My husband broke the news to me that he wanted to end our marriage one evening in a beer garden. I literally couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Time stood still as I tried to process what he was telling me. My heart was pounding, and I thought I was going to throw up.
The reason he gave was that he didn’t love me anymore. I thought he adored me – he certainly had before - so I couldn’t understand how I’d got it so wrong or what had changed.
I was so shocked I couldn’t take it in and felt like I was in the middle of a nightmare.
So how could it happen that my husband had decided to end the marriage and I didn’t see it coming?
Firstly, relationships don’t actually break down over night. It’s not normally the result of one incident, although it can be one thing that finally breaks the relationship. It’s usually the fault of both parties. The emotional breaking up process can actually happen over several years for the initiator. This then leaves the other person trying to catch up in a short amount of time and feeling shocked, angry and in denial.
Psychologists have identified 6 emotional stages of going through a divorce which I’ve outlined below. It can really help to understand where both you and your partner are in the process to recognise the different emotions and behaviours
Disillusionment of one party - This could happen with the initiator over several years. They’re aware that there are problems within the relationship, but they’re not acknowledged or talked about. They start to feel unhappy in the relationship and can feel resentful. There tends to be more arguments and a gradual ‘growing apart’ where the initiator starts to do more activities on their own rather than together. They start to think about the idea of divorce and what that might mean.
Expressing dissatisfaction – The initiator expresses their unhappiness with the relationship to their partner. This is the stage where counselling may happen which can often result in a ‘honeymoon period’ where both partners make a concerted effort to try and make the relationship work.
Decision to divorce – This is often the point where there is no turning back. Both partners can feel victimised by each other and critical of each other. It’s highly likely that the initiator may have an affair during this period whilst the other partner is still trying to come to terms with it.
Acting on the decision – This is the start of the legal process of divorce and the couple are likely to separate and withdraw from each other more emotionally. This is when they tell their friends and family and start discussing the financial arrangements and child custody.
Growing acceptance – This can occur either during the legal process or after. It’s likely that both parties will accept the marriage wasn’t working. They have to rediscover themselves and plan a future without each other. Divorce coaching can be particularly helpful at this stage to support them and help them gain clarity on what they want their ‘new’ future to look like.
New beginnings – This usually involves the completion of the legal process. Ideally both parties will be able to show forgiveness, respect and acceptance.
This is just a model that can be useful to understand the emotional process that you’re both going through. Your experience may not necessarily follow this path.
In my case, the decision to separate was made by my husband. We didn’t really go through the ‘Expressing dissatisfaction’ stage. He hadn’t shared with me how he was feeling, although in hindsight he had started pulling away from me. There was certainly no going back once he’d told me – he’d already made the decision and had emotionally left the marriage. Although it all seemed to happen overnight for me, it had been a long time coming for him.
When he told me he wanted to leave we were at completely different stages in the process. I was in total shock and denial and trying to process what was happening, whereas he was already in ‘Acting on the decision’
It took me a long time to accept our breakup. I think it was made so much harder because I just hadn’t seen it coming.
If you find yourself in this situation and you’re struggling to come to terms with a breakup, then please get in touch to see how I can help you. Click on the link below and I can book you in for a free 15 minute discovery call.