Divorce: The Leaver and the Left

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 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 the relationship is no longer viable, the other 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 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  disagreements, disappointments, and considerable differences between them. Both adults navigate  the five stages….akin to having a terminal illness:

The 5 stages

  1. denial…feeling this can’t be happening to us, it’s unreal.
  2. depression… changes in eating, sleeping, energy level.
  3. anger…impatience and resentment of their partner and why can’t they change?
  4. negotiation…acknowledging a need for change and how to achieve it.
  5. acceptance…we will be coming apart.

The leaver needs to realize 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 also need to go through the five stages. They 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/’s/spouse’s need for going through that process and presents his/her wishes gently.  It helps to clearly state the reasons for their decision and then be patient for his/her partner to catch up.  Doing this can facilitate a  less emotional and more civil dissolution of the relationship or marriage, which is important to the couple and  essential when they have a family.

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 and often anger once the reality settles in. Everyone’s coping mechanisms vary in how this, and all, of the phases present. When anger  boils up in the ‘left’ partner/spouse s/he frequently resents that  leaver seems to be doing so well.  The  left person doesn’t realize that the leaver has already had  similar feelings and is just ahead of him/her.  If their reasoning can be sincerely explained, it can ameliorate a more negative reaction. When there isn’t counter blaming or accusations, there is a  less traumatic coming to terms with the situation and negotiating. Then acceptance can progress.