Despite ongoing discussions, some spouses are genuinely surprised when their partner announces that the marriage is over and they want a divorce. To the spouse who made the decision, this seems incredulous and unbelievable. How could their spouse have a completely opposite view on something that was so obvious to them?
My current guest, Candi was married for thirty-five years. The divorce was her decision and it was a decision that had been made a long time before she and husband broke up. Even though she’d told him many times over the years that she was planning on divorce, he was still surprised by the divorce papers. Here’s Candi:
I left four years ago but only for six months. When I moved back home, he knew then I wanted a divorce. I told him then, that I wasn’t staying. He never believed it.
When he was served with the divorce papers last spring, he called me in total shock. He could not believe it and right up until the day that it was declared final in September, he just could not believe that I did that. He’ll tell you right now, he never believed that I would divorce him. He just never believed it. He thought we had been together for so long that we were just going to stay together and that was going to be it.
On some level, I kind of understand it, because I guess in his mind I put up with all the things that he did and he just thought that I would put up with them forever, because I didn’t turn around and take the kids and walk away. He thought that I would just put up with it forever. On another level, I’m thinking that’s crazy and in constant denial.
Even now, he said to me the other day that ten years from now if I hadn’t found anybody, he’ll still take me back. So, he still can’t believe that it’s over.
It doesn’t make me wonder about my decision. I think that he does love me and I think that’s half of it. I think the other half of it is that he’s just so used to me, he’s so comfortable with me and I think that he thinks that he’s never going to find that again, that it’s not possible for him to find that again. It took so many years to get that way, he doesn’t have that many years left to get that way again with somebody else.
He just has no idea how to conduct a relationship. He really doesn’t. Let’s face it, even at 58 this year, he’s really set in his ways. He’s not willing to change one little bit, so that’s his problem.
I don’t recommend telling your spouse you want a divorce by serving them with divorce papers unless your personal safety is at risk or there are other urgent reasons you need to protect yourself, such as securing access to funds.
Serving papers without preceding discussions makes it a brutal shock and puts your spouse under pressure to meet legal deadlines while in an emotional fog. This is the person you once loved – this is not the way to treat them with respect and compassion and it will almost certainly make the divorce process more difficult.
Ideally, the divorce papers should not come as a surprise. Ideally, you will have had many conversations about your marriage. Ideally, you will have taken the necessary precautions to protect yourself from potential adverse reactions. Ideally, your spouse will understand that you are serious and that your marriage cannot be saved.
But sometimes you do need a mallet (or divorce papers) to get the message across …
So why does this happen?
It could be that your spouse simply doesn’t see divorce as an option and they’re functioning with the expectation that marriage is a lifelong commitment no matter what.
It could be that they don’t believe that you would ever leave, that you aren’t capable of living alone or that you wouldn’t have the courage to leave.
It could be they are in denial – they don’t want to face reality and hope that by ignoring the issue it will go away.
It could also be that they are afraid of what life after divorce would mean and don’t want to face it.
Are you getting the sense that your spouse is not hearing you? Does it worry you? Does it change your planning?