In many cases, it’s not until the husband is faced with divorce that he’ll begin making the changes his wife has requested for years. But as the wife, how can you tell whether these changes are genuine? Is it safe to assume this is your “new normal,” or will he revert back to his old ways as soon as you take divorce off the table?
In this episode, I explain why this phenomenon is so common in marriages and what to do when you’re faced with it.
You’ll learn how to tell whether the changes your husband is making are permanent so you can confidently make your final decision of whether to stay or go.
Listen to the Full Episode:
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:
- What most men do after their spouse asks for a divorce (even if they’ve been “checked out” for years)
- How to tell if the changes your spouse is making will last
- What emotions might arise after you tell your spouse it’s over (and how to stay true to your wants and needs)
Featured On The Show:
Have you lost hope in your marriage and know it's time to leave, but you feel too scared, lost or overwhelmed to take action?
Sign up for my free on-demand training, Undoing I Do. In this 60-minute class, I’ll give practical advice on how to process the emotions holding you back so you can confidently take steps toward your new happiness.
“Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach: Sharon Pope.
“Hello, loves. It's Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today, we are going to have a conversation around having the conversation when you tell your spouse that it's over.
“This is the thing that will keep many, many people paralyzed for a long time because the prospect of having that kind of a conversation with your spouse is terrifying for a lot of obvious reasons. So first of all, I wanna give you the perspective of you coming to terms with the fact that your marriage is over. That's one thing that probably took you years to come to that place of clarity for yourself. But it's another thing to speak those words out loud, and it's a whole ‘nother thing to speak the words out loud and say them to someone that you probably still genuinely care about and love in many ways.
“All right, so today we're gonna be talking about how to prepare for and how to have this conversation once you know that for you, it's time for you to unwind the marriage. So I wanna share the story with you of a client of mine. I'm gonna refer to her as Cheryl; that is not her name. Cheryl has always been an over-functioner. She has one job, and then she started a business, and she's always been very engaged in raising their two boys. And she would always be the one, you know, cleaning the house and making the dinners and making sure the pool filters were clean and had the chemicals in it and all the adulting things, right? She's doing all the adulting things. And so she worked hard. She got a lot done, and she was a great mom, is a great mom.
“And you know, her husband, his lifestyle was just very, very different. Like, he worked until 5:30 and then he came home, and then for the most part, he was in front of the TV from the time that she came home. So she's this high-energy, go-getter type of woman. He's not that. And so over the years, over more than twenty years now, they have just really, really grown apart. And, you know, he would be in front of the TV because that's what he liked to do. That was his way of unwinding or relaxing where she had so many other things that she wanted to do and wanted to accomplish. But one of the problems was that he really wanted her to just sit down and chill with him.
“And that just wasn't who she is. That's not what she wanted to do, or how she wanted to spend her time. So that created a lot of frustration. Another element of frustration inside their marriage was around sex. Sex was an expectation in his mind that we are married, therefore we will have sex. Now, she had expressed to him many times that it wasn't enjoyable for her. And so could we do it differently? Could we try it at different times? Could we do it? You know, like just trying to get into the solution so that it can feel good for both of them in general. He wasn't terribly concerned about her pleasure, and it wasn't until she started getting more concerned about her own pleasure that she started where she would just say no.
“She's like, look, if I'm not going to enjoy it, then I'm not going to do it just because you think I should. Well, he didn't like that. And so when he would initiate sex, assuming that should happen, and he was told no, she wasn't down for that, [then] he would punish her. And so what does that look like? That looks like he's gonna go pout, and he's gonna sleep on the couch. Now, she didn't make him go sleep on the couch. He just takes a pillow, goes and pouts, sleeps on the couch, gives her the silent treatment for a day or two until it's time to try again. Punishing behavior is really, really toxic.
“So that's not the only elements of their marriage, but those are kind of the biggies that have led her to a place where she's very confident and clear about her decision to ultimately end the marriage. But she has been with this man for more than twenty years. He is the father of their boys; like they're always going to be in one another's lives. And so she wants to be able to do this well, even if she doesn't have any control over him and how he's going to approach things or handle things, she wanted to be able to do it well and look back on this time and go, ‘You know what? That was a really difficult time, but I'm proud of how I handled it.’
“So first I wanna talk to you about preparing to have this conversation, because the preparation of this is more important than you think. You see, most of us, we wait until there's a big blow-up argument, and then we just throw up our hands and say, I want a divorce. Right? I don't want you to do that. First of all, let me, let me explain why we would do that.
“The reason why we would do that is because we can take action from a place of anger, right? When we are really pissed off, we can walk out that door and slam it behind us; like we can take action when we're really angry. The problem is that how you start this process is going to have an impact on how it all unfolds.
“And I can't tell you how many times women have said to me, I wish he would. He was just a jerk. I wish I could just hate him. That would make this so much easier. But you don't really wanna hate him, especially if he's going to be in your life for the rest of your life. When you have kids together, you don't really wanna carry that kind of toxicity and hate, and you for sure do not want to bring that into the divorce because then it puts a heavy weight on the kids. And it almost doesn't matter how old the kids are, although the younger they are, the more influenced they are by it. But think about it if mom and dad or mom and mom or dad and dad, whatever the scenario is, but if we'll just take the heterosexual scenario, if mom and dad cannot communicate with one another, and yet you have to raise kids together, well now what ends up happening is that we start communicating through the kids.
“Well, you tell him that we're gonna do it like this, and I'll be there to pick you up at six. And now the kids have to express that to their dad. And then the dad says, well, you tell your mom this is BS, right? Because two adults can't behave like emotional adults. It puts all of that on the kids. And so when you read about the impact to the kids when there's a divorce and how they suffer, well, why do you think that is?
“Because we don't handle it well, we don't do it well. We are all in our feelings and we're not thinking about their experience. So that is truly one of the most rewarding elements of my job, of when a marriage is ending, how to do it really well so that the kids aren't impacted as negatively as possible, right? Or as negatively as we fear they might be.
“So how you do this really matters. Now, ideally, and this is not the case all the time, but you wanna start sending up some warning flags. There's a scale I use in my coaching practice, which is, just think of it like one to ten, where everyone on this continuum is struggling in their marriage. And if you're down at a one, you're struggling in your marriage, but you wanna do everything you can to see if you can make it work. And ten is, I'm struggling and I'm done. Now, if it's taken you, let's call it two or three years to get to a place of where you're an eight, nine, or maybe even a ten, I find ten to be very difficult to get to.
“But let's say you're an eight, nine, or ten, that's pretty darn confident that for you, that the marriage is complete. If it's taken you two or three years to get to a ten, but your spouse is back here at a four, or he thinks you're like at a four or a five, and then you just blow up in anger and you say you want a divorce, first of all, he's going to assume that you're saying you want a divorce because of that fight, but nobody ends a marriage because of one argument ever. So then the next day, he's just gonna think that it was all about that argument, and he's not gonna think you're serious about getting a divorce.
“So that's why I say don't do it during an argument. Don't wait for it to become heated for you to then take action. But we cannot expect him to go from a four to a ten overnight if it's taken you years to get to an eight, nine, or ten. I'm not gonna say that it's gonna take him years, but it's gonna take more than a day or two. So this is going to be one of many conversations, and I want [you to know] that it's not just one and done to give you some comfort, not that it's gonna be comfortable, it will never be comfortable, but you're gonna have one conversation where you express this for the first time, and on the other side of having that conversation, you will feel an element of relief.
“But what I want you to prepare for is that the next day or two days later, or four days later, a week later, you're going to have more conversations about it. Because never once, not even a single time, has a client of mine gone through this process, had that conversation, and their spouse just said, ‘Yeah, you know what? You're right. We really should just get divorced. You know what? I'll go look for an apartment. We'll figure this out. Don't worry. We'll do this really well. We can unwind this really peacefully. We're great co-parents, but I think you're right.’ It has never, ever, ever happened. So don't assume that that's going to happen, and they're going to show you some feelings. They get to have feelings about it, right?
“Because this decision that you are making impacts them as well. And so they're allowed to have some feelings. All right? Now, I said, how you do this matters because it has downstream impact. If you start this in a mature, peaceful way, it is much more likely that the rest of the process can follow that sort of path. But if you start from a place of anger and resentment and a bunch of emotion, well, then you should expect that's what you're gonna be met with for the next many months as you move through the divorce. Okay?
“Now, here is the most important thing I'm gonna share with you. We're gonna get into like literally how to have the conversation. I wanna give you some language, but if you get nothing else from this, I want you to get this part.
“When you go into having that conversation with your spouse, where you are prepared to tell them that for you, the marriage is complete, if you are not going in seeking understanding or agreement, they're not going to understand; they're not going to roll over and agree with you, okay? You are expressing a decision that you've made - that is a very different energy.
“If I come to you and I'm telling you about a decision that I made, that's a different energy than I wanna try to tell you all the reasons; I wanna explain it to you so that then you will understand and maybe even agree with me expressing a decision that is three to five sentences, and it's probably gonna be about a twenty to thirty minute conversation trying to get understanding and agreement.
“Oh, that's hours and hours and hours of a lot of drama, right? So you gotta go into it with the right mindset and the right energy. Okay? So let's talk about situating myself here. Let's talk about these three to five sentences of which I speak. So I know it seems crazy that telling your spouse that it's over can happen in three to five sentences, but I'm gonna share with you why.
“First of all, you don't need to rehash all the reasons. You don't need to litigate all the things that brought you to this place. And the reason why is because you probably had those conversations thousands of times. You've probably talked about it over and over and over again. It's not like this would be the first time they've heard it, or at least it shouldn't be the first time that they've heard about the things that really are not working for you in the relationship, okay? That doesn't mean that they're not gonna ask the why questions, but it's unnecessary at this point.
“So the three to five sentences, let's talk about the three. I'll give you an example of what the first three sentences could be like. ‘As you know, I've been struggling in this relationship for a long time, and I have done everything that I know to try in order to make it better, and I haven't been successful. We haven't been successful. And so for that reason, for me” -I think our best next step is to separate three sentences - ‘I've been struggling, I've been trying, and I think our best next step is to separate.’
“I always go to separation before I say the word divorce; divorce is like a very triggering word. I might say ‘unwinding the marriage,’ or I might say, ‘we need to take a step back and I think a separation is appropriate here,’ right? Something like that. So those are the first three sentences.
“The fourth sentence could be something along the lines of, ‘I'm sorry.’ It's never going to hurt to say I'm sorry. ‘So I'm sorry that this didn't work out,’ or, ‘I'm sorry that this hurts you because I know that this is really hard.’ I'm sorry. Like any sort of ‘I'm sorry’ statement could be your fourth sentence, and then your fifth sentence could be something along the lines of, ‘You have my commitment that I'm going to make this as drama free as possible, and I hope that I can have your commitment in that as well.’
“Now, you know some of the fears that are going to come up for them, right? Like, ‘Oh, you're gonna try to take the kids from me.’ Let's just use that as an example. Let's say that might be a fear that would pop into your partner's mind, and you probably know what their fears would be in this situation. I like to go on the offense with that, so I don't wait for them to get all worked up about it and then come to me and then me try to calm it down. I would rather just like calm from the beginning.
“So maybe instead of saying, ‘You have my commitment to make this as drama free as possible, and I hope that I have your commitment, that you'll do the same,’ you could say something along the lines of, ‘Look, I want you to know that I think you're an amazing father, and I have no reason to ever try to interrupt that. I want you to have the same great relationship with our boys that you do today,’ right? That might be your fifth sentence, okay?
“Now, you gotta write down your sentences. You gotta practice 'em, not because this is an acting thing - this is not an acting thing - but I want you to write it down so that you're very clear about what you're going to express. I want you to practice saying it out loud, because again, speaking those words and getting them out through your throat, that's hard. And then saying it in front of the person that is impacted and probably going to be very hurt and upset by what you're telling them.
“So the first time you speak those words can't be when you're sitting in front of 'em, but it's not about even memorizing 'em. If you need to have that piece of paper in front of you, do it. Like I said, this isn't about acting. This is just about being as direct and honest and loving as you can be in the moment.
“Okay? So yeah, I wanna end with, don't wing this. When you come to the conclusion that your marriage is over, there's a lot that is standing in front of you. We call it the ring of fire in my coaching group for the women that have chosen to navigate divorce, because there is this ring of fire that you essentially step into the moment you tell your partner that you want a divorce.
“Now, they don't call it the ring of fire for nothing, right? It's not just the legal paperwork part of it. I mean, yes, that is part of it, but there's the financial aspect. There's a lot of emotion, there's a lot of change all at once, and what I want you to know is that as you move through the ring of fire, it's never gonna feel good. Like there's no path through divorce that's like, ‘Oh, I'm doing wonderful. It's fantastic. I'm ending my marriage.’ Like, that's not gonna be the case.
“But it also doesn't have to be hateful and filled with anger and bitterness and all of that. It doesn't have to be that either. It can just be a gentle and respectful unwinding of one relationship or a redefinition of that relationship, right? Because if you have kids together, you're always gonna be in each other's lives, and mom's always gonna be mom. Dad's always gonna be dad. The thing that is changing is that mom and dad are going to renegotiate their relationship together, where it's no longer going to be lovers and partners, but it's gonna be maybe co-parents and friends. Okay?
“I hope that that was helpful for you. I know that if you are in the midst of trying to unwind a marriage, this conversation can be really, really daunting. And if you've already had the conversation but you didn't do it that well or nothing has moved forward, or it doesn't have to be the last conversation, you can try it again. You can even say, ‘You know, I didn't handle that as well as I could have, and I'd like to start from a new place with you.’ It doesn't change the outcome. The outcome is still that the marriage is going to end, but how you initiate this will dictate how you move through this and how you move through this will dictate how you feel throughout the process, and it for sure will have impact on you and everyone in your family, especially the kids.
“All right? So don't wing it. Really think about it, prepare for it, and use some of the information that I've given you here today.
“All right. I hope that was helpful. I will see you next week. Until then, take really good care.
“If you've lost hope in your marriage and know that it's time to leave, but you feel too scared, lost, or overwhelmed to take action, join me for my free on-demand training, Undoing I Do. In this sixty-minute class, I'll give practical advice on how to process the emotions holding you back so you can confidently take steps toward your new happiness.
“This is the same process I and thousands of other women have used to achieve tremendous healing, growth, and clarity. Sign up for the training now at sharonpope.com/undoing. That's sharonpope.com/undoing. I'll see you there.”