

          • Karen my ex is getting married again next month I am still trying to win her back but no luck she is happy and they want me to move on she says it happens she fell in love with her new guy when they met and she cheated with him because she did not want to hurt me but she knew she was in love with him

          • I can tell you are still in love with your spouse. I hear how much you want her back. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I do have a question for you. Why do you want her back?

            Here is a woman who cheated on you. She is in love with someone else. She said she is happy with her life now. While she may still care about you (she did say she wants you to be happy), she clearly does not want to be in a relationship, or a marriage, with you.

            Is this the kind of woman you want to be with?

            Yes, I can understand that you love her. I’ve been in love with someone who cheated on me before. I know what it’s like to want someone so badly that you are willing to overlook the past and start again. I’ve also had the person who I was willing to “forgive” and stay with, still choose to be with their new love instead of me. It hurts like hell! But, at some point, I had enough self-respect left to say, “I’m done. It’s over.” I let go and moved on.

            I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life pining over someone who didn’t want to be with me. Unrequited love might seem great in the movies, but it totally sucks as a lifestyle!

            You are divorced. Your ex has moved on. I don’t want to be cruel, but I have to be honest. It’s probably time for you to move on, too. If you need help dealing with that fact (and there is no shame in needing help!) find a good therapist in your area. S/he can help you let go and adjust. But, based on what you told me, I think that that’s where you need to focus: on letting go.



          • Ok karen even went to see her when she was trying on dresses and she told me to leave and I told her how great she look

        • My husband has anger problms. He gets mad over little things. And im the one to say sorry because i dont want him to be mad at me and i dont like fighting. Last night he got mad at me and yelled at me and said he wants a divorce and he wished he never met me or married me. Today i asked him if he still wants a divorce and he was really rud with me and said yes he does. I am so hurt. And the bad thing is he stays mad for awhile and im so tired of being afraid of doing things that i might make him mad at me. I love him with all my heart. But its like walking on eggshells around him sometimes. What should i do?

          • I can’t tell you what you should do, but I would suggest working with a therapist.

            You can’t change the fact that your husband has anger issues. Only HE can deal with his anger. But the bigger question for you is, why are you putting up with it? Why are you avoiding conflict? Why is it okay for him to treat you so badly?

            I think you might benefit a LOT by working with a good therapist. S/he can give you some tools you can use for dealing with your husband’s anger. S/he can also help you understand your own feelings about your situation.

            I’m not saying that you need to get a divorce. That’s not my call to make. But you could use some support so that you can turn things around for yourself.

            Hope this helps.


          • we were married for 18 years living together for ten in our house you left me overnight cuz I got in a fight with this girl kick me out of the house moved her and had a baby now you divorced me and I’m still madly in love with him and I don’t know why I think he was the one always love and wanted to be with foreverIdont know what to do how do I get rid of the pain and how can I still love him after all that and im alone cause my heart is still with him

          • Getting rid of the pain takes time. If you want to work through the pain faster, having a good therapist can help a lot.

            If you’re not working with a therapist yet, you might want to check out BetterHelp. It’s the world’s largest online counseling service. It can match you with a therapist who meets your needs within 24 hours or less. Since all therapy sessions are conducted online, you can even start now while most therapists’ offices are closed.

            CLICK HERE to check out BetterHelp.

      • My wife has filed for a divorce, we have two amazing children together and i think the marriage is worth saving. She will not go to Marriage counseling. And she doesn’t like to talk about us. I dont know what to do.