Divorcing a Partner Who Doesn't Want To Split Up

Archived Q&A and Reviews


I want a divorce but husband doesn't

Dec 2009

Parents - Can anyone offer me advice about divorce? I am so brokenhearted about this, but I have tried for years to fix a marriage that cannot be fixed. My husband just can't stand me, and rages at me constantly - and in front of our child. And yet for some reason he resists divorce. I haven't wanted a divorce, but it has been years and it's just getting worse. And yes, we have seen counselors twice, to no avail. I need to somehow find the courage to leave.

I don't know what steps to take. I have tried to talk to him calmly about us separating. I have asked, courteously, if he would consider moving out, and he says no. So although I know it's recommended that women try to stay in the home, I think I need to just leave. I have no idea what steps to take, if any, before renting a place and moving. I need to at least have joint custody of my little one, who is my world and only 3. I don't know what I need to do to make sure I don't risk losing this. And I am a little concerned about my husband's temper - not that I fear physical violence, but over the long haul I worry about how he will behave alone with our son. His temper just seems so bad.

Anyway - if anyone can tell me anything helpful, I will be so grateful. Thank you. sw

You say you don't fear physical violence, but it sounds like you might be a victim of domestic violence (verbal/emotional abuse) from your description. This can be very damaging for kids to witness/experience, so for your protection and that of your child I would urge you to seek help. There are a number of programs in Alameda County--A Safe Place has a 24-hour hotline (510-536-SAFE) and a shelter. Perhaps getting some support and advocacy around the domestic violence issues might help you get organized to take the steps you need. Advocates at shelters are really good at helping make safety plans, and in supporting people through tough situations like this. good luck

I was in a situation very similar to yours a few years ago. My child was also around 3. I am now divorced and it was definitely the right decision. From my own experience I would advise the following:

Get the support of your friends and family. Let them know what's going on and that you will be needing their help.

Get your finances in order. Start saving money for yourself and your child. Get your own bank account and credit card. You might also want to get another cell phone.

Get a lawyer. Explain to them about your husband's temper, what you want for custody etc. Lawyers around here are not so cheap but I found it was good to have someone who had real authority running the discussions, also they set up child support, spousal support etc.

If you can afford it, see a counselor on your own. They can help you plan when to move, and also help you deal with your emotions about leaving your marriage.

After this stuff is in place, I would start looking at apartments.

Good luck. Your own happiness and the happiness of your child is worth it. been there

The first step is to calm down and consult with a lawyer, there have been plenty recommended in the BPN archive. In California you do not need a reason to get divorced, you can basically just file, serve, wait six months, judge confirms, and that's that.

My divorce lawyer didn't even want to hear any reasons or emotion at all, just the facts about income, kids, and property.

There are formulas for child support and who gets what. Try not to stress about all the terrible things that could happen, hope it goes smoothly and look toward the future. --happily divorced

You're not asking for therapy, but it sounds like you should first push your husband to therapy. He may be oblivious to the pain he is causing you. My husband doesn't have a violent temper all the time, and to most people he appears to have a calm demeanor and easy-going nature. But to me, he expresses loathing and disrespect. He would tell anybody else that HE doesn't get respect. Honestly, having gone through a divorce previously, and having observed the kids in school whose parents clearly loathe each other (guess what? the kids usually lose), I'd say unless you are positive you want to leave, I'd push for counseling first. Get a therapist who will challenge you to either figure out whether you really should separate or figure out how to be together in mutual satisfaction and caring. (There are more lame therapists out there than really effective ones, plus there's the personal compatibility thing). If you do the therapy you won't have to spend years later wondering if you'd done the right thing, or participating in mutual loathing that will help convince you that you'd done the right thing. Regardless of what youdo, always ask yourself if you'd regret what you're doing (including whether you'd regret being awful to your husband--don't be mean and petty-not worth it for your self-worth or your child's. And remember your child loves his daddy too. I'd also get your finances in order (including a separate account), maybe before you tell your husband that it's counseling or nothing. If your husband is truly violent, you should be prepared to be on your own the moment you give him an ultimatum. Read through all the books you can get your hands on from Nolo Press before you make any decisions. Protect yourself financially, and protect your kid. Figure it out ahead of time. Be fair.

Hello - It's excellent that you know what is right for you, even tho it will be hard. Your husband can't ''veto'' a divorce, if you want one. Talk to a lawyer with experience in Family Law about the legal realities of your situation. Also, read and research as much as you can. It is much better if you understand what your legal options are. Also, expect your lawyer to keep you informed of EVERYTHING that happens in your case. Even if you hire a lawyer, check out ''collaborative divorce.'' These are teams of lawyers, child development experts, etc., who help couples negotiate a divorce. To keep your claim to custody of your child, try to avoid moving out of your house. Otherwise, move yourself and your child out together. It seems that the law views moving out by yourself, even temporarily, as abandonment of your child. Especially for mothers. Check out your finances carefully. Is your name on each bank and retirement account and property deed that belongs to you alone or jointly? Do you have any verbal agreements about money or property that are not in writing? Did either of you bring money or property to the relationship that you have agreed to share? (The law will assume that whatever each person brings to the marriage is their own separate property at divorce, unless you have a written agreement to the contrary.) Make sure you have access to your share of the money. If you don't have enough $ to support yourself and to hire a lawyer but your husband does, you can lose everything - even if it is ''rightfully'' yours.

If you are at all afraid of your husband, or if you are afraid for your child in the least, talk to a domestic violence (DV) expert. Make a specific plan for leaving with a counselor - whether or not you or your child have ever been hurt. Planning will make everything go more smoothly. DV counselors are more aware than most people of all the decisions and preparations you will need to make.

Finally, line up good solid personal support - friends who will check in on you or send your cards or e-mails, people you can talk freely with, people whose company you like, people who think well of you. This is a difficult process, but very worthwhile. I wish you strength and success. Been There, Too.

If you decide you need to divorce, stop asking the other person's permission. I would issue one ultimatum- counseling and serious change, or you will get a divorce. But don't issue ultimatums unless you really will act on it.

Let's assume the ultimatum gets you nowhere. Say nothing and find an attorney through the BPN Reviews- must be in your county and must be a divorce and family law specialist. See them for one hour, and ask what papers to get together. Really, a lot of divorce at first is photocopying your darned financial documents. Get your data together, bring it to your attorney, and ask what's next. (Wait until January 2- this will be hard enough as it is). Best of luck. Been There.

I am also going through the 1st steps of separating. Among the tough parts of this is the fact that most of my friends are still married with kids (the impenetrable nuclear family, like we used to be), so I am having to go outside my friend circle to find others going through similar struggles. It's not that my friends aren't supportive but many of them just don't know what to say. Also, I need to start filling my time with ''refueling'' activities so that I can be there for my 5 year old as much as possible. So if you'd like to talk and share strategies for coping, please contact me. Hang in there. anon


How to break it to my husband that I want a divorce

Jan 2009

After several years of ignoring the little voice in my head, I have finally reached the point where I am admitting that my marriage is not right and I should take steps to end it. Although I am very sad to confront this reality, I feel sure of my decision. My immediate concern is that I suspect my husband will be totally blindsided by the idea of separating or divorcing (despite the fact that we have not had sex or much physical affection in at least 2 years and have an amicable but distant roommate and co-parent relationship). I love my husband as a person and do not want to cause him unneeded suffering. I would also very much like to be able to pursue mediation or NOLO options for our split and shared custody, etc, but I recognize that I am at a completely different place in terms of acknowledging and accepting the depth of our problem and the situation. What I am looking for here is concrete and practical advice from anyone who has been on either side of a 'surprise' break up, regarding what to (or not to) do or say in breaking the news and having the subsequent needed conversations. I know there is no way to make this process painless, but I would like to try to avoid any big errors that will just make things harder in the future. Thanks for any words of wisdom you can share. don't want to burn the bridge

Instead of dropping the news of your desire for a divorce like a bomb, first point out that you have not had sex in two years, and that you would like to go for counseling. Then, let the counselor bring up the idea of a divorce gradually, based on the facts presented. After all, maybe your husband feels the same way you do, but hasn't wanted to say anything because he loves you as a person. Been there

My husband instigated a 'surprise break up', as you call it, and the most painful thing for me was the fact that he had already worked everything out in his head and made a unilateral decision before telling me. The fair thing to do would have been to tell your husband before you were sure you wanted to break up, to give both of you a chance to work at things together. After my husband told me he did not think our relationship was going to work out, as you say he was 'at a completely different place in terms of acknowledging and accepting the depth of our problem' and although in words he acknowledged my hurt, in practice he expected me to accept the situation much more quickly than was reasonable, since he had it all worked out in his head. It was horribly unfair (particularly because of the particular circumstances I was in, which I won't go into). When he agreed that he owed it to me to go to couples counselling, it was of course not much use because his mind was already made up (even though it did finally make him glimpse the enormity of what he had done). He did not give me the chance to discuss things or suggest possible changes. I would urge you to reconsider your certainty about your decision and give your husband a fair chance of discussing your problems with an open mind as to what the outcome might be. I found it a horrible breach of my husband's marital vows that by the time he spoke to me he did not even consider the possibility of staying together, as we had worked through a lot of problems together in the past and I expected we would continue to do so. You owe it to him and to your children. been there, still hurts

I am among a group of men who have all been blindsided. We all shared some common feelings. We were taught that marriage is not all roses, woman have many emotions that we don't experience (maternal bonding, post partum, super mom inadequacy)so we need to give them time, and if we work hard are faithful /committed everything will work out. It doesn't.

All of our ex's said things like, I have had enough, I can't take this, but none was direct and clear about the possibility the marriage was over. We all resented that our ex's had already decided to end it before telling us, so there was no way to save it. We all resented that our ex's friends and family knew about our marital problems before we did. Didn't we vow to be honest?

Advice: Bring it up with him tonight, be direct, don't use another relationship to help/justify ending this one, give yourself time before starting a new relationship, find out why you are so unhappy (it is not all him), give him specifics if there are things you feel can't be fixed, be prepared to happier, and also be prepared that he too might be happier. Good luck! Signed: That would have been nice to know

Seems like you are jumping ahead and skipping the conversation that is ''I'm unhappy and need things to change in order to stay in this relationship. Can we do some counseling or something to see if things can be improved?''. Maybe you've already done this, but it didn't sound like it from your msg. anon

I had this conversation under much the same circumstances three years ago, and I believe it is probably a very difficult conversation no matter how you approach it. My ex-husband simply refused to hear what I was saying for about a year. Even when I moved out of the house and had said clearly that I was not coming back, he would ask me when I was going to come back. So denial is certainly possible. And he may also really want to first go into counseling, etc. I did this with my ex, and my mistake was not making it clear that I was not going into counseling to fix the marriage. He felt betrayed when I explained that I went into counseling to help him understand that I was leaving. Prepare yourself for anger also -- I had hoped for a situation in which we could remain on good terms, and that didn't happen. Your idea of going through a mediator is excellent. Larry Rosen is often cited as a mediator who helps couples work through emotional as well as legal issues, and though I didn't end up using his services, many people recommend him. We did use mediation, and I agree that this is the very best way to go -- NOLO is really only when you have a firm grasp of the law, lots of time to fill in forms, and a cooperative ex-spouse. It would never have worked for us, and you need to consult with a lawyer, in my humble opinion, even if you make your own agreement. Good luck with this very difficult time in your life. happily divorced

I completely understand your post, and felt exactly the same way. I found it helpful to see a (new) male counselor with my then-husband;i spoke very briefly with the therapist in advance. I told him that i wanted a divorce, and wanted to discuss it/announce it in an environment that was supportive for both me AND my husband. Having a third person in the room over a few sessions both helped me speak openly and honestly without fear of an extreme response, and also ensured that we were both heard and had support in speaking our minds. We then used a mediator to file and that really worked for us. I wasn't interested in fighting over what assets we had (few)... I was interested in making a deposit in our ''good will'' bank, and steering clear of legal battles was a strong step in the right direction. Today not only do we have a very accommodating joint custody arrangement but our child knows that we are on the same team, looking out for him and loving him. I dreaded the divorce conversation when i thought about it... but looking back, our process went as smoothly as it could have. Feel free to contact the moderator if you wish to talk. bridge intact!

It sounds like you've made this decision to divorce absolutely unilaterally, in which case there's no way to break it to him without it causing hard feelings. I think you should take a step back and start talking to him -- not about getting a divorce, but by letting him know you're not happy and that you want to go to counselling. From what you've described, it doesn't sound like either of you have made a big effort to solve your problems, and you really need to go through that step first. It's not fair for you to jump to the end decision of divorce without giving your partner a real opportunity to understand your feelings and respond to them, and for him to be able to express his feelings without the decision of divorce already haven been made by you. good luck

Perhaps start with counseling to address some feelings you're having, then bring it out in that setting? Anon

Filed the papers, but husband is in denial - next step?

May 2008

Married almost a decade, but wanting to end it for a long time (retained a lawyer a couple years ago!)The divorce papers have now been filed and I'm ''scared'' to take the next step - telling husband that I'm going forward. I have been saying this for many months - told him again very seriously in March. Him having a female ''friend'' past 6 months makes it a bit easier (do I really believe he is sleeping on her couch?)  He denies everything and says he doesn't want a divorce. It's been years of arguing and verbal abuse. Not good for our nine year old. Spent many years alone and in couples therapy. Another big reason has been due to finances...his ''retail therapy'' has put us into debt since early on. I have a small $$ cushion, he doesn't -- maxed out cards-no savings. Little equity in the house - which I want to try and keep - but will he leave? I have to write him emails-he cannot talk calmly; might react violently. Not sure how to tell our child. I have great support from friends. Sorry if this sounds choppy..looking for advice/someone's experience with ending a marriage. Thanks moving slowly, but getting there

I think it would be a great idea to try to get your husband into divorce mediation. Mediators are lawyers, but they do not bring suit against the other party, they try to help you hammer out an agreement together. Because you will still need to continue parenting together and it sounds as if you have a great many unresolved emotional issues between you, you could use some help. The way you describe your financial situation brings up some concerns; unless you owned the house before the marriage he probably has a share in the equity, for instance. So you should consult with your lawyer -- a mediator would be able to tell you both what your rights and responsbilities are. Ask him to come to mediation with you to work out the details of your divorce. Two good mediators in Berkeley are Judith Joshel and Eva Herzer. mediation before litigation

do it, do it do it. i went through the same situation, except my husband was extremely violent one time at the end, never in the marriage. but we were incredibly toxic for each other and our nine year old son. we finally mediated and signed a divorce settlement last week. and there is nothing as relieving. some things to be aware of: the debt is both of your, you are both liable. the money you have in both 401k's and your little cushion is both of yours, unless you can negotiate. the equity and the mortgage are both of yours. i cannot refinance, but he is staying on the mortgage and signing a quit claim on the deed. and he is taking 1/2 of the cc debt we have.

there are no hard and fast rules, i would really suggest going through mediation rather than lawyers. divorce lawyers can be nasty and cost A LOT of money. even though my soontobe ex husband and i have a lot of animosity, we were able to negotiate in mediation. i have to tell you no one will get exactly what they want, but it is worth it to end a bad marriage that just hurts everyone. good luck! juiet

I would recommend moving into your own place ASAP and selling the house. Once you are out of the house, it will be so much easier to finalize the divorce. It doesn't sound as if you have enough money to buy out your husband's share of the house in any case, so it's better to bite the bullet now and end a bad situation. Your son will be happy to have the situation resolved, especially if your new place is right across the street from his school or has a pool. Your husband can continue to ''sleep on his girlfriend's couch''. Practical

Coming to terms with unwanted divorce

August 2006

The last year has been the absolute worst year of my life.

Last June my wife of 10 years told me she was unhappy in our marriage which caught me completly off guard. For 6 months we went to therapy only to find out that she was having an affair with a younger man who was also a co-worker. She says she fell out of love with me and loves this man because he treats her like no other man has.

She moved into a crummy apartment about a mile away a few months ago. She told me at the time she was ''torn'' but now says she wants a divorce. We share custody of my poor 7 year old son. I have told her repeatedly that she will have to do all the dirty work in the divorce. I do marriage, attorneys do divorce.

She just turned 40 when all of this went down and I feel like the ghosts of her parents marriage are haunting her. She says she was not happy and is not happy at all in her ''new'' life.

I feel like I have come a long way in the past year and I see my faults but she is still doing the blaming game. I guess I need to move on but I feel like need to do everything I can to salvage this marriage but I can't do it by myself.

My husband could have written your message, except for the difference of a few minor details. So while I feel for you, I think I can present a couple of things from your wife's side of the situation. I apologize if my comments are wounding.

It sounds to me as if your wife is gone from the marriage. She had the affair and moved out, and it seems that she knows what she wants. Your position that ''she is going to have to do the dirty work'' reveals your resentment of what happened, but not the understanding you claim you achieved on reflection. Do you really now understand ways in which you were at fault, as you claim? If you do, you should be able to accept her need for the divorce and your need to be part of the divorce process for your own good and your son's. The ''dirty work'' you write of is nothing less than the work you need to do to ensure your son's best situation, your own and your son's financial security, etc. You owe it to him and to yourself to be an active part of the process, though I realize it must hurt terribly.

Your use of the phrase ''my poor son'' worries me a bit. Yes, your son is most likely very sad about the break-up and will continue to mourn the loss of his family. But your wife hasn't left him -- she left you, and your tone about him suggests that you feel he is in precisely your position: abandoned. I assume that she hasn't abandoned him, that she wants to have shared custody -- perhaps that isn't the case, in which case your son will really struggle. But your attitude is going to be important to your son's development, and if it is a self- pitying, blaming attitude, then that's the role he'll adopt as well.

I'll suggest what practically everyone else in the Bay Area will suggest, namely therapy for you (also to deal with the issues left from your parents' marriage -- you seem to be replaying those) and for your son.

I'm sorry if I sound harsh, but I think a different position, a stronger, more mature one, will really help you work through this.
the other half

My condolences to you and to your son.

IMHO, your ex-wife sounds immature and selfish. She needs to make herself happy and look real hard at herself. Until she really understands who she is and what she wants, she will NEVER be happy no matter where she is.

You sound like you still love her deeply and miss her. As hard as it is, you cannot fix her. She must fix herself, and she can't do it with you. Talking to her about how happy or unhappy she is isn't your concern anymore because she isn't your wife. She is your son's mother - that is ALL. What did I do when that happened to me? I expressed my pain when I found out. Then I focused on my daughter and refused to deal with his social life and angst about all of my flaws. I made our relationship strictly business. IT HURT ME to do this at first, but then it got easier. He was angry and he also played the blame-game, and I told him, ''What you say may or may not be true, but it doesn't matter anymore. It's over. Please tell me when you want our child so that I can plan my life. You are a good father and our child needs you. Let's communicate for her.'' I wanted to cry, and I did sometimes, but I enforced business and hung up or walked out when he started the old cycles of conversation.

He too rejected his new life and begged to come back. I allowed him in only after he proved to me that he really wanted OUR life, and it took a long time. I still don't trust him completely, and he's still earning back the trust he destroyed. I snoop, and he knows it. Do you really want a woman back who you can't trust? Do I? No, but life is not simple. Right now, this second, we are together, but we aren't the same. Ironically, he feels we are much stronger - I'm not so sure. If you choose to take her back, make sure she is independent and knows herself. Please DO NOT take her back if she's moving from his bed to yours. Only do it after she's had time to know herself. And if you don't, shut her out emotionally, keep it strictly business, and protect your son.

Oh yeah, and ask an attractive woman out for drinks. See what the attention of someone else is like for a change. Stop focusing on her. anon

I am sorry to hear about your troubles with your marriage. If your wife does not wish to reconcile, don't try to force her. Be sure you have good counseling and support for yourself and for your son. Try to enlist the support of family and friends to surround you with love right now. Try not to criticize your wife too much either, as she is struggling, too, with her own identity and self.

If your wife is not happy in her new life, perhaps she would be willing to try counseling again? If so, I recommend a very humanistic therapist--Dr. Hans Stahlschmidt--to work with you. He can be reached at (510) 848-5347. He is terrific--I was hesitant to see a man at first, but I have come to really trust and like him. I have learned a whole lot more about myself than I have about my relationship with my partner in the year we have been doing counseling...it was a big eye opener that each partner alone is responsible for his/her happiness in a relationship (barring abuse, violence, etc.). I have learned that I am the one who must change to be happy in my relationship, and funny--my partner has learned that he is the one who must change to be happy.

You should know that repairing the relationship is impossible unless both parties are totally committed to resolving their OWN issues. It won't work if you continue to blame each other. If your wife is not in this place, any attempt to repair the relationship will not be successful. It is hard to accept it when this happens, but it will only make things easier when you begin to open to the truth of the situation. Best wishes to you anon.

I was in a similar situation and it's taken over 2 years to begin healing. My spouse of 20 years caught me off guard by asking for a divorce; he was having an affair with one of his employees many many years his junior. Similarly, it was up to him to do the dirty work. I was hopeful that something in the marriage could be salvaged. The turning point was when I was served divorce papers. I retained an attorney who forced me to engage in decisions that would affect my future. I was no longer the victim and had some control of the situation. I think it's especially important that you have the support of friends and family. Some mornings I would not have made it out of bed except for their ongoing support. Don't expect answers. I just needed someone to validate my thoughts and feeligs. I suppose the critical question is if trust in the relationship could ever be restored, or worth expending energy on. Good luck no longer the victim

You are better off without her. Honesty,loyalty and trust are important in a marriage. Move on. There are other women worth more your time than her. Good luck anon

That is very sad and it seems especially so because you didn;t see it coming. You need to take care of yourself now and if that means getting a lawyer you should do so, unpleasant as that may be. Good luck anonymous

I don't know if I can give you advice, but if you want to talk I would be happy to listen. My husband and I are trying to reconcile after him revealing that he had been having an affair for 7 months with a co-worker. This started when our daughter was just 4 months old, but I found semi-inappropriate e-mails that go back before the birth of our daughter. He has the same ''happiness'' issues. Yet I know that we were happy before this mess.

I am in the same boat as you, where I feel like I am the only one really working to save our marriage. The problem is that we are not the ones who need to do the work. And that feeling of helplessness leaves us feeling completely unempowered and more alone.

I'm not posting my e-mail to the whole group, but perhaps the moderator could send you my e-mail address if you want someone to talk to. Stacey