Heartbreak

5 Realistic Things You Can Do When Your Spouse Wants A Divorce (And You Don't)

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couple in a field, blonde woman looks right at camera while man looks away

The unthinkable has just happened — your spouse has announced they want a divorce.  Your whole world has just been turned upside down. 

The challenge to repairing your marriage lies in this truth: your unhealed pain is yours to heal, not the other person's to fix.

You want connection and your partner wants space.

You pursue your partner and ask to for more connection and time with them, which makes your partner withdraw even more.  Now when you ask to connect, your partner walks away and you follow them desperately trying to connect.

Your partner explodes, and now you both withdraw from each other feeling equally hopeless that your needs will be met.

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This fight, which most likely has been acted out over and over throughout the marriage, inevitably leads to disconnection. Neither of you feel seen, heard, respected and valued. And, this fight is seldom one person’s fault, though one person in the relationship may believe that to be the case.

Now every couple has a “fight”. Some are loud and dramatic and others are more quiet and nuanced. All couples come together with their own history— a template so to speak — on how to love and be loved.

This template got created from both the explicit and implicit messages they received about love from their family of origin.  They also come in to the relationship with their own unhealed childhood wounds where they may have felt alone, abandoned, neglected, shamed, or humiliated.

When this happens, many people develop deeply subconscious beliefs, such as they are bad people or aren’t lovable. So when they meet someone who they connect with, those unlovable parts of them feel redeemed, for a little while.

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Often, what brings people together is what also tears them apart.

Once the honeymoon phase ends, that consistent connection you feel from your partner starts to feel less consistent. This will then trigger anxious, panicked thoughts, as those old vulnerable parts that felt unlovable start to rekindle. When this happens, people fight desperately to get that sense of connection back.  

Your unhealed pain is yours to heal, not the other’s to fix. Couples, more often than not, inadvertently place their burdens on their partner.  How many times have you said, “if they really love me they would do...”?

It’s a common misconception. Loving someone doesn’t mean you always do what the other wants you to do.  But, it does mean you care about their needs and their pain. 

So, with this in mind, can one person save a marriage?  No, but they can be the catalyst for both people to embark on a journey of deep healing, which may inevitably lead to both people learning how to do their tango better. 

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Here are 5 things you can do when your spouse wants to leave the marriage

1. Try to get your spouse to stay.

All you can do is ask your spouse to stay. When you ask, and the answer—after you've done your best—is still no, hear the answer. It's not what you want, but you must honor and respect the response.

2. Engage in the process of understanding the breakdown in the relationship.

It is important to gain an understanding where the relationship took a turn for the worse. If you can track down that moment, you may be able to repair the broken connection and move forward.

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3. Own your part in the breakdown.

Knowing what your role you played in your marriage breaking down is vital. It may have been a small issue that you weren't even aware you caused. Identify your part, and work to fix it.

4. Be willing to heal what you need to heal inside of you.

Facing the end of your marriage can be devastating. All of those vulnerable parts of you that feel scared, sad, and unlovable will come to the surface. As a result, a massive amount of grief may overwhelm you. Take great care in healing so that you can be whole.

5. Remain open to negotiating conflict

When both people feel confident that they can work through the conflict to be seen, valued, and heard then this may increase the chances of the relationship continuing. 

This may start the beginning of a new chapter for your marriage.

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Most couples therapists will continue to work individually with the person who has been left, so if this happens to you, take advantage of that resource. 

Not all marriages last.  And endings are not failures, especially if you dove into the above steps and did your best.  Someone’s choice to leave, as awful as it feels, does not mean you are unlovable.  It means they, for whatever reason, need to take a different path in their life that doesn’t include you. 

Your path now is with yourself for a while. And though it’s not a path you want, there are great opportunities for you along this path to learn, and grow, and be fully prepared to negotiate a relationship with the next great love of your life, should you want that.

You deserve someone who does have the courage to choose you for better and for worse, and that begins with you choosing you first.

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Maura Matarese, is a licensed psychotherapist and author. In her book Finding Hope In The Crisis: A Therapist's Perspective On Love, Loss, And Courage she helps people find happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship.

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This article was originally published at Maura Mataree, M.A. LMHC. Reprinted with permission from the author.