When couples come to me for counseling and I do my individual and couples assessments I often hear from one of the partners that they had “no idea he/she felt this way” or they never saw it coming. I call bullshit. There is no such thing as a sudden divorce. There are often years of conflict, strife, miscommunication, mistrust and relationship injuries that happen before the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Why one partner claims not to know how desperately unhappy their spouse is feeling is very interesting to me on a clinical level. Could it be that they are unwilling to accept responsibility for their part in the problem or is it that they somehow think that if they don’t acknowledge it that it will somehow go away? Could they really be so dense and insensitive that they don’t see that their loved one is hurting?
The truth is, people get ingrained in their patterns and they get comfortable in their lives. Happy or not, connected or not, they’re often willing to live with the status quo rather than risk the pain and anguish that’s sure to follow a breakup or divorce. It’s only when they’ve reached a point of desperation or anger that they decide that the pain of the breakup cannot be any worse than the pain they’re living with on a daily basis that they’re willing to take action. Feeling estranged in your own home, alone and lonely in your bed with your spouse is about as painful an emotional experience as one person can tolerate. Its then that one partner decides that they already feel alone, why not make a break, and live alone. This is where that “sudden” divorce comes in.
The other partner may be feeling just as alone and isolated or just as estranged, however, they are willing to stay there because they have not yet reached that breaking point. Even if all they do is argue and criticize, withdraw or isolate. When we’re discussing it in session they are often in denial and want to say that they think things are “fine” that they don’t understand what the big deal is. Perhaps they’ve never communicated well or had a loving and connected relationship and don’t know what they’re missing? I doubt it. My feeling is that they’ve just not been willing or desperate enough to try to change things.
Frequent and escalating conflict, negative assumptions about the other partner or a feeling of anger and resentment that pervades your interactions; if any of these things are happening in your life with your partner, pay attention. They are red flag warnings of an impending storm. If you value your partner and your relationship then you can fix it! You can change it for the better by making some large and small changes.
The emotions surrounding this can be overwhelming.
If you’ve been going along thinking everything is fine, oblivious to what your partner is going through, this revelation can be a terrible shock. If you’re the one to make the decision to call for a break up you’re dropping a huge emotional bomb on your partner, one they are certainly not ready for and may not be prepared to deal with. Please be aware that this can be a very difficult thing for them to process.
What if you’re the only one willing to try to fix things? Can it be done? The possibilities are good. If you make positive changes to the way you connect and interact with your partner and your attitude becomes more loving, kind, giving and appreciative, you will make a difference not only in yourself, but in the life of your partner.
Get some professional help. A couple’s therapist that works with an attachment model can help you have the difficult conversations and identify the causes of the problems between you. Better than that, they can help you to find the solutions you are unable to find on your own and may not even know exist. As there is no such thing as a sudden divorce, there’s also no quick fix. You both have to commit to doing the work necessary to come back from the brink of the breakup. It’s worthwhile, I promise.