You've told your husband you're not sure you can stay in the marriage.
He could be sad, angry, hurt, frustrated. He may be debating every word you say. On your end, it feels like you finally got the courage to be honest with him, and now he’s making himself look worse. What to do?
The first question to ask yourself is how long you’ve lived in “Marital Doubt.” You’ve probably been quietly pondering the future of your marriage for months or years, brushing off your doubts only to have them return. And now, likely, you’re at a tipping point where it’s bad enough, or anxiety provoking enough, to come clean. You are leaning out of your marriage.
This question about timing is important because your spouse may have had no clue the marriage was drifting towards the brink. Even if you sometimes mentioned divorce when you were angry or upset, you probably went silent again about the subject. So now your news is shocking and creates a huge crisis for your husband who harbored the illusion that the marriage was basically stable. Even though you may have had good reasons to hold back (you weren’t sure, your feelings kept shifting, you didn’t want to hurt him), now it’s important to appreciate the big gap between your reality of the marriage and his.
Okay, you may be saying to yourself, “He should not be surprised. He’s heard my complaints for years and he knew I was unhappy in the marriage.”
And you may be right.
But there is a big ocean between “I’m seriously frustrated with you” and “I need to get out of this marriage forever.” Trust us on this: even when people had considered divorce themselves, they are usually completely thrown when their spouse brings it up. It’s an earthquake.
It’s important not to take your husband’s current emotional reaction as proof that you should divorce. None of us are on our best behavior when our security is suddenly threatened, and when we feel out of control on something really big in our lives—like whether we stay married. In those situations, most of us act out the worst parts of ourselves.
Instead of focusing on his reaction, it’s important to go deeper within yourself, and be sure you’re clear. Take some time.
Divorce is never an emergency.
Separation may be an emergency decision if safety is on the line, but divorce is a legal and emotional process that plays out over many months. Thus, it’s not a good idea to decide to divorce during an emotional crisis. In fact, the best divorces are done without hot lava emotions, which only create more antagonizing and irrationality in the hundreds of decisions it takes to split your lives and family.
Standard marriage counseling is designed for two people motivated to work on a marriage they believe is improvable. Discernment Counseling offers you the freedom to have what we call “twin ambivalences.” The first is uncertainty about whether to stay married or divorce, and the second is doubts about whether marriage therapy could make things better—particularly whether it could help your spouse change.
Discernment Counseling takes the “elephant in the room” (these uncertainties), honors them, and gives you space to understand what’s happened to your marriage, including each person’s contributions to the problems, and to develop clarity and confidence about whether to divorce or to make one more all-out effort to change your marriage for the better.
Above all, it’s best to slow down, look inside yourself, let your spouse recover from the shocking news, and then develop a constructive game plan for the life crisis that comes with telling our spouse that you are leaning out of your marriage.