What should you do – indeed, what can you do – if your husband says he wants a divorce?
It’s a shocking, scary experience to contemplate divorce, especially when confronted with it by an angry, despondent, or frustrated husband. Divorce is the stalking specter of our modern society. It’s not something rare or unheard of like being struck by lightning or hit by a meteor – everybody knows someone who’s been divorced or been affected by divorce. We’re not talking about something theoretical. Divorce is all too real.
However, you aren’t divorced yet, even if your husband says he wants to split up. So don’t panic. The nuclear button hasn’t been pushed yet, and the ICBMs aren’t yet in the air.
Take a deep breath. Listen to what your husband has to say. Don’t try to reply or respond right away. Try to hear exactly what he is saying, exactly what he is upset about. He may not be too coherent himself, especially in the heat of an argument that leads to him shouting, “I want a divorce!” But do the best you can to hear him.
Once he’s said his piece, get yourself to a quiet, safe place where you can calm down and write down everything he said – everything you can remember, anyway. Writing has two purposes. First, it will help calm you down because it is a slower process than speaking. When we talk, especially when we argue, our mouths frequently run so fast they get way ahead of our brains. Writing forces us to slow down, and calm down. Second, writing will help you clarify and organize your own thoughts and your husband’s complaints about your marriage.
It’s important for you to do this someplace safe and by yourself, so you avoid any more heated arguments or fighting that just injures you both without doing anything to solve the problem. Take as much time as you need in your quiet sanctuary. If your home is too small, or your husband is too angry, leave the house and go somewhere else, whether to a friend’s place or to a café where you can work in peace.
“As much time as you need” means exactly that. You may need hours, days, weeks or longer. During this time, you shouldn’t communicate much with your spouse, except to let him know you have heard his complaints and need some time to think them over and figure out what you want. If you are already sure you want to fight to save your marriage, then let him know, in a calm way, that you don’t want a divorce and are committed to fixing things.
You don’t have to move out, but you will want to make sure you have the private time you need to write and think during this period. What you need to decide, first, is whether you feel your marriage is worth saving. Write a list of all the positive aspects of your marriage, all the things about your husband that you are grateful for. You may also want to write a list of negatives, although that isn’t as important.
If you want to keep your husband and work to save your marriage, that’s good. Let him know how you feel, but carefully. It’s all too easy to use your own intentions as yet another weapon to injure your husband – “Unlike you, I want to save our marriage!” Don’t do that. During stressful times and especially during divorce discussions, it’s natural for both spouses to want to seem morally superior to the other. But although that might make you feel better, scoring a few cheap points at the expense of your husband, it does nothing to help you with your long term goal.
Take a piece of paper and divide it down the middle with a line. On one side, in one column, write down the various grievances your husband has expressed. Make a list of these items, one at a time, such as, “He feels I work too many hours and don’t spend enough time with him,” or “He says I nag him,” or “He says I am overweight and unhealthy because I don’t take care of myself,” or, “I cheated on him.” Address each of these complaints by writing possible ways to fix the problem in the opposite column.” If, for example, you wrote, “He says I work too much and we don’t see each other enough,” then on the other side write ideas for addressing that problem. Those could include asking your boss for permission to work different or fewer hours, or to telecommute, enabling you to spend more time with your family.
Even if you or your husband, or both of you, have cheated on each other, there are ways to mitigate the damage and mend your marriage. Possibilities include sessions with a therapist or marriage counselor, as well as some sort of renewed marriage commitment or ceremony.
It’s important for you to acknowledge and accept the part you have played in damaging your marriage. If you can’t move past your anger at your husband, and you blame him for everything, you won’t make much progress. Of course, it’s neither fun nor easy to take any blame for the mess you’re in, but it is vital in helping you heal and move forward. Focus on your own mistakes, while ignoring those of your spouse right now. Have you worked too much and neglected your husband? Do you tend to nag him about chores or other issues? Have you cheated on him? Write down a list of your own mistakes and read it over every day for a week. This will help you start to accept responsibility for your actions. Beside each item, write down positive steps you are willing to make to repair the damage you have done.
Another good way to move towards reconciliation is to sit down with your husband, tell him you are committed to repairing the damage to your marriage, and to read him the list of mistakes you have made. Acknowledge each transgression and tell him how you plan to make up for that particular mistake. Be calm and don’t grovel. The purpose here is not for you to humiliate yourself or take all the blame. But it is important that you keep the focus on yourself. During this talk, say nothing about his mistakes, shortcomings or problems, no matter how angry you are about them. It’s important to keep on your side of the fence for now. Address your own problems in a sincere way, while leaving his alone. Once you start criticizing what he’s done, you will get into another argument and healing will stop. Stick to a sincere statement about your own responsibility for the trouble, and outline steps you’re taking to change things.
None of this will be easy. It will all be terribly difficult, in fact. But it will be easier than getting divorced, and far more beneficial in the long run.