The Psychology of Divorce


Divorce is both a legal and a psychological process. The legal process is critical, but the psychological process and how the couple handles it affects the tone and substance of the divorce. The divorce will end badly if it starts badly. And if it starts out gentle, there’s a high chance it’ll finish up pleasant and productive. Understanding the emotional situations of the parties at the outset, when one of the spouses declares that he or she wants a divorce, is crucial.

The question of mutuality and how it develops is the most crucial psychodynamic of divorce. Only a small percentage of divorces occur when both parties agree to divorce at the same time. After a long period of reflection and consideration, one of the partners will invariably decide that she can no longer bear the pain of the marriage and is resolved to terminate it. Such choices aren’t made carelessly or haphazardly. It’s not uncommon, in my experience, for the “initiator” to have been thinking about divorce for years. He or she has had time to mourn the loss of the marriage’s linked dream, to consider what an alternate life would be like, and to begin emotionally and in other ways to prepare for the end of the marriage. She may have developed new friends who are not related to her mate, begun to earn new qualifications in order to make more money and begun to live a new life in general.

The other partner, referred to as the “non-initiator,” can range from resigned acceptance to complete shock and amazement. Divorce can be started more smoothly when the two partners are virtually equal. He declares that he wants a divorce, citing years of unresolved anguish and multiple failed counseling attempts. And, while she might have been tempted to try a bit harder, she concedes that he is probably correct and that they are on their way to divorce. In this case, the verdict is practically unanimous, and both parties are almost ready to commence divorce negotiations. Compare this to a circumstance in which he makes the same statement but she is taken aback and terrified. She is dedicated to the promises they made during their wedding ceremony and believes that marriage is everlasting. She is horrified at the potential harm a divorce would cause the children, and she is terrified of losing her role in society and the changes that would be required. She is incensed that he would even consider divorce and expresses her adamant disapproval. This couple is in a precarious situation.

Divorce is a time of transition. Housing is constantly changing. Economic changes are occurring, none of which are pleasant. There has been a shift in social standing and how children’s lives are governed. And for the most part, change is unwelcome, often entails loss, and is often frightening. There is a tradeoff for the initiator. Uncomfortable adjustments will occur, as well as unavoidable losses. However, because life will improve—stress will be lessened, there will be a possibility to find a more suited mate—dating might be an exciting prospect—-the losses will be outweighed by the gains. It is dependent on where the non-initiator sits on the continuum. However, there has been no opportunity for the non-initiator who is surprised or who does not want the divorce to grieve the marriage, make plans, develop alternate scenarios, or prepare to be single. There is only loss and fear for the non-initiator who is surprised or who does not want the divorce. And the non-initiator will not be ready to engage in sensible discussions about how the partners should go about separating their lives until he or she has had time to think things over and come to emotional terms with the divorce.

If a decent divorce can only happen when both parties are willing to negotiate, the onus of timing is on the initiator. If you’re the one who wants out, you must give your spouse time to adjust, mourn, and consider his or her own options. If you push your spouse too hard, she will retreat to the imagined safety of a lawyer who will “defend” her interests. Then you’ll be in for a long divorce. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the divorce initiator has a significant stake in the spouse’s safety. As a result, the way the opening scenes are staged is crucial. You must use neutral wording while notifying your spouse that you desire a divorce. “Our marriage hasn’t worked, and I don’t think it will in the future,” is neutral wording. “I’m sick of your whining and self-centeredness, and I can’t wait to be free of you.” Is provoking and will only lead to reaction, denial, and defensiveness. So, if you’re the one who wants to end the marriage, how you discuss it with your spouse and how you’ll manage while she or he comes to terms will largely influence whether your divorce is a success or a nightmare.