You know you want to leave him, but he wants to make it work. What do you do?
I don't know what it is about women, but when we've made up our mind about divorce, the decision is made. It is done. We can suffer silently for years, filling the void in our marriage with girlfriends, new hobbies, or our children. But then comes the day when you decide you've had enough. It hits you with such clarity, you wonder why the decision didn't come earlier. After all, you haven't been happy for years. You hardly speak to each other. You’re almost sure he will agree to it.
But then he begs you to stay. He promises to change, go to marriage counseling…he will do anything to save the marriage. And you're thinking, I have given you endless red flags and opportunities to change, yet now, as I'm walking out the door, you want to save the marriage?
In my divorce coaching practice, my female clients are often shocked by how they are begged to stay, despite the misery in their marriages. Here's how you can be prepared for what might happen, and what to do if you still want out:
In the beginning, when you first tell him your wish for divorce:
- He will seek counseling or encourage you to go with him: Perhaps you've been to counseling and even suggested marriage counseling long ago, but now he's ready. Everyone can benefit from therapy no matter the stage in their life, so encourage him to go. Don't rule out going to therapy with him even though you still want to end the marriage—a good therapist can act as an effective communicator on your behalf and help you feel heard.
- He will read books and ask you to read them: Your personal book shelf may be filled with self-help and marriage recovery books, yet not once has he volunteered to read them…until now. He is suddenly playing catch-up while you and Oprah are already virtual BFFs, having taken all of her online courses on self-improvement. Rather than deflect his suggestions, encourage him to read your favorite book, without promising the outcome he desires. You never know, he may have an Ah-ha moment.
- He will send you flowers and cards: During your marriage he's only sent you flowers twice, but now he's sending you flowers twice a week—what gives? At this point, he is acting out of desperation and trying everything to change your mind. My clients tell me that incessant flower-giving is the biggest turn-off, out of all their husbands' attempts to save the marriage. Just remember, he is human and doesn't know what to do. Respectfully ask him to stop and abide by your boundaries and wishes.
When all of his nice efforts fail, it may start to get ugly:
- He will get passive aggressive: He will begin to act as the victim and blame you for all that hasn't worked. And if you're already feeling low and unsure, you will begin to doubt yourself, which is a passive aggressor's end goal. He is already feeling threatened and insecure so he may "question" your ability to mother, keep a stable home without him, or manage the finances, and you secretly wonder if he is right. He may say, "No one will ever love you like I love you." Fear and anger are driving his manipulation tactics, but the key is for you not to engage. Calmly respond, "I will not engage with you while you are angry," and walk away.
- He will be in denial: You may have already told him that you or he needs to move out. You have called an attorney and suggested he do the same. But he is in complete denial and comes home from work as if nothing has happened or is going to change. Continue to press him about his next steps, give him a move-out date, and email him your plans about dividing assets and child custody. Soon enough, reality will catch up with him and he will acquiesce to your wishes.
- He will accuse you of cheating: For the purpose of this article, let's assume you haven't cheated. But expect him to go through your phone and email looking for evidence to prove that you have. He might be so convinced that there is someone else that his relentless questioning may make you wonder if you did cheat but you forgot. Lock down your phone and email—he does not have the right to invade your privacy, even if he is your husband. And once again, do not engage by answering his questions or accusations. Have a calm answer prepared and continue to use the same response every time this issue arises.
- He will get clingy and/or mopey: For years you and he have lived separate lives, but now he wants to do everything with you. He volunteers to go with you to the grocery store, be your date at that fundraiser that never interested him before, or plan a trip to your favorite winery. And when you turn him down, he will act mopey and sad, which is another form of passive aggression. If you have truly made up your mind, don't let his clinginess make you feel guilty or allow you to change your plans.
The transition period from when you tell him you want a divorce to the actual separation will be one of the hardest parts of your divorce. Your mind and heart will be challenged as he begs you to stay, especially if there are children involved. If possible, allow the separation to happen sooner than later so that you may mitigate bad behavior between both of you. For more help on this subject, please visit my website.