For the majority of couples who come apart or divorce, to say it is a ‘trying time’ is to put it mildly. There is a loss of the hopes and dreams that most of us have when we embark on such unions, compounded by the reality that has evolved.
When one partner/spouse is convinced that their relationship is no longer viable and needs to be out of it, the partner/spouse doesn’t have a choice. What’s important, for both, is to realize that they are not in sync with their thoughts and feelings. Each person needs to understand the other in order to be able to part in a respectful manner, particularly when there are children involved.
The ‘leaver’ has made the decision that it is necessary to come apart, most often after experiencing sadness, anger, hopelessness, etc. about their situation. Most people don’t elect to take such steps lightly or quickly. They mentally slog through the disagreements, disappointments, and considerable differences between them. Both adults go through the five stages akin to having and accepting a terminal illness:
- Denial…feeling this can’t be happening to us, it’s unreal.
- Depression…any changes in eating, sleeping, energy level.
- Anger…impatience and resentment of their partner and why can’t they change?
- Negotiation…acknowledging the need for change and how to achieve it.
- Acceptance…we will be coming apart.
The leaver needs to realize is that their partner, who may not feel the same way about their relationship [or may, but not conclude that coming apart is the best or only solution] has time to adjust and will need to go through the same stages. The stages are generally experienced in the order listed above although people often shift back and forward, particularly in the beginning phases. It helps when the leaver understands his/her partner/spouse’s need for going through that process and presents his/her wishes gently, clearly stating the reasons for the decision and then being patient for his/her partner to catch up or, at least, be accepting to come apart. Doing this can facilitate a somewhat less emotional and more civil dissolution of the relationship or marriage, which is important to the couple and how they each move on but even so much more essential when there are children.
The person who doesn’t want to end the relationship, for a multitude of possible reasons, is thrust into the first phase listed above. “This can’t be happening!” “I knew we had problems but…not this!” “How can you do this to me (and the children)?” That partner/spouse usually experiences deep sadness once the reality settles in. Everyone’s coping mechanisms vary in how this and all of the phases present. Once anger is boils up in the left partner/spouse, he/she frequently resents that their partner/spouse is doing so well and this is “easy for them”, not realizing that the leaver has, most often, suffered through the same feelings before and is just ahead of them. If that can be sincerely explained it can ameliorate a negative reaction. When there isn’t counter blaming or accusations, there can be a less traumatic coming to terms with the situation and negotiating. Then, acceptance can progress.
When in a relationship, it is always beneficial to mentally step into the other person’s shoes to imagine how they think and feel rather than getting stuck in our own perspective of things. When a relationship not working or the relationship is ending, it’s even more vital.
by Sharon Klempner, MSW, LCSW, BCD