I want a divorce but my partner doesn’t – advice if one person is ready and the other isn’t
A common hurdle to separating amicably happens at the very beginning of a separation; when one person says it's over, but the other person doesn't agree. Listen to this episode of The Divorce Podcast for more advice on when one partner wants divorce but the other doesn’t.
"What if one partner doesn’t want divorce?"
It's important to accept that you may be at a different stage of the journey to your ex. The first step is to talk to your partner to see where they are and what they think will help them to process the news. Counselling may be useful, individually or together. Some people need time and space to process this alone. Others find that couples counselling means they can hear their partners story to aid their understanding.
How do I tell my partner that I want a divorce?
We often get the question "How do I tell my wife?" or similarly "How do I tell my husband I want a divorce?" Our most essential advice is that you need to be clear that you no longer want to be in the relationship. Often people are not clear enough because they’re afraid of hurting their partner or having the difficult conversation. Here are some helpful tips to ease this difficulty:
- Choose a time and place to talk where you won't be distracted or interrupted.
- Avoid having 'a trial separation' when one person knows they want to move into permanency. This can give false hope and mixed messages that aren't helpful in the long term. If you’re unsure and want some time to think and explore if the relationship has a future, then this is a good idea. But make sure your reasons are genuine and you're not just prolonging the inevitable. Read this blog for more advice on this.
- Keep the initial message (i.e., that you want a divorce short). Don't confuse or dilute this by talking about other things or getting caught in the detail. Give your partner time to let the news sink in.
For more advice, read our blog 'How to tell your partner that you want a divorce or to separate'.
How do I get my partner to take the news seriously?
- Concisely explain to your partner that you have given the decision serious thought. Tell them that this isn’t an impulsive decision and that you firmly believe the relationship is over.
- Don't break the news during an argument. When something is said in a row and the heat of the moment it's easy for the other person to think that it was not a serious comment, just said in anger.
- Respect that your partner may be at a different stage to you. The analogy of one person being at the service station on the motorway while the other is just getting in the car to start a journey is appropriate. You may have to be prepared to wait at the divorce-diagnostic a while to allow them to catch up.
What emotions are normal if someone isn't ready or doesn't want to divorce?
Your partner may experience shock, anger, denial, and extreme upset. They may feel it is very unfair to not be allowed the chance to ‘fix things’ or ‘change’. Be calm, kind and empathic. Be aware though that you may not necessarily be the best person to offer support at this time as you are the one who has upset them.
You can offer practical support to enable them to seek help. For example, looking after the children so they can talk to a friend, seek counselling, go for a run etc.
Understanding why your partner doesn’t want to end the relationship can be helpful. You may discover it is not so much about your romantic relationship but fear of the future; what happens with finances and childcare etc. Identifying what is triggering their anxiety and resistance means you can address the specific areas of concern.
How long should I allow for my partner to catch up before I move on?
As per the analogy, time's a healer. You may be at very different stages on the journey, so you do need to allow some time for acceptance and adjustment. Instead of asking ‘how long?’ Ask ‘what is practical?’ Can you make some changes so that the separation starts, and you can move on, without it all happening at once? If you live together, can you sleep in separate rooms? Or is it better to move out and separate more quickly? Also, consider that if you take too long and go on as normal, it can give mixed messages that it's never really going to happen.
What if one partner doesn’t want divorce to happen?
The reality is, if one person says the relationship is over then it is. It’s not possible to stay in a relationship with someone who no longer wants that relationship. It can be very distressing to suddenly face the end of a relationship that you still want to be in. It will take time and like any grieving process, you must go through the stages of shock, anger, denial. But you will finally reach that acceptance stage and move on.
It won't be a linear process; it can have ups and downs on the way. Look after yourself and seek help and support when you need it. Remember it’s not a failure, it’s part of life and the experiences we go through. Not all relationships last forever. It feels hard now, but you will emerge from the other side of it stronger.
How can you process the news that your partner wants to separate?
Talk to those close to you, tell them you may not necessarily want their advice or suggestions. Instead, you may just want to be listened to. This can really help to order and process your thoughts. Counselling may help too.
Reflection is helpful. But it’s also important to balance reflection with thoughts and plans for the future and not living life pondering ‘what if?’.
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